Review | The Overnighters

Normally, you can find me writing and reviewing movies over at Reel World Theology. However, I got the really great opportunity to write an extended review at Reel Thinking on the movie The Overnighters.

“While it is an immensely inspiring story of a pastor and the church responding to Jesus’ call to care for those in need in their community, this ministry and the people who are ministered to are just one element of a very compelling and layered narrative. Pastor Jay Reinke’s personal story opens and closes the movie and is by far the most captivating storyline that Moss explores. An incredibly gifted and loving man, Pastor Reinke is also an incredibly flawed human, like all of us. Pastor Reinke’s story highlights the passion and the peril of Christian ministry.”

The Overnighter’s Review – Reel Thinking

Click on the article link to check it out and let me know what you think. Thanks to Blaine Grimes and John Perritt at Reel Thinking for the chance to write the article and check out their site and their other writings, as well.

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Mental Illness and Real Life

 

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Between the high profile suicide of Robin Williams, a tragic loss of a hilarious and fine actor, as well as the awareness being built surrounding the tragedy of Rick Warren’s son, , mental Illness has been on the Christian radar a lot as of late.

This struggle hits close to home for myself and my family, as my wife has struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since a very traumatic event in her life 12 years ago.  I will not share specifics but know that she was traumatized and had to relive that trauma multiple times in a short period of time where she almost took her own life, like Williams and Warren did do.

Not only is it a struggle to live with such trauma, but it is almost equally a struggle to be a Christian believer and live with the expectations, imposed from both inside and out.  It can be difficult for other Christians to understand the plight of someone with a mental illness, but a good portion of the population of America struggles with it in one form or another and it is important for people to speak up and speak for those with mental illnesses.

My wife thought it was time to speak up and add her voice as one that can understand and advocate with those who struggle with PTSD and other mental illnesses.  She wrote a great post I wanted to share here so that you, fine reader, can get help or help someone with a mental illness.  You are not alone in this struggle, and my wife speaks beautifully to that in her post over at Our Bit of Chaos.

Click on the post title to read my wife’s post: …Robin Williams…Mental Illness…and Real Life…

 

The First Time We Saw Him

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I am a regular and very avid listener to podcasts.  My favorite time to listen to podcasts is when I am conscious.  Rarely will I complete the menial tasks of my work day without listening to the Cracked podcast, Extratime Radio, /Film podcast, sermons, Comedy Bang Bang, etc.

Yesterday I got around to listening to one of my favorite podcasts on the whole wide internets, the Storymen podcast.  I instantly knew I would love this podcast when I first listened since it combines my three favorite obsessions and passions; theology, pop culture and history!  It says it right on their main banner!  (Could this count as my, “When I First Heard Them” moment?)

Anywho, they have some great guests on the show, talk about really interesting and engaging topics, and I love it when they get around to talking story, narrative, and culture.  Speaking of story, this past Friday they interviewed one of their own, Matt Mikalatos, on his new book, “The First Time We Saw Him.”

His new book is an effort to re-tell Jesus’ parables in a more culturally updated form.  When Jesus told a parable, he was striving to make the audience who heard it, and us, the readers, through the gospel writers, feel uncomfortable and confront their traditional and errant views of salvation, justice, obedience, etc.  Mikalatos’ new book aims for us to feel uncomfortable and the confrontational power of those stories by contextualizing the stories for a modern day audience that might not get the significance of the racially and heretically offensive Samaritan or the significance of a lost sheep.  Trust me, he shares those two stories and they are really powerful and I can only imagine the rest of the book has just as much substance.  I highly recommend listening to this podcast.

LISTEN to the podcast – “The First Time We Saw Him”

Even more than listening to the podcast, pick up Matt’s book that drops today!  I plan on picking up a copy and doing one of those binge reads where you ignore most of life until you’re done!  It’s only $9.99 on the Kindle and $11.24 in paperback.

The First Time We Saw Him
Click here to pick up a copy!

 

I Am a GODzilla Fearing Man

Re-View (Black)

 

Every movie, TV show, or documentary is not just entertainment but has truth claims that shape the message and story of that medium.  Re:View’s mission is reviewing movies with God in view.  Echoing Paul’s charge that, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31), Re:View looks to see where God’s truth can inform stories and where His truth can be found in the narratives and themes of the movies we watch.

Godzilla (2014) – Directed by Gareth Edwards

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There are many people, directors and fanboys alike, who would love to have Gareth Edwards’ life right now.  After a successful directorial debut with the 2010 sci-fi/fantasy drama Monsters, which garnered tons of fans and the admiration of late, great movie critic Roger Ebert and others, Edwards’ landed the $160 million budget Godzilla reboot.  Shortly before the resulting Godzilla movie landed in theaters in May 2014, Edwards was hired to direct one of the Star Wars standalone films that will be released between the new trilogy movies.  Edwards’ must be somewhere muttering Han Solo’s famous line, “Sometimes, I amaze even myself.”

Tossing aside the amazing exploits of the past 4-ish years by Gareth Edwards, he did some serious work to make the new Godzilla movie a better version of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version of the movie.  It has been well documented that previous incarnations or re-cuts of the Godzilla movies have not translated well from Japan to America.  This movie definitely stressed a more rooted return to the 1954 classic that launched Godzilla into the pantheon of movie monsters.  From naming one of the characters after the eye-patched Dr. Serizawa of the original film to the first part of the movie and a major plot device focusing on nuclear testing and nuclear power, Edwards’ Godzilla was not going to repeat the mistakes of the past with the “King of the Monsters”.

Although opinions vary on the new Godzilla movie, I join the chorus praising the movie for its overall success and introducing a better and truer Godzilla.  My partiality on this may be a bit more of my own personal preference for how the film was directed and the influence some of my favorite directors had on the movie.  For one, the name Ford Brody is a dead giveaway that Edwards’ was influenced by the great Stephen Spielberg.  Edwards even directly stated the feel of what he was going for was to replicate the suspense of Spielberg’s JAWS.  Throw in a sterling performance by Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston that came off with a bit of a Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones style intensity and you had a recipe for a Spielberg-ian feel to this movie.

Another small influence on the movie that I could definitely see was the influence of the late HR Giger and the Alien movies.  Edwards also has said that he really wanted the darker, more suspenseful portions to mimic the more fearful moments of Alien.  Towards the end of the movie when Brody and other soldiers are down on the ground level of San Francisco you can feel that tension and darkness through the thick clouds of wreckage.  It’s slightly terrifying and definitely something you do not expect from a movie with a 350-foot monster.

In an ode to Giger and Spielberg’s JAWS, what Edwards accomplishes in Godzilla, and what was masterfully done in Monsters, is to play on the elements of suspense and fear surrounding the impending monster while also probing the deeper fears of our collective societal sub-conscience.    

Edwards wanted to take the fear we associate with being shocked on-screen and take it into a deeper realm that the original 1954 Godzilla had done with Japanese fears of nuclear warfare.  However, the threat of a nuclear disaster has not reared its head in the American public conscience since the Chernobyl disaster in the 1980’s.  Edwards had to ask, “What did American and global audiences fear with similar intensity to nuclear fears that gave rise to the Cold War?”  In Edwards’ own words:

“You have to ask yourself, “What does Godzilla represent?” The thing we kept coming up with is that he’s a force of nature, and if nature had a mascot, it would be Godzilla. So what do the other creatures represent? They represent man’s abuse of nature, and the idea is that Godzilla is coming to restore balance to something mankind has disrupted.”

The nuclear power plant, the nuclear warheads, military prowess, giant skyscrapers, monorails, fighter planes, among many other things are props and motifs showcasing human and scientific mastery over nature and the elements.  The opening scene of the jungle-scape of the Philippines being marred by a giant quarry is the opening salvo of the war between man and nature.  Godzilla and the MUTOS rise out the depths in response to human abuses of nature and act as a counter-balance to what human progress has knocked out of balance.

In the opening sequence we see a JFK-like cut of old film reels and ancient artifacts showing historical depictions of sea serpents, dragons, and other symbolic and religious imagery of giant monsters.  Edwards acknowledged, “[T]he idea is that for all of time man has always found that there’s something out there for us to worship or fear, and it’s gone away for a while but in our film it returns.”  Nature can be fearful and unknown and as a people we have always been struck with the awe-inspiring wonder of what we see

The GOD in Godzilla is a testament to this wonder and fear we rightly have toward nature and the unknown.  Throughout history we have tried to quantify this fear of nature and its unknowns through dragons, sea serpents, yetis, etc.  Today’s modern version of these projected fears of the unknown and powerful are to make giant 350-foot monsters that rampage across our big screens and into our collective social and cultural consciousness.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. Romans 1:19-20

It is no coincidence that Godzilla’s name starts with God.  Edwards mirrors the Apostle Paul’s assertion that what we fear about nature is really a greater fear of the God who created all these things.  We can perceive God in the giant mountains, the great depths of the seas, and the intensity and far off wonder of the sun.  We see His eternal power and supernatural character and we rightly fear nature and perceive the divinity ruling over nature.  This fear is captured brilliantly in Godzilla through the camera perspectives that avoid the typical movie-like panoramas or frames of the monsters and it focuses on human and ground-level perspectives of the monsters that give the movie this awe-inducing and massive-scale.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”  Proverbs 9:10

All of these elements witness to the rightful fear we have over nature and the great majesty and power behind all of it.  The epic King of the Monsters points us to the even more epic King of Kings who created all things and whose majesty and power are behind every created thing.  In a time where we believe nature is at our mercy due to scientific knowledge and vast human progress, Godzilla points us to the eternal truth of our finitude and counters our supposed mastery of the natural elements with every squished building and MUTO digested nuclear missile.

“For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.”  Psalm 103:14-16

Our great and powerful creator, the God of the universe, knows that we are mere dust.  Every city destroying moment of Godzilla reflects the plain truths of man’s grass-like nature.  Like David Strathairn’s character, Admiral Stenz, we try to suppress the truth like the people Paul refers to in Romans one.  However, we cannot hide the 350-foot monster in the room.  The fall in the garden of Adam and Eve has led to the ills described by Edwards in Godzilla; man’s abuse of nature, death, strife, nuclear war.  It has also created a literal gulf between us and our creator and separated us from him.  Our sinful repression of God’s truth bears the same fruit as trying to hide the rampaging of kaiju; it reaps death and destruction in our lives and in the world and reveals the wrath of God.

“But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.”  Psalm 103:17-19

But God has not left us under His wrath, which is revealed against our unrighteous suppression of the truth, and has fully revealed his steadfast love in His son, Jesus Christ.  Like the soldiers halo jumping into the hell-torn cityscape of San Francisco, the literal saviors from the monsters, we are safe from His destruction and wrath through the condescending into history of Jesus Christ, our savior from the monsters of sin, Satan, death, and hell.

 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”  Romans 3:23-24

We no longer have to fear the destruction wrought by our sin and have been redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross and given a new life to walk with him in faith.  Godzilla is that reminder of the destruction sinful man has wrought and points to the God who has given us a savior in the perfect man, Jesus Christ.

Sounding Board: Remembering God in the Deep

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Some amazing wisdom I have received from David, pastor at Appleton Gospel and cool guy extraordinaire, on preaching is that some weeks you feel like you botch a sermon and wish it could be locked in a vault in the Nevada desert.  The worse feeling in the world is while you are preaching a sermon you can simultaneously be saying the words, wishing you could say them over, analyzing your second point and that it is not good enough, praying the Spirit speaks to one person, and wondering why some person towards the back is giving you this horrified look like they are watching an autopsy.

However, like the giant, female MUTO from the new Godzilla movie (spoiler alert!), your sermon hatches and breaks out of said vault in Nevada desert and instead of leaving a levelled Las Vegas, it leaves a swath of happy feels when you finally listen to it and get feedback from people who remember your points, think you did a great job, and will remember and pray over what you peached on.  It is those weeks that it is readily apparent this preaching thing is the Holy Spirit’s work and not mine.  Thank God He is sovereign whether I preach with a silver tongue or like a bumbling fool!

All that being said, here is my sermon from Sunday on Jonah 2; Remembering God in the Deep.  Click on the Appleton Gospel logo to download the MP3 or listen to the Podcast at AppletonGospel.com by clicking on the sermon title.  Thanks everyone and your feedback, comments, questions, death threats, snide remarks, and corporate endorsements are very much appreciated.

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Three Charges to Overcome Your Fatal Attractions

courtesy of http://ilahem.blogspot.com/
courtesy of http://ilahem.blogspot.com/

Previously I had written on Tim Keller’s sermon, How Sin Makes Us Addicts, and Keller’s two questions on how to uncover your lover gods. When we replace the love of God with love of other things, it can become an addiction that enslaves us. These replacement gods become what Keller calls “lover gods” and we spiritually sleep around with them.

The last post left little hope beyond being able to identify those lover gods, but Keller also dives deeper into Jeremiah 2 to give us good news and hope. Once we have uncovered these false gods that woos us and grab our affections, Keller offers three charges to overcoming your fatal attractions and gaining freedom from them.

Personalize Your View of Sin

So often we want to view our sin as merely a transgression of God’s law. We act in a way that we know is wrong, compare it to what God says in His word, and we scold ourselves to try and not do that again. The problem with this is that we do not recognize that sin is a power that when we scold it, it merely wants to do it more. We echo the words of Paul in Romans 7:18b-19:

“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

What we fail to realize is that sin is not merely a transgression of the law and of God, but it breaks the heart of God. Keller says the language God uses in Jeremiah 2 is one of a jealous lover who has been abandoned by his bride. Verses 2 and 3 say:

“I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the LORD,
the firstfruits of his harvest.
All who ate of it incurred guilt;
disaster came upon them,
declares the LORD.”

The people of Israel had faithfully followed God through the wilderness after being rescued from slavery and had been God’s holy, set apart people. They were the LORD’s lovely bride who he had given His heart to and they turned from Him and stabbed him in the heart.

In order to see sin for what it really is, we need to personalize it and see that our sin is not merely to run afoul in our morality or our behavior, but it is to divorce ourselves from our true love, God himself. Only then will our heart truly melt and the allure of sin and our sinful lusts can start to be overcome.

Remember Grace

In Jeremiah 2:6, God says to His people Israel:

“They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that none passes through,
where no man dwells?”

Israel, God’s people, goes after false gods because they were not remembering the grace that He had for his people when we brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. When we fail to remember God’s grace through us through Jesus Christ, our natural inclination is to turn to those things that we think will rescue, aka our lover gods.

We remember our salvation not by just calling God’s salvation to mind, but we remember through intentional times that are a picture of grace. We can remember His grace every time we take the Lord’s Supper and  remember Jesus’ body and blood shed for us. Also, when we gather together on Sunday mornings we can take that time to sing and preach about the grace of God. Opening our Bibles and reading about God’s grace is another way that we can remember His grace every day. We need to have those times where we are actively remembering God’s grace collectively and individually in order to overcome the wiles of our lover gods.

Look in the Mirror

God constantly compares his people to his bride and Keller embraces that comparison to drive home that we are to combat and overcome our lover gods by looking in the mirror. In verse 32, Jeremiah prophesies, “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.” Again, God compares Israel, his people, to a bride and compares Israel forgetting God to a bride forgetting her wedding attire?

Why would he do that? Think about it. Does a bride forget what she was wearing on her wedding day? Or as Tim Keller asks, does she suddenly get up to the altar and remember she forgot to put makeup on? Of course not! A bride is looking in the mirror all day on her wedding day. She is constantly adjusting and adorning herself as she prepares to walk down the aisle. Our flight to lover gods is tantamount to a bride forgetting to take a look in the mirror before her wedding day.

But is that not what we are constantly trying to do? Keller astutely points out that our hearts are always trying to ornament ourselves to look spiritually acceptable to God. But the point Keller is making is not to be looking in the mirror in order to make sure our own ornaments and makeup look good, but to look in the mirror and see who we are in Christ.

Ephesians 5 says that Christ came to perfect us in order to make us spotless and presentable before God. When we look in the mirror we can see that we have been adorned with the perfect and righteous life of Christ. We can join Paul, after his rant in Romans 7 about sin and our flesh, by saying, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” It is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are able to remember his stunning grace and to look in the mirror and see how beautiful we are in Christ.

The poisonous charms of our lover gods will be harmlessly neutralized when we can see the beauty of Christ before us and clothing us, and we run down the aisle into His amazing grace.

Make sure to follow 13Past1 on Facebook or follow Josh on Twitter to get updates on all the posts!  Gracias!

Two Questions To Uncover Your Lover Gods

imageIn the sermon, “How Sin Makes Us Addicts,” Tim Keller preaches on Jeremiah 2 and the language of sexual desire and idolatry addressed by God, through the prophet Jeremiah, to Israel.  Keller expounds that idolatry, when we find our own life, meaning, security, and joy apart from God, is our soul getting in to bed with something else spiritually.

Jeremiah expounds that the people of Israel, like we do today, have replaced God with other gods that become like an addiction.  As Jeremiah 2:25 says, “But you say, “It’s hopeless; I love strangers, and I will continue to follow them.”  When we follow after these replacement gods, what Keller calls “lover gods”, we become addicted to them as our source of security, joy, and pleasure and we continue to throw ourselves back into their arms.

All humans, regardless of whether we follow Christ or not, are susceptible to the trappings of false, lover gods that entice us to be in bed with them.  John Calvin famously said, “Man’s nature…is a perpetual factory of idols.”  Jeremiah sees this in man’s nature and quips, “[They] say to a tree, “You are my father,” and to a stone, “You gave birth to me,” (Jeremiah 2:27).  Our hearts take objects, like we would stone or wood, and we carve them into a image of worship and attest to their value and worth by assigning them worship (“you are my father”) and identity (“you gave birth to me”).  We not only do that, but God’s language in verse 20 literally says that when we go to worship these false idols we spread our legs before them.  We enter into spiritual, sexual intercourse with the false idols.  Shocking but true imagery of how the relationship with false, lover gods entices us and makes us addicts.

However, we cannot always see and identify the lover gods, since the spiritual attractions or our hearts are not clearly visible to us, but they are just as strong as physical attractions and can be just as or even more deadly.  Keller proffers two ways for us to be able to pull the sheets back on our lover gods and find out where we have been turning for love, joy, security, and happiness other than Him.

1) What is it that I feel I have got to have or I am dead?

Keller points to the connection between the Bible’s use of animal biology and our idolatry.  In verse 23-24, the idolatry of Israel is compared to a camel or a wild donkey in heat.  We restlessly pursue those idols as a female animal will seek out a male to mate with.  They do this not out of some complicated need to have their emotional needs fulfilled, but it is literally to survive and perpetuate their species.  They need to mate in order to live.

This is the first thing we can look to when we are seeking to find what idols we are getting in bed with.  What is in our lives that we have to have or we feel we will die?  What is so important to us that if we do not have it, it will cause our very being to feel like it has wasted away and perished?  It may the approval of other people, or one specific person.  It could be more money because it makes us feel secure and safe from the instability of day to day expenses.  We are challenged to find what will cause spiritual death if we cannot have it.

2) What is functioning more as the savior of my life than Jesus Christ?

The second question is to root out what we look to when everything goes bad.  What do we go to when the wheels have fallen off and what is standing in place of Jesus Christ as our functional savior?  These may be good things, such as wine, food, friends, spouses, etc., but we turn them into God things that rescue us from our times of trouble and deliver us into the Promised Land of whatever we need to feel alive (Jeremiah 2:27-28).

When addressing those behaviors or attitudes in your life that seem to be like the old boyfriend you just couldn’t live without or it feels like an addiction you just can’t shake, ask yourself these two questions to pull back the sheets on your lover gods and expose who you are spiritually sleeping with.  The language may be shocking for those who didn’t think your Bible could say things like this, but God wants you to see our sin for what it really is, spiritual sexual promiscuity.

*Postscript*

I would feel amiss if I did not leave you with more hope.  I will have the follow up three points on how we avoid being enticed by these lover gods and find freedom in Christ.  I’ll make sure to link it here after it is posted.

Make sure to follow 13Past1 on Facebook or follow Josh on Twitter to get updates on all the posts!  +4 Blog Potion!