Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. 2 Thessalonians 3.1-2

A foundational aspect of the Christian faith is the call to humility. We are supposed to think of the needs of others before we think of ourselves (Philippians 2.4). We are supposed to love others and work for their betterment. We Christians are to build others up, even if it means we are diminished.

In America, we are taught just the opposite of that. We are supposed to take care of ourselves, no matter what happens to everyone else. You and I are encouraged to go for the gusto. Look out for number one, is the motto of many in America. Most Americans have settled on a kind of compromise. We try our best to be independent individualists. That is, we can solve our own problems and take care of ourselves. We maintain and cherish our privacy. We don't ask others for help. We can do it ourselves.

That is why the example of Paul is so troubling to us. He, of all biblical figures, seems completely capable of working himself out of a jam, and yet, he consistently asks for help. Here he asks others to be praying for him. This is not a sign of a lack of faith on Paul's part. Do not fall into that trap. Asking another for prayer is rather an example of humility and interdependence among the church, the family of God.

There are several locations in the New Testament where Paul asks for prayer (cf. Colossians 4.2-4; 2 Corinthians 1.11). He understands the importance of prayer and the significance of relying on others.

You and I are certainly not better than the Apostle Paul. We should be sharing our prayer needs with our friends and prayer partners. We should be soliciting the prayers of those who pray. God will do great things when we are able to become humble and offer our lives to Christ in this way.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I have sinned, Lord, by trying to carry all of my burdens by myself. Give me the grace, courage and commitment to share my prayer needs with others who will pray for me. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Road Trip/ Car Games #4

Here are some more ideas for games to play in the car on long trips. These are great for families, or any other group that is stuck in the same car/ van for hours at a time. Rules are simple and there are very few supplies needed. A pencil and a note pad should do you just fine.

The Truck Lines Game

ThereBold are a couple of variations on this game.
  1. Choose a couple of well known truck lines before beginning the game. You might choose JB Hunt, Schneider, Yellow, Roadway or Werner. Choose a time limit or a destination. Now the game can begin. At the end of the game the person who has spotted the most trucks from that line wins.
  2. The second variation is to find the most different truck lines. There are literally dozens of transportation and freight lines operating in the USA. The person who writes down the most different companies will win this game.
  3. A final variation is that each player will locate the most different types of trucks. Look for dump trucks, grain trucks, panel trucks, etc. Again, the one with the most at the end of the game wins.
The License Plate Game

This game is simple for anyone to play, but you will need to take special notes and be careful of your answers. Again, there are two variations.
  1. Use the letters and numbers and letters on license plates to spell out the entire alphabet from beginning to end. Find an A on a license plate. Then you can find a B and so on. You can not use the same license plate for more than one letter. And each license plate can only be used byBold one person.
  2. In this second variation you will be scoring points by finding special license plates. Gain points by the spotting the following plates.
  • Each state will get you 2 points. You can only get points for each state one time.
  • If you get all 48 of the contiguous states you will get a bonus of 100 points.
  • Spotting Alaska or Hawaii plates will get you 25 points each.
  • Any Canadian Providence is also worth 25.
  • Any other foreign country is worth 100 points.
  • Vanity plates are worth 10 points each.
Discussion Concussion

This game does not need to be limited to car time. It will be good for anyone, anytime. Humans do not spend enough time interacting with one another. We need to spend time intentioCheck Spellingnally talking. So, us some of the following questions to start conversation.
  • What is the most important thing in your life?
  • Is there something that you would give your life for? What is it?
  • Do you think that money makes life better or worse?
  • Give an example of a time when you were extremely happy.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Christian Music

After a recent post about concerts I would like to see, I was asked about my Christian music preferences. What follows is my list of favorites. However, let me make a couple disclaimer/ explanations.

First of all, some of the best Christian music is made by secular artists. I believe that God made the music. Whether the artists, singers, composers or musicians are interested in spiritual things or not, God uses music to spread his message and reach out to people.

Secondly, there are many Christians who are not necessarily "Christian artists." For example, there is Johnny Cash, U2 and Sufjan Stevens. The music is not what you would expect to hear in church, but the heart of those making the music seeks to honor God.

Now, my list of favorite Christian artists (in no particular order):
  • Delirious
  • Hillsong
  • Phil Keaggy
  • David Crowder*Band
  • Planetshakers
  • 2nd Chapter of Acts
  • Leeland
  • Derek Webb
  • Lovesong
  • Keith Green

Friday, August 28, 2009

Simple Ways to Improve My Life

If you know me, or have read much of my online material, you know that I have an aversion to public restrooms. I have seen some of the people who have used them. (That includes you.) I am always looking for ways to make those necessary public restroom experiences more pleasant. Here are a couple that I think are sure-fire winners:
  1. All public toilets should have a toilet seat handle. The one in this photo works very nicely, but a larger, more separate apparatus would be even better. By using a toilet seat handle it would be less likely that a person could catch some "crud" from a previous toilet user. Of course, if you are a woman this does not help you at all. This is only useful for men who must use this toilet and do not want to lift the seat. (Another option would be for the restroom to come equipped with latex gloves.)
  2. Public toilets should come equipped with a "foot flusher." No one, and by this I mean me, should ever have to touch a flush handle with a bare hand. Do you know how many nasty germs are on that thing? I usually flush with my foot, until I came across this sign. It has wrecked my life. So here is my solution: They make sinks and water fountains that are activated with a foot switch. They make trash cans that are opened with a foot-lever. It is time for a foot flush mechanism. (Or again, we could have latex gloves.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Last week I was sitting in a Burger King. I do this often to study, read, think and pray. So that's what I was doing. In fact, I was reading the Bible when I looked up to see a pregnant young women in a t-shirt that had the "F-word" on the back... in very large letters.

My first reaction was to look around and see who else would be offended by this shirt. I worry about children and elderly people. Although I am sure that I was about as offended as anyone could be. Fortunately, there was only one small child in the place and he, at 2-3 years old, was to young to read. Then the girl in the shirt turned around and I saw the front of her shirt. It said, "Too drunk to care."

That is when the worst thing happened. This girl got her food, and then went and sat with the little boy and another woman. I am not sure who was the mother, but either way it concerns me that
  1. There is a child being raised in that sort of irresponsible atmosphere.
  2. And that there is a blatant disregard for the sensitivities of other people.
I had almost forgotten about this whole experience this morning as I was walking (for exercise) in my local department store. There was a man, shopping with his 8-10 year old son in a shirt that said, "Surrounded by f***ing idiots." What? He was right next to his son. Does that mean that his son is the _____ idiot?

So my problem is this: Do people not think about what they are doing, saying or wearing? Or, do they just not care? What message do we want to send to those around us? What's wrong with our society?

I have decided that I will re-double my efforts to be positive. I will think about the effect that my actions, attitudes and words have on others. I want to be source for good, for positive, for hope. Will you join me?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day... Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” Genesis 3.8-9

Have you ever know someone who had a special "prayer voice." You know, their voice gets deeper when they pray. They are more serious than usual. Even their vocabulary gets more serious. There are "eths" at the end of verbs and "Thees" and "Thous" are added for good measure. Suddenly, in prayer, Elizabethan English is alive and well.

When I was in school we had a pastor who would always get a little sober just before he said, "Let us pray." All of us kids would roll with laughter because we had never heard lettuce pray. (I am still waiting.) The problem is that sometimes we take prayer so seriously, that we forget to be normal. We think that we have to prove something to God. We need to get hyper-spiritual. Somehow we think that we can prove something by our sincerity and our conviction. But that is not the case.

Prayer is important and should not be taken lightly, but we need to think of it as a regular part of our lives. Try to think of prayer like talking to a good friend or your spouse. Your friend would be put off- maybe offended- if you changed your tone and language every time you talked to him. He would wonder why you were being so weird.

It looks like, in the passage from Genesis, that Adam had a relationship with God that allowed them to just walk and talk together. They were friends. They were normal. There was give and take, talking and listening. This is how our prayer lives should be. We should "just talk" to God. You do not need to work yourself up into some spiritual frenzy. Good wants a relationship with you, not a ritual.

Prayer: Jesus, it is important to me that you and I have a good relationship. I want to pray. And I want to hear you speak to me. Show me how to lose any pretensions that I may have. Help me to be normal and "just talk" in my relationship with you. Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pedestrian Lanes

I live in the country. It is very rural where I live. In fact, most of my life I have lived in places that are too far from the grocery store to walk there. I drive almost everywhere I go. Work, church, store, shopping, school... it's all too far to walk.

And yet, I walk. I try to walk every day for my health. And herein lies my problem (complaint) of the day. It is dangerous for me to walk in my neighborhood. There are all sorts of dangers lurking. I might get run over by a car, attacked by a rogue deer, injured by an Amish buggy, or sickened by the odor of fresh roadkill. This does not even take into account heat stroke, heart attack, frostbite and skin cancer that can occur out of doors.

So I have a suggestion. It will cost a little bit, but not too much, I think. And we can rather quickly absorb the costs and get used to them. All streets, roads and highways should have a designated pedestrian lane. This lane will need to be only about 36" wide. And although it will require extra land purchases and expense for the materials and labor, it will be a very small percentage of the overall construction cost.

This change would happen gradually. When a road is re-paved or improved the new lane would be added. It would not be necessary to go back and put the new pedestrian lane on all existing roads. Obviously, there would not be a pedestrian lane on interstate or limited access highways.

The benefits would be great for all people. There would be fewer pedestrian/ bike accidents. These new lanes would encourage exercise as well. A healthier population will be good for everyone.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Concert Wish List

I love music and attending concerts. In one recent post I listed the best concerts I have attended. Today, I give you my list of concerts that I would love to see, someday. There are a lot that I would love to attend, but will never get the chance (think Beatles, Sinatra, Buddy Holly). These are concerts that are still a possibility for me.
  • Bruce Springsteen. I would prefer the Boss with the E Street Band, but heck, beggars can't be choosers.
  • The Rolling Stones. Bill Wyman already retired. Brian Jones is dead. The rest of the guys are old. I'm running out of time.
  • Aretha Franklin. No one sings like the Queen of Soul.
  • Lyle Lovett and His Large Band. I am not sure that I can explain my desire on this one. I just think that he is funny and original.
  • Harry Connick, Jr. A Christmas-themed show would make my wife very happy.
  • Derek Webb. He makes me think and he challenges my thinking. One of his "house shows" would be perfect.
  • Paul McCartney. If I can't have the Beatles, I'll take the best of the remaining ones.
Who would you add?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Road Trip/ Car Games #3

Continuing in the tradition of Road Trip/ Car Games, I offer the following two entries. Neither of these requires any special equipment of expertise. Good luck and have fun...


This is the perfect game to play with friends (or enemies). It works great on long car trips, or rainy afternoons. In fact, the best time to play this game may be when you are trying to avoid something productive like work, homework, cleaning, etc.

There is no equipment required and the rules are simple. Everyone begins by agreeing on a topic. In our example we will use the topic 'trees.' Now each person is required to think of and then sing a song about trees. To get credit for the song, the singer has to sing enough of it to establish that it is; 1) a legitimate song, 2) about a tree, or trees, 3) that it at least mentions a tree, and 4) not made up. All the other players determine whether or not the singer gets credit for his/her song. When a singer can not come up with a song, they are out for the remainder of the round. The last remaining singer wins the round.

Some acceptable tree songs would include... "O Christmas Tree," "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree," and "Misty" ('as helpless as a kitten up a tree'). After the tree round is completed a new topic is chosen and play resumes.

Some topics could include:
Color songs
Number songs
Broadway musicals
TV Theme songs
Beatles songs
Christmas songs
Religious Songs

You will want to come up with a lot of your own topics. It is more fun if the topic is a surprise to everyone so that no one can "plan" ahead.

The Jerry Garcia Game

I noticed several years ago that in almost any crowd there is at least one person who looks like Jerry Garcia. Jerry Garcia, as I am sure that you all remember, was the bearded leader of the Grateful Dead. This phenomenon became amazing to me. Everywhere I looked there was a Jerry Garcia, even though I knew that he was dead. That made me notice other people. You would not believe how many people look like someone else, famous or not.

One day when we were having lunch in a restaurant we saw a man at the next table who could have passed for the character actor M. Emmett Walsh. These "sort of" celebrities are all around you. Open your eyes.

So play this game the next time you are with a group and in a crowd. Find someone who looks like someone else. Point out your look-alike to your companions. Everyone then gets to vote on whether or not the look-alike really looks like who you say. If the person looks like a celebrity, you get two points for every yes vote. If the person looks like a personal friend or acquaintance, you get one point for every yes vote.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Practices of the Christian Faith: Singing

If you know me very well, you know how important music is to me and my family. There is music in the car, in the office, at home. We go to concerts, play records, cds, mp3s, cassettes and even the occasional 8-track tape. We play games that involve music; games like “Name That Tune,” and “Don’t Forget the Lyrics.” We have even made up trivia games and singing games.

In church music is also important. We sing hymns every Sunday. We also have choruses, anthems, special music and praise and worship songs. The longest book in the Bible is a “hymnbook”- Psalms. There are even hymns written into the text of the New Testament. In our own United Methodist tradition, Charles Wesley, brother of John, was known for the hundreds of hymns that he wrote.

So why do we do it? Why do we sing?

  • There is the obvious answer, we sing because the Bible tells us to (Psalm 96.1, Colossians 3.16 among others). Our singing is an act of obedience to God.
  • We sing because it engages our spirits, our emotions in our relationship with God. There is something that is released in us, something beyond the intellect that takes place when we open our mouths with song.
  • We sing because it allows us access into the communal aspects of the Christian faith. It is a time that we all can join our hearts and our voices in praise and worship.
  • We sing because it allows us rhythmic expression to our faith. There is the potential for dance when we sing.

Before we finish today, let me encourage you to sing. Sing a lot. Make singing a part of your everyday Christian experience. Spend some time each day in reading the Bible, in prayer and in singing. You may need to find a quiet time and place to do this. If you are self-conscious about your singing, then sing while you are alone. But, and this is an important but, you will be blessed, inspired and encouraged when you sing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

Prayer Models- PATH

I have used this space before to introduce you to various methods of prayer. In fact, we have discussed several models that can be used to assist and instruct you in prayer. These models, including the one that follows, can be used in such a way that allows you to cover prayer completely, and to encourage consistency in your prayer time.

Use this model each day this week to pray. Spend a few minutes on each area of prayer. You will find that it is not hard to spend 30 minutes or more in prayer. Following this simple pattern will show you the ‘path to prayer.’

  • P- Praise God. When you open your prayers with praise to God, the one who made us, our lives and our prayer time will be the better for it. Our praise to God can take two forms. First of all, you can praise God for who he is. His attributes are worthy of our praise. He is great, awesome, holy, righteous, just, etc. Secondly, you can praise God for what he has done. He has given us many blessings for which we can praise Bulleted Listhim. He has answered our prayers many times. We should praise him.

  • A- Ask God. This is the part of our prayer that we usually focus on. We have lists and lists of things that we need and want. We are good at asking God for stuff. However, it would be better if we were to ask God for the needs of others at this point. You may have a list of prayer concerns that you keep for friends, family members, co-workers, church members. This is where you should offer them to God.

  • T- Thank God. Be sure to remember all the things that God has done. Make a list of what God has accomplished for you and through you. Spend time reflecting on his goodness and answers to prayer. Be grateful.

  • H- Ask for Help. Finally, after my time of prayer has covered praise, petition and thanks, you should turn to your own list of needs and concerns. God is willing to meet your needs. Now is the time to bring them to him.

This is not the only way to pray, but it is a good way. It is a great way to jump start a struggling prayer life. Spend some time with this model, this week.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I need your help, Lord. Help me to pray. Teach me to pray. Use me in prayer. Amen.

Reviewing Revolutionary Road

The Sam Mendes film, Revolutionary Road, was a darling for the awards season last year. Kate Winslet, the director’s wife, was excellent in the film and was duly rewarded for her work. Leonardo DiCaprio came up award-less, but was effective in the film as well.

DiCaprio and Winslet play a young married couple in a suburban neighborhood that seems to do little more than stifle their passions, their creativity, their love for one another and their dreams. They are trapped and cannot see a way out.

This couple seems trapped- no, they are trapped. They are popular with their neighbors. He has a good job and although he hates his work, he is in line for a great promotion. They are young, attractive, successful. Everything certainly seems perfect in their world, but neither is happy. Their unhappiness manifests itself in their frustrations with their lives. She longs to be an actress. He wants to be free. And ultimately they are both miserable. They would be miserable alone, but they are miserable together and with each other.

There are lots of problems here.

  • To begin with, I was shocked at how casually both partners engage in illicit relationships. There seem to be no doubts, no reservations and no regrets on the part of either. If this is how real people really think, no wonder there are so many marriages in trouble today.
  • The most significant issue of the movie, and the marriage, is that neither partner is capable, or maybe willing, to communicate with the other. They make decisions without talking about them or their consequences. The marriage disintegrates because no one is willing to deal with truth, or real emotions.
  • The only reasonable and truthful person in this movie is the person who is viewed as mentally unstable. Even though he is emotionally unbalanced and recently released from an asylum, he is the only “normal” person in the movie.
  • The issue of abortion is dealt with in this film. I will not disclose too much here because I do not want to spoil the plot, but there are seriously ethical questions about what are acceptable ways of escape from a bad situation.

Revolutionary Road is a good movie, but it is very sad. There are not a lot of positive messages or hopeful thoughts. It is worth watching, but it is not easy or uplifting.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Best Concerts

What follows is a list of the best concerts that I have ever attended. Some of them are what you might expect from me, others are surprising even to me. Not much more explanation is needed so here it is...
  • David Crowder Band, Elkhart, Indiana (2008)- It was a small theatre, lots of singing, all sorts of people. A great time. Good music. A really nice guy.
  • FFH, Studio B, South Bend, Indiana, (circa 2003)- It was supposed to be a 30 minute television taping, but it turned into over two hours of requests and audience participation.
  • Phil Keaggy, Pendleton, Indiana (circa 1999)- My first introduction to looping. Who needs a band when you can play and sing all the parts yourself. He plays. He writes. He sings.
  • Tree 63, Elkhart, Indiana (circa 2004)- We were outdoors. It was a small crowd. There were sound problems but everything was perfect. They were impressive.
  • Salvador and The Katinas, Indianapolis (circa 2000)- I had never heard of either group, but went to the show because it was free. I was not disappointed. Great music. Good fun.
  • Planetshakers, Studio B, South Bend (circa 2005)- Another concert we attended because it was free. But we were certainly glad. Modern praise and worship music with an Australian feel.
  • Willie Nelson, Lima, Ohio (circa 1983)- It was a free show to benefit the depressed community. There were thousands of people in a field with Doug Kershaw, Billy Swan, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings showing up. Not bad.
  • Bob Dylan, Tucson, Arizona (1980)- It was during Dylan's "Christian" period. He was only playing gospel music. There were protests, heckling and more. It was my first Dylan show.
  • Billy Joel, Fort Wayne (circa 1978)- My greatest memory is Liberty Devitto, the drummer, walking around the drums, while playing.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Dangers of Blogging

I have been at this blogging thing for a little while now. I don't work at it every day, but I do take it somewhat seriously. I share personal thoughts and reflections, some silly things and a lot of my heart. That is, I regularly share what I think is crucially important to me, to my family and to the world.

A good deal of that sharing has to do with my faith. It is important to me that my faith is communicated clearly and in a compelling way. I try to talk about faith issues as they relate to music, movies, popular culture and life in general. Faith should not be separate from normal life, but faith should be normal life.

Then it hit me last weekend: Blogging is dangerous. I have identified some serious dangers with blogging, at least in the way I do it.
  • My opinions change over time. When I share my opinion, I am giving you what I believe with all my heart. The problem with this is that as I grow- emotionally, mentally, and in faith- my opinions change. I change. In fact, I am not the same person I was 10 years ago. I have grown a lot. And that is exactly the problem. My opinions get posted online and they are out there forever. Know that I am being honest with you, but that my thoughts might be different than they used to be, and they might change in the future. I hope that doesn't make me dishonest.
  • There is a great danger of being misunderstood. I am absolutely clear about what I write when I am writing. I know what I mean to say, and I try my best to say it. The problem is that I may not always be able to effectively communicate my thoughts. Furthermore, it could be that you may not have the same context that I do, and therefore are unable to understand what I am saying. All of this can potentially lead to problems.
  • Sometimes I may be too emotional in my entries. I try to avoid strong feelings. If I am especially passionate about a subject, I give it a couple of days to settle in my heart and brain. Then I write about it- while it is still important, but not so emotional. Everyone knows the feeling of writing an angry email only to think better of it after it is sent. Blogging makes that a possibility every day. And the possibility is that the whole world will be offended by it.
  • There is a loss of privacy. If you read these entries, even the generic ones, you learn things about me. I am less private because this information is available. At any moment of any day someone can find out things about me. I know that I do this by choice, but it is a little disconcerting nonetheless.

I do not plan to stop blogging. I am not even sure that I will change how I do it. But, now I am aware of some dangers. I will be paying attention to my own writing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Points to Ponder

Have no fear, almost.
Be bold. Carpe diem. Live the adventure.
Have fun all the time.
Do not worry about what other people
or do where you are concerned.
Live to be happy and for no other human.
The bottom line:
Fear God and nothing else!


It is very clear that the world is in bad shape in a lot of ways. The problem is that all the issues on the planet earth seem overwhelming. What can one person do?

I believe that I cannot do everything that is why I too often get frustrated and quit. I can't do everything. There is too much.

I can't do everything. You can't do everything. But, together we can do something. What would happen if everyone would do one thing?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Are There Christian Movies?

When I was still in high school, my church, Union Chapel in Bryant, Indiana, hosted a series of "Christian" films. It was a great outreach event. On a series of Sunday evenings we watched "A Thief in the Night," "A Distant Thunder," "Image of the Beast" and "The Prodigal Planet." The movies were all about prophecy and the end times. It was an interpretive look at what will happen just before Jesus returns to earth.

I remember the intentions of my church family being noble. I also remember inviting some friends from school. A couple of my friends came at least once. Chris, who never went to church anywhere, came with a large, paper grocery sack filled with popcorn. Not everyone was glad to see his snacks in the sanctuary of our pretty little church.

The problem was that the movies were terrible. The acting stunk. The productions values were poor. The print that was shown in my church was awful. Although our hearts were in the right place and our congregation was doing a good thing, the movies failed to produce a positive result. In fact, I was embarrassed by them and my visiting friends spent a lot of energy making fun of the movies, and maybe even the church people who supported them.

There are a couple of excuses available for producers of Christian films. First of, because the market for Christian films is so small, the budgets of these productions is necessarily small in comparison to the typical movie coming out of Hollywood. Although some may argue (myself included) that the best films are not big-budget Hollywood productions, we are still at a disadvantage.

Since there is not as much money available for Christian films, that means that those who would like to make them are at a disadvantage. They do not have the resources or the experience to make Hollywood-quality films. Someone with deep convictions about making wholesome and uplifting movies may never get the opportunity to learn how to do that very thing.

Some things have changed through the years, however. Recent Christian films seem to be making some headway in the production values department. For example, although they are not up to par with Hollywood standards, the Left Behind movies ( deal with the same subject matter as the earlier mentioned films and have come a long way in terms of quality.

Recently, the center of Christian film making has seemed to center around a church in the south. Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia has made three respectable contributions to the Christian film genre. ( Flywheel(, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof have each provided an emotional tug and each one is better than the one before.

I will mention two others that I have seen recently. The Visitation is based on a Frank Peretti novel and deals with spiritual warfare and the power of God. Three is from a Ted Dekker book. It is the story of a seminary student being stalked and targeted by a serial killer.

Do not expect to see huge special effects and Tinseltown glitter in any of these films, but know that they are getting better.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Harry Potter and the Christian's Dilemma

It was shocking to me that upon seeing the most recent Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I have not written anything about either the books, or the movies. It is time to fix that little oversight.

First of all, let me go on record as saying that I came late to the world of Hogwarts. I had to be convinced to start reading the books. However, I did, and I have read all seven installments. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was my favorite book. I felt that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the weakest book. I have also seen all of the movies. And naturally, some have been better than others.

JK Rowling as a good writer, but she is not great. Those who have compared the Harry Potter books to Narnia or other classic children's literature are mistaken. Harry Potter will live a long life because his stories are committed to film. Frank Baum wrote a series of books about Oz. We remember his stories because one of them was turned into a movie that we all have seen. JK Rowling and Harry Potter are in this category.

There are many people, usually Christians of a particularly narrow theological persuasion, who are against Harry Potter and everything about him and his Hogwarts world. Witchcraft, wizardry and the like are the works of evil is their belief. Good Christian people should avoid all association with anything however remotely related to witchcraft or the occult. At this point, I would like to point out that in these stories, Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron, are the very personification of good. And although they often appear fallible and human, they are always struggling for virtue. They are "disciples" of Dumbledore, the benevolent headmaster and gracious teacher. It would not be stretching too far to talk about Dumbledore as a figure of God and Harry as a Christ-figure. I will not do that, however.

Suffice it to say that I do not believe the Harry Potter books or movies are bad, or detrimental for Christians (or anyone for that matter). They are fiction after all. Most Christians would protest if someone tried to take all stories with magic in them away. There would be no more fairy tales. (Cinderella, Snow White and Sleepy Beauty would all be gone.) Additionally, I am just obstinate enough that I want to know for myself what is good or bad for me. I am afraid if I take your word for what I should or should not see or do, I might miss out on something great. Consequently, I tried Harry Potter and I kind of liked him.

The most recent Harry Potter movie has very little in the way of action or violence. There are stories of teens growing up. There is good vs. evil (again). There are sad things and there are great victories. But the movie was good. The only shortcomings I came away with are:
  • Even more than the book of the same name, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was nothing more than a lengthy set up for the final installment of the series. Stories are left unfinished. I would like more closure.
  • I am a little upset that the last book will be turned into two films. Of course the books do get longer as you continue through the series. However, this seems to be nothing more than a money making scheme. I one movie can make you rich, two can make you filthy rich.
  • The much ballyhooed opening sequence seemed to be tacked on with little relevance to the story or the rest of the film. The effects were good, but it was hard to make the connection.

I will, under protest, see the last two films. And I suppose that I believe the total cycle makes for good story-telling. In it we learn a lot about good and evil, growing up, and making good decisions. And that's not bad.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Road Trip/ Car Games #2

I did an entry last week about games that you can play in the car on a long road trip. There was one comment on that entry that you might want to check out, but some of today's games come from that comment. I hope you enjoy.

Again, all of the following are games that can easily be played in the car with very little equipment required. A notepad and pencil to make lists or keep score should be enough. Have fun!!

  • License Plate Game #1. This game is much like the Billboard Alphabet game, except this time you are looking for numbers on license plates. Find a license plate where the first digit is "1". Then locate a "2", and so on. You must find the numbers in order. It gets tricky when you get to double digits, but that is also when it gets more fun. Set a time limit or a decide to conclude the game when you arrive at your destination. The person with the highest number wins.

  • Headlight Game. This is a game that is best played at night. Set a time limit on the game and begin looking for cars with a light that does not work. Give yourself 5 points if you spot a missing headlight, 3 points for a missing fog light and 2 points for a tail light that does not work. The person with the most points wins. One extra rule: Once a car is claimed by one player, another player cannot use it. Likewise, you can only get points once for each car. For example, if the car has a burned out headlight and fog light, take the 5 points for the headlight, but you cannot count the fog light.

  • I Spy. This is an all-time classic. One person begins the game with, "I spy with my little eye something that is..." and finished the line with a clue. The other players then try to guess what the first player sees.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Some Thoughts- You Decide if They are Worth Thinking...

If you can be happy with nothing...

If you can be satisfied with no one...

If you can find contentment nowhere,

You can experience joy with


Anyone and

Any place.


No matter what you do

(Even if you don't want to)

You should work hard to make sure

That you have some fun doing it.


If it can't be fun,

And you don't have to do it,

Don't bother.


Some people have more faith in their desperation than in God's ability to overcome their desperation.


Dream big
Dream a little dream
Dream on
I like dreaming
When I grow too old to dream
All I have to do is dream.

Everybody dreams. And everyone should dream. But how big should your dreams be? Ask two questions to answer that:
  1. How big is your God?
  2. How much time will you give to your dream?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Pray it Forward

I don't often do this, but I just received an email from Bishop Mike Coyner. Bishop Mike is the leader of the Indiana Area of the United Methodist Church. He sends periodic "e-pistles" to churches, pastors and laity in Indiana. This one came today as I was thinking about what to write in this "Weekly Prayer Thought." I think that you will enjoy this, and it is certainly appropriate.

“Pray It Forward” – August 3, 2009

Several years ago there was a wonderful movie called “Pay It Forward” in which a young school boy conducts a class experiment to change the world by teaching people to “pay it forward” – to do acts of kindness and good deeds to others without asking for repayment, but rather by asking them to also pay it forward to someone else. It is a lovely idea, and most of us can tell wonderful examples of people whose acts of kindness have been given freely to others, thus inspiring a whole series of such acts.

I have been thinking how that same principle can apply to our prayers, and I have even noticed that the Lord’s Prayer makes that explicit. Allow me to explain.

Often our prayers are focused upon the past or the present. We pray for forgiveness of the past, and we pray for our immediate needs. Such prayers are always appropriate, and in fact the Lord’s Prayer of Jesus teaches us to pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” and “give us this day our daily bread.”

While praying for the past and the present are appropriate – and in fact Jesus teaches us to pray for both – it seems to me that we often neglect the other aspect of the prayer of Jesus: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This kind of praying for the future can sound distant and remote, or perhaps na├»ve and overly-optimistic. But what if Jesus is really asking us to “pray it forward”?

Jesus may be asking us to pray for the future, but also to help make that future a reality. Such “praying it forward” might lead us to actualize the very future for which we are praying. Do you want a future with peace? Then pray for peace but start making it a reality now by living in peace with the people in your lives. Do you want a future of righteousness? Then pray for righteousness, but start making that a reality now by living your own life of righteousness obedience to God’s truth. Do you want a future in which hunger and disease are eliminated? Then pray for that new reality, but start working right now by living a healthy life and providing for the good health of others. Do you desire a future in which all people know Jesus as Lord and Savior? Then pray for that future, but start living your own life right now as a witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

When I first entered ministry, we United Methodists celebrated this part of the Christian year as the season of Kingdomtide. That always seem a bit audacious to me, as if we could somehow build the Kingdom of God on our own – and indeed it often seemed as if the days of the “Social Gospel” and the activism of the 1960’s fell into that misguided effort. It was easy for us to become do-gooders who tried to change the world by our own efforts and our own agenda, rather than being faithful disciples of Jesus who relied upon the guidance and power of God.

However the deeper meaning of Kingdomtide might be “praying it forward.” We are called to make the reign of God a reality in our lives by praying for God’s powerful transformation and by living within that transformation already. Our own faithfulness helps to make the reign of God a present reality, even as we pray and anticipate a future fulfillment. Isn’t that why some people’s own lives seem “holy” or “saintly” – because we sense that they are already living within the reality and power of the reign of God? I have known many such people, and I am always amazed to stand in their presence and to sense that they are already a part of God’s future Kingdom. Always such persons are persons of prayer, but they go beyond prayer to do what I am calling “praying it forward.”

And so I am called to pray it forward, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And I am called to live in that reality.

Prayer: Lord God, remind us to always pray. And as we pray, help us to pray for your Kingdom to come. May your Kingdom come into our lives, now and always. Amen.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Road Trip/ Car Games #1

What follows is intended for families, youth groups and others who are going on long car/van/road trips. The time will go more quickly if everyone participates. All that is required for the following games are a small notepad, a pencil and a good sense of humor.
  • The Billboard Alphabet Game. This is a trusty old standby. Everyone has already played this game. As you are driving you look at all the signs (outside of the car) and find all the letters in the alphabet. The first one to clear all 26 letters wins. It is a good idea- but not necessary- to require that each letter, or even each sign be used only once.
  • The Last Name Alphabet Game. On one page of your notepad, write one last name for each letter of the alphabet. For example: A- Adams, B- Baker, C- Carter. The first one to have all 26 letters covered wins the game. Make sure to check each person so that no one cheats. Some variations could include:
  1. A competition to come up with the most "A" names in one minute. You can use any letter.
  2. A round-robin where each person has to come up with a name for the next letter. I will get A- Albertson. The next person will answer Boone, for B. And the game continues until the alphabet is complete.
  3. In another round-robin variation, everyone must come up with an "A" name before you can move on the "B".
  • The Country Alphabet Game. This is much like the "Last Name" game, with geography. Everyone gets a new page on their notepads and lists one country for each letter of the alphabet. For example, A- Australia, B- Bermuda, C- Cuba. You can use the same variations with this game. Another variation would be a contest to see who could name the most total countries.