Friday, May 31, 2013

Empty Nothings

Posted by Michael

The oldest book of those collected in the Bible tells the story of a man named Job. Job was successful and had a large family that he adored. Job, we are told, was also a just and upright man.  It was said that he was “blameless”, and that he turned away from evil whenever it reared its head. The story goes on to recount horrible trauma that Job endured during which he lost all of his wealth. His children were tragically killed in a bizarre accident, and his own health broke down leaving his body was covered with sores. Friends traveled to see him and followed the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva” with him in his grief, which was the process of sitting for seven days and nights with him without ever leaving his side. The grief was so intense that no one dared to even speak a least for a while.

As the days moved forward the friends began to talk to Job and offer their advice. Their explanation was a simple yet toxic one: if you wouldn’t have messed up, God wouldn’t have let this happen to you, and if you would only apologize and do good things, God will be good to you. Job tried to defend himself, but his friends refused to listen. The only possibly explanation they could imagine for Job’s suffering was that he had messed up somewhere. Job called their words “empty nothings”.

It’s true that our own mistakes and poor decisions cause a lot of the pain that we have to endure in life. At other times, however, misery creeps in, and we haven’t done a thing to invite it there. Job was stuck in just such a position. Not only was he miserable, he was being accused of creating his misery. In a last ditch effort to defend himself, Job pointed out that evil people often live long, healthy lives with a ton of kids and wealth to enjoy. Bad people don’t always suffer, and good people don’t always win. In the midst of his darkness and suffering, Job had discovered a profound truth: there’s more to life than what you can see.  

Centuries later, the early Christian leader, Paul, picked up on this idea in a letter he wrote to encourage Jewish Christians. Paul recounted stories of amazing people from the past that God had worked through in mighty ways. He began each person’s story with two simple words: by faith.  Faith is what happens when you finally admit that there is more to life than what you can see with your eyes or make sense of with your brain. God is bigger than our brains can comprehend, and justice is often more complex than our eyes can discern. So, if today finds you in pain and misery, there is forgiveness for your mistakes and mercy for your confusion. The God whom we can’t always understand and His rescue that we don’t always see coming is more real than you can imagine, and His love for you is more relentless than you have ever hoped. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Are You Yours????

Posted by Michael

A guy named Paul helped start most of the churches in the first years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. He would check back in with the churches from time to time by letter to encourage them or help clear up something that was going on. At a church in Corinth, things had begun to get a little sideways. People that were part of the church were sleeping around, and the church as a whole didn’t seem to have a big problem with it. So, Paul wrote a letter to the church (1 Corinthians) and explained the dangers of having sex with people you aren’t married to.  He went on in the letter to talk about other things the church needed to know, and as he transitioned from his sex talk to talk about other things he threw out a general statement that served as an umbrella truth to cover all of the issues he was writing about. It was a simple phrase, but it has massive implications. The phrase was: you are not your own.

Paul painted pictures with his words to help his readers understand what it meant to follow Jesus. One of those images was of God buying us back out of slavery. We weren’t free before God came into our lives. Selfishness owned us. Our actions and thoughts were guided by what we wanted, when we wanted it. When God rescued us out of our me-centered life, He invited us into something significant and beautiful. He invited us to become rescuers alongside of Him. As we learn to trust that He really loves us and won’t ever stop, we can find the courage to love others. When that happens we are no longer our own. We don’t have to be our first concern, that’s God’s job now. We are free to be a part of the bigger story that our souls have been craving.

To be honest, I live big chunks of my life as if I am my own, wasting my time, words, and thoughts on things that aren’t beautiful. When I live as if I am my own, my decisions are usually about what makes me comfortable, or happy, or less bored. That creates a sort of life that can be comfortable at times, and even exciting at others, but in the end, it’s like playing on a rusty swing set when Disney World is open just across the street. A life that lives only for itself is a small life, and we were made for big things.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Everything Can Be The Enemy of Something

Posted by Michael

“One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”
                                                -Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau fought against slavery and other issues that he saw as governmental abuses during the early to mid-1800’s. There were many issues during his life that were worthy of attention, which makes his quote, listed above, even more meaningful. Simply stated, it’s impossible to do everything. We, like Thoreau, live in a time that contains countless opportunities to make a difference. Injustice wreaks its awful effects all around us. People are in desperate need physically and spiritually. In the midst of all this pain, it’s possible for the presence of so many options and so much need to paralyze us in our efforts to make a difference. Often times we feel powerless to bring about any great change. So, our attempts to understand or have a hand in everything keeps us from doing something.

We all have something that we can do. It may take some introspection to find your “something”, but it’s there. It is typically a merging of things you have learned from your past, your talents or skills , and issues that break your heart and engage your passion. There are no small “somethings”. We were never intended to change the world alone. God designed us to lean heavily on him, and to come together with people around us as we seek to offer hope to a hurting world. Together, our “somethings” begin to add up and evil begins to get nervous. The often overlooked truth is that you matter, and the skill, perception, and history you bring with you matters too! You don’t have to do everything in order to make a difference, your “something” is all that is needed!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Rob Bell's What We Talk About When We Talk About God

Posted by Michael

I have been listening to and reading Rob Bell for several years. I enjoy his gift for words and outside the box thinking. Bell has achieved that rare status in our culture of being deeply loved and deeply hated at the same time. I’m sure mobs with torches gather at their computers to type up critical reviews whenever he releases his latest book. He does indeed have some controversial beliefs and some that I don’t agree with personally, but that brings up a good and much needed question: Why would anyone only read things that you already completely agree with? That’s a question for a different time, however, for now let me say that I recommend Bell’s new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. In it he discusses the God who is for us, with us, and ahead of us. Per usual, Bell does a great job of bringing the beauty of the Gospel to light. While I don’t always embrace all that Bell has to say in his books or sermons, I am always challenged to think in new and deeper ways. For that reason I owe Rob Bell a debt of gratitude,and will continue to look forward to his upcoming works. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The new "Golden Age" of TV dramas

Tony here:

I have been discussing the state of the one hour drama on TV with Michael a lot lately. My contention is that right now may be the best time in the history of television for dramas. I have often heard that the early days of TV in the 1950s to early 60’s was considered the “Golden Age of Television” with many live dramatic broadcasts by the great play-writes on the time. My earliest remembrances of TV were from the mid to late 60’s when we only were able to pick up CBS and ABC programming on our set.  It is hard to imagine a time like that now isn’t it.

I remember gathering with my family to watch Perry Mason, Gunsmoke and Bonanza. These, along with The Defenders and Mission: Impossible, were considered the best dramas on TV in the 60’s.

The 70’s were basically a wasteland for TV dramas.  Columbo, The Waltons and The Rockford Files were probably the best things on along with Upstairs, Downstairs on PBS which certainly nobody in my house watched.

The 80’s were a little better anchored by NBC’s 3 great dramas, Hill Street Blues, LA Law and St. Elsewhere.

The 90’s were even better having Picket Fences and Northern Exposure on CBS, ER and Law and Order on NBC and NYPD Blue and The Practice on ABC. Add the new Fox Network with The X-Files and things were looking up.

The 2000’s brought The West Wing, arguably the best drama ever on network TV. This show, along with Lost, 24, Friday Night Lights and House gave this time some credibility. However, this began the era of the reality show and game show. Survivor, American Idol , Who Wants to be a Millionaire and their countless imitators threatened to make the  drama a TV afterthought. The big 3 networks were overrun with these types of shows, some airing multiple times each week.

However, in the world of cable TV networks, the drama was beginning to get a total rebirth.  In 2004 The Sopranos won its first Emmy as best drama and by this past year, not a single best drama nominee came from the traditional networks.  Because of these non-traditional venues, dramas are taking more chances and therefore are producing challenging and riveting TV (see The Shield.)

Right now, you can see a collection of diverse, well written and well acted dramas as good as anything that has been on TV. My favorites are:

Breaking Bad (AMC)

Mad Men (AMC)

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Hell on Wheels (AMC)

Downton Abbey (PBS)

Sherlock (PBS)

Dexter (Showtime)

Homeland (Showtime)

Shameless (Showtime)

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Justified (FX)

Sons of Anarchy (FX)

House of Cards (Netflix)

Rectify (Sundance)

Hannibal (NBC)


Also, when TV awards season comes around, keep an eye out to see if these outstanding performances get noticed:


Robin Wright-House of Cards

Corey Stoll-House of Cards

Elizabeth Moss-Top of the Lake

Aden Young-Rectify

Vera Farminga-Bates Motel

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Peace and Its Making

Posted by Michael

Peace has never been easy, but it has constantly been a desire rooted in the hearts of nearly all people across all generations and cultures. Followers of Jesus who lived in Rome shortly after His death wrestled with this desire for peace. Peace seemed impossible as they lived and worked in the midst of an empire that was growing increasingly hostile towards them. (It wouldn’t be long before Emperor Nero began throwing Christians to lions in the coliseum).  Paul in a letter to them gave advice that was both clear and concise. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  (Romans 12:18). In two short words, “if possible”, Paul conveyed a painful truth: peace isn’t always possible. Some nations will always fight. Some families will never get along. Some people, no matter how kind and loving you are to them, will always treat you poorly.

So, when people you love continue to treat you poorly, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have failed them in some way. No one has the power to make another person happy or healthy. It would be an awesome superpower to have, but it does not exist. When we accept that we can not have peace with all people, we are ready to embrace the second half of Paul’s statement, “so far as it depends on you…”. The key to peace-seeking is to understand that peace has to start and sometimes end inside of me. The world, or our spouse, or dad, or a past friend can hate us if they choose, but the virus of hate ends when it’s not able to contaminate me and cause me to hate in return those who have wronged me. External peace is wonderful, but internal peace is all we can control. I can live peaceably in the midst of people who do not desire peace. So, I pray that today, so far as it depends on you, you have peace. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Greatest Songs in the History of Mankind

Posted by Tony

I accepted the challenge from Michael and immediately came up with a top 3. Then the next grouping was too large to narrow down to only 2 songs so I coerced Michael into expanding the list to 10. There were so many songs that I could justify being on the list so I used a defined criteria including timelessness, classic status, the ability to listen to over and over again without getting nauseated, etc. So here goes:

In no particular order:
Possession                                    Sarah McLachlan
Mr. Blue Sky                                Electric Light Orchestra
Eleanor Rigby                               The Beatles
Linger                                           The Cranberries
Classical Gas                                Mason Williams
Viva la Vida                                  Coldplay
Don't Fear the Reaper                   Blue Oyster Cult
Tubular Bells                                 Mike Oldfield
Good Vibrations                            The Beach Boys
Bridge Over Trouble Water           Simon & Garfunkel
Honorable Mention:
American Pie                                   Don McLean
Stairway to Heaven                          Led Zeppelin
Layla                                               Derek and the Dominos
Speak to Me/Breath                         Pink Floyd
Amie                                                Pure Prairie League
Paint It Black                                    The Rolling Stones
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lie Bleeding   Elton John
Mr. Bojangles                                    Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Come As You Are                             Nirvana
Here Comes the Sun                          The Beatles
We Can Work It Out                         The Beatles
Jolene                                                Rhonda Vincent
The Boxer                                         Emmylou Harris
One                                                   Metallica
As for the lists submitted by Tabitha and Carl. Anybody that includes Casting Crowns and Stryper on the same list deserves respect-or therapy-I'm not sure which. And Carl was doing great with George Jones, Little Richard and Bowie but his list get's disqualified for Baby Got Back (sorry dude.) Michael gets major props for including CCR, if he could just get over that major U2 fetish he has.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Greatest Songs in the History of Mankind!

Posted by Michael

When I have a few extra minutes in the morning I enjoy flipping channels between “Sportscenter” and “Imus In The Morning”.  I only relate that to note that Imus will typically ask the people that he interviews to list their five favorite songs. That set my ADD inhibited brain into motion, and I found that listing five favorite songs is harder than it sounds. Few things impact as many people across as diverse a spectrum as music seems to. I offered this challenge to Tony, and our lists ballooned into ten songs rather than the originally planned five. So, here are my favorite songs in two five-song chunks. I will let Tony share his list later. I would also love to hear what your favorite songs are, so that I can silently judge you from afar. Just kidding…most likely….

First Five
Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Nirvana
Seven Nation Army  – The White Stripes
Where The Streets Have No Name - U2
Hurt – Johnny Cash
What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong

Second Five
Creep – Radiohead
Help! – The Beatles
Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes – Paul Simon
Down On The Corner – Creedence Clearwater Revival