Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Jesus Prays

As we prepare to remember Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, take a moment to reflect on Jesus' prayer and his agony.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movie Review: Heaven is For Real

I watched a preview of this movie, courtesy of Outreach Canada last month.While I had initial reservations about the story itself, when it comes to actually portraying the book, the film does very well. My review will not be on whether it is theologically right or not, or whether I agree with all of the interpretations made in the movie. My review will be based on how inspiring the whole movie is, and in terms of how wholesome it is for family viewing. (Website resources here)

Before I proceed, let me simply summarize the story as one of a three year old boy named Colton Burpo who had a near death experience, following an emergency surgery. For that brief moment, no one except Colton himself had an afterlife experience in heaven. He saw Jesus. He saw his grandpa. He even had his sister in heaven give him a hug. All of these events were never told to him while on earth. In that brief trip to heaven, Colton was able to learn about it all, and to share the incredible details on earth. What followed was an amazing string of revelations and inspirations that not only amazed people, it threw people into a whirlwinds of faith and doubt; trust and suspicions.

Let me provide five thoughts about the whole movie.

1) Quality: A Very Well-Made Film

Gone are the days where Christian movies tend to be seen as "woody" or non-professional enough for the mainstream. The quality of Christian films has generally improved. This movie takes it a leap further. With powerful acting and well-known names in Hollywood, backed by a reputed Sony Pictures brand-name, this movie has ushered Christian movie-making into a very respectable realm. With Academy Award® nominee and Emmy® award winning actor Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo and Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo, the quality of acting exceeds many Christian movies previously made.  You can read more about the cast and details here.Even the acting by little Connor Corum as Colton Burpo is superb.

2) Empathy: It Asks Many Common Questions on Behalf of the Audience

There is a sense that the producers of the movie have adopted the position of a skeptic as they film the movie. With Todd Burpo as the pastor, volunteer fireman, husband and father constantly questioning and battling his own doubts, Burpo tackles the common doubts on behalf of the audience. It is clear that the producers were trying to see the whole movie from a skeptical and questioing audience point of view. Is it really true? Can we truly believe Colton's story? What if it is all a fake? Is heaven really for real?

Having the father agonize and struggle through it all gives a sense of authenticity in the search for truth. This is something I appreciate, as the movie really puts itself in the shoes of the audience and asks many of the commonly anticipated questions on our behalf. Kudos to the producers!

3) Speed: A Good Pace

The story began gradually and did not immediately go into the heavenly experience. I noticed that the producers took pains to draw up the contexts of the whole family situation. There was the duty of a father who has preaching responsibilities at Church; an important volunteer firefighter member of the small community; a charitable man often providing service without expecting cash but whatever others could pay in kind. Once Colton had that heavenly experience, the revelation came in small steps. Each time the revelation was shown, audiences could feel how it hits home. The pace allowed doubts and questions to be lingering rather than smothered with less than satisfactory answers. This is important as the movie is not there to convince people whether there is a heaven or not. Instead, it is trying to portray as accurately as possible, the Burpos' perspectives. With such a controversial subject, it is wise to pace accordingly.

4) Inviting Not Imposing

Unlike evangelistic movies, this movie invited audiences to think and to question, rather than to impose answers. That is movie making at its best. In fact, such a approach will appeal to a larger audience, both Christians as well as non-Christians. Churches or Christians trying to reach out to their friends, ought not to oversell the message. Invitation is best. Let the movie do all the questioning and the talking. After the movie, we can do all the discussing without having to fear not having all the right answers. Let the movie raise the topic of heaven and to open up conversational moments for everyone. 

5) Inspiring

Overall, the story was an inspirational one. None of us will be able to prove beyond any doubt whether the burpos' stories are true or not. It can only be as true as their claims. If we can put aside skepticism, objections, or any forms of negative feelings toward the entire Burpo experience, and to just enjoy the movie as it is, the end result is an inspiring and meaningful one. After all, as Christians, we believe there is a heaven. If this movie can at least demonstrate that there are glimpses of heaven in everyday life, it may enable us to be more watchful for heaven while on earth. Watch the trailer here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Monday, April 14, 2014

BookPastor >> "Clash!" (Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner)

TITLE: Clash!: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are
AUTHOR: Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Hudson St Press, 2013, (320 pages).

As the world becomes more inter-connected, people will increasingly cross paths. Various people groups will intermarry and cultures will merge and adapt to each other. In many situations, they may even clash and produce conflicts never encountered before. In view of the inevitable conflicts, maybe the road ahead is not to arm ourselves with weapons but to wear the hats of understanding wherever we go. We anticipate changes. We welcome diversity. We seek first to understand than to be understood. This is where this book comes in. The key idea is, because cultural conflicts make us who we are, it is imperative to come up right through constructive interactions and engagements.

In an insightful study of eight different cultural conflicts, the authors who are also cultural psychologists describe the differences, reveal the various perspectives, and how we can understand the differences so that we can not only better appreciate them, but to learn to live and let live where necessary. At the root of their quest is the desire to locate ourselves and to find our identity that is being shaped by these cultural clashes. Describing the left side culture in terms of "I" (self, mind, psyche, and soul), and right-side "culture cycle" in terms of (I's, Interactions, Institutions, and Ideas), the authors contend that culture shaping begins from the left, conditioning the right, which in turn perpetuate this cycle. What if the shaping is non-constructive but destructive? What if our cultural blindness leads to misunderstanding and wars? Differences indeed can annoy people. What is needed is to break this negative culture cycles and to replace them with positive constructive efforts to live together well in eight ways.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Transcend the Documentary

There has been a long standing connection between faith and running. Believers are exhorted in Hebrews 12:1 to "run with perseverance the race set before us." The Apostle Paul also uses the image of running and racing when he wrote to the Corinthian Church:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Writing to Timothy, Paul proclaims boldly in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

In an upcoming documentary feature film called "tRANscend," producer Michael Del Monte probes into the connection between running and faith. Interviewing famous runners, authors like Philip Yancey, theologians, coaches, and other professionals, the film highlights that underlying the power and perseverance of every marathon runner is an undying faith. It is the faith that propels the running, and watching this documentary will show us that running the race is not simply a biblical metaphor for Christians, it is a principle for life.

Watch the trailers here and here. You can preorder the film here.


Trailer #1


Trailer #2


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Let Me See You in All Things"

"May Your Spirit guide my mind,
Which is so often dull and empty.
Let my thoughts be always on You,
And let me see You in all things.

May Your Spirit quicken my soul,
Which is often listless and lethargic.
Let my soul be awake to Your presence,
And let me know You in all things.

May Your Spirit melt my heart,
Which is so often cold and indifferent.
Let my heart be warmed by Your love,
And let me feel You in all things."

(Johann Freylinghausen, 1670-1736)

Monday, April 07, 2014

BookPastor >> "Unfashionable" (Tullian Tchividjian)

TITLE: Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different
AUTHOR: Tullian Tchividjian
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Waterbrook Multnomah, 2009, (224 pages).

What's fashionable for the world is not necessarily appropriate for the Church. What's appropriate for the Church is often despised and rejected by the world. The problem with the Church is that it has become prey to the expectations of worldliness. Christians are called to make a difference by being different, not similar to the world. They are called to be a witness for Christ. The key thesis of the book is this: "Christians make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don't make a difference by being the same."


That's another way of describing Jesus' warning to us that any salt that loses its saltiness is useless.  What I really appreciate is Tchividjian's initial list of ten "fashionable" things Christians do, how he first critiques the many subtle tendencies Christians have to adapt to the world instead of adapting to Christ. Written in four parts, Tchividjian shouts through the pages of the book with this phrase: "Christian! In Christ, you are already different."

Part One is about our Calling that we are called to be the people of God that the world will tend to reject. If the world has wholeheartedly rejected Christ, will the disciples of Christ be treated any better? For the sake of the world, live out our calling! He warns us against shallow interpretations of the world's needs. Rather than trying to make ourselves look like the rest of the world, we need to be aware that the world is looking out for meaning amid an atmosphere of emptiness.People are finding relevance increasingly irrelevant.  They want people to be fashionable on the outside, but deep inside, they are crying out for a difference. The obedient will not be easily seduced by the world, but will hang on to the call.

Part Two is about the Commission as stated in Scripture. We are not to be surprised at the way the world treats Christians. Better to be unfashionable to the world and be obedient to the Word. Better to against the world and be accused, so that we are better able to communicate the truth of God. Better to be used to participate in the expansion of the kingdom of God, to be in the world even as we are not of this world. We are urged not to be culturally removed, not to be too relaxed about it, and to be united in mission mindedness over and above tribal mindedness. I really like what the author says:
"We work at becoming together what God wants the rest of the world to become. The purpose of God's people is to show a watching world what one day will fill the whole earth." (112)
Part Three expands on the above through six marks of what a community in Christ looks like. This is the single biggest witness of the gospel. First, by demonstrating its truthfulness to one another, the community of God will learn to embody, to live out, to testify the unity of God's people. Second, as a community grows more toward sharing the heart of God, one learns to be as angry as God is, and to be aware of the difference between self-centered anger and God-centered rage. The third mark of a community of God is one that refuses to steal but prefers to be generous to one another. The fourth mark is a redemptive emphasis the community can do through graciousness, encouragement, and godliness. The fifth mark is kindness especially in the area of learning to speak the truth in love. Our testimony as a unique community can be visible through the way we treat one another. Ultimately, the way forward for relationships is to build on on love not lust.

Part Four is a charge for us to live out our calling regardless of how fashionable or unfashionable we are. It is a short one chapter that gives some examples of the saints of old who refuse to tamper their own testimony to suit the world but to remain faithful to the original calling and design God has given them.

So What?

This is a simple book with a tough message that Christians are not to be lukewarm or cool. They are called to be red-hot for God even when it means rejection by the world. We are not called to fit into the world's systems in order to make friends with them. We are called to be God's kingdom people to the world that people would want to come and make friends with us. It is a great reminder for us to remember that if we do not stand up for Christ, no one would. There is no need to dumb down ourselves simply because the world do not accept us. We are not in the business to make the world accept us. For we carry a calling from God to be what God has made us to be, not what the world want to mold us into. For the Christian, being unfashionable to the world is to be expected. Tchividjian is right. We can only make a difference in this world not by sameness but by being counter cultural. I remember vividly an example of an international ministry leader who shared about their ministry being like a mini United Nations. The only difference is that: "We are united."

That is so true of what a Christian community is all about. As the world bickles and quarrels with one another, Christians can set an example to live, to grow, and to become a united community in Christ.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Leaving a Legacy"

This story by Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the US Senate reminds us about legacy and the kind of life we like to leave behind.

You’re going to meet an old man someday down the road—ten, thirty, fifty years from now—waiting there for you. You’ll be catching up with him.

What kind of old man are you going to meet? He may be a seasoned, soft, gracious fellow—a gentleman who has grown old gracefully, surrounded by hosts of friends, friends who call him blessed because of what his life has meant to them. Or he may be a bitter, disillusioned, dried-up old buzzard without a good word for anyone—soured, friendless, and alone.

That old man will be you. He’ll be the composite of everything you do, say, and think—today and tomorrow. His mind will be set in a mold you have made by your beliefs. His heart will be turning out what you’ve been putting into it. Every little thought, every deed goes into this old man.

Every day in every way you are becoming more and more like yourself. Amazing but true. You’re beginning to look more like yourself, think more like yourself, and talk more like yourself. You’re becoming yourself more and more.

Live only in terms of what you’re getting out of life, and the old man gets smaller, drier, harder, crabbier, more self-centered. Open your life to others, think in terms of what you can give, your contribution to life, and the old man grows larger, softer, kindlier, and greater.


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