Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Days of Christmas!

As you probably know, I love Christmas. I love the music, the decorations, the pageants, the get-togethers, and yes, all kinds of Christmas movies and TV specials. Over the past couple years, I've written about some of my favorites - everything from The Grinch to Ernest Saves Christmas - because the Advent and Christmas season is just one of my favorite times of the year!

A quiet Christmas with the Cunningham family
(including the older brother, Chuck!)
Recently, I rediscovered the first Christmas episode from the classic TV show, Happy Days (from Season 2), and it made a huge impression on me. In the episode, Ritchie's father, Howard, wants nothing more than for his family to have a nice, quiet Christmas together. He wants them to take part in all the classic family traditions, and most importantly, he wants their celebration to be family-only. After all, this, Howard later says, is "the whole point of Christmas Eve"!

And I would imagine that for many families, this is exactly what they believe - that Christmas is about families spending time together and having a nice dinner and trimming the tree and reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" together, and showing their love for one another by buying each other as many presents as they can afford - or as many as they can get on credit!

But then there's Fonzie...

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Living Memorial

With Thanksgiving approaching, I hope your mind is on more than turkey and stuffing and football! I hope it's on family and friends and all the blessings you have in your life. When I was little, we always took the time before Thanksgiving dinner to go around the table and have everyone talk about what we were thankful for. Some years, it was hard to think of anything others wouldn't say first, but I remember some years when I couldn't wait for my turn to share!

"Give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Whether it seems like something easy or hard, gratitude is an important attitude to have, and I'm glad we were taught early on to think about what we appreciated in life and express our thanks. Having an attitude of gratitude can help you when life is rough by reminding you that not everything is bad. Having this attitude also helps you to stay humble when you remember that "every good and perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17, NIV).

I was thinking about all this recently when I was watching Western classic, The Sons of Katie Elder, starring John Wayne and Dean Martin. In the movie, four sons come back to their hometown after news that their mother, Katie, has passed away. When they arrive, they slowly find out that their father had been murdered and their mother had sold the family farm to make ends meet, and they begin trying to piece together the mystery of what happened to their family and their home. In the midst of this, there's one scene that particularly stands out to me.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Birds of a Feather

Every October, I go on a scary movie binge. I'm not really a big fan of horror movies in general, because I have a low tolerance for blood and gore, but I love to watch classic monster movies (as I've shown before with posts about Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man). I also love movies with good suspense. It should be no surprise, then, that many of my favorite films to watch in October are those directed by the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock!

Hitch's thrillers typically have a psychological edge (which to me is always fascinating), and he has a way of building on many of our common fears. Frequently, what happens on screen isn't even as scary as what's happening in the viewer's mind! In fact, his movies were so scary for their times that Hitchcock once said he was afraid to watch his own movies!

Ornithophobia - the fear of birds - is apparently a fairly common fear, and it's said that even Hitchcock shared this phobia. This, plus the true story of thousands of birds that descended on a small California town one night in 1961, and a little bit of imagination all combined to make the perfect storm for a brilliant Hitchcock horror flick in 1963.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Get Smart (about Spiritual Warfare)

For some reason, over the past decade or more, Hollywood seems to have been obsessed with taking every popular TV show from the 60s through the 80s and turning it into an "updated" big-screen adventure. Generally speaking, I try to avoid these, because what they end up with is almost never as good as what we already have, and often their attempts to make things more "modern" or "adult" just ruin it - but once in a while, I can't help myself, and OCCASIONALLY I am pleasantly surprised!

The 2008 movie, Get Smart, is an interesting example, because there are definitely lots of elements that are meant to remind you of the original series: Max still uses all the old catchphrases from the TV show, character names are carried over, they still use the telephone booth and the shoe phone, and there's even a cameo by Bernie Kopell (the original Sigfried). There are other allusions to the old show, too, and yet, no one in the movie is really trying to do an impersonation of the original actors. Terence Stamp (the new Sigfried) said he had never seen the show before he assumed his role. Steve Carell (the new Maxwell Smart) didn't even try to imitate Don Adams' iconic voice or copy his delivery of the famous catchphrases. And yet, as a fan of both spy films and the old show, I personally enjoyed it.

Of course, Maxwell Smart was never as smooth as James Bond. He was always somewhat of a klutz, and made you wonder how he ever could have become a secret agent in the first place. But would you believe that the new Max can actually teach us some important spiritual truths?

Well, believe it or not, I'm gonna try to explain.....

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cancer Sucks, and Life Is Not Fair

I think we can all agree to that much. I think we can also agree that dealing with the painful things in life is not always easy. For that reason, I think it's important to recognize that grief is a process, and everyone has to learn to deal with it in his/her own way. These are just some of the themes that come out in The Fault in Our Stars, a movie about a teenage girl with cancer, and her struggle to live with the fact that she's dying.

Cancer doesn't care how old you are
I'd like to begin by saying that this is definitely not the kind of movie you take your church group to see. There are several references to Christianity in the movie, and almost all of them are negative. But that's not to say that all Christians should necessarily avoid it. There are several points from the film that are certainly worth considering.

WARNING: This post contains spoilers!

Cancer - like other diseases, natural disasters, and car accidents - doesn't care how old you are, and for Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), cancer came calling when she was 13 years old. Over the years, she had the ups and downs of a roller-coaster - this treatment seems to be working, then it doesn't work, then something else works, then it doesn't work, she gets better, she gets worse - and now, at 17, even though the latest treatment seems to be working, she finds herself often depressed as she faces the reality that this can only go on for so long.

It's not fair.

It never is.

But unfairness doesn't stop bad things from happening to anybody. Why did my dad have to lose a foot in a tractor accident? Why was I born with vision problems? Neither case was really anybody's fault - we didn't do anything to deserve it - so why did it have to happen? Or just as importantly, what do we do now? How do you handle it when life is more than just unfair, but it's downright cruel?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Quality Christian Programming

When I was growing up, we had a cassette tape of Blaine Bowman and his family that I think I just wore out. With a combination of singing and preaching and a fair amount of comedy, the Bowmans put on a great show, and if you have an opportunity to see them live, I would highly recommend it!
Perhaps my favorite thing on this cassette we had, though, was a little sketch called "The Radio Broadcast", which was basically pokin' fun at some of the things you sometimes hear if you listen to Christian radio. It's not meant to make anybody mad - it's just a little fun - and it starts off with this one little line:
"Have you ever been driving down the road, looking for some quality Christian programming on the radio, but all you could find... was Christian programming? It ain't quality, it's just Christian!"
The sketch proceeds from there to give you an example of just how bad some Christian radio programs can be, from people singing out of tune to some sort of... questionable... interpretations of the Bible to overly-dramatic pleas for listeners to send in donations. It's truly hilarious to listen to and kind of sad when you stop and think about it!

Friday, March 21, 2014

5 Keys - How to Live in Mayberry Today (5/5)

All week long, I've been talking about The Andy Griffith Show, and how nice it would be if we could somehow make the world we live in more like Mayberry. Some people may dismiss the idea, saying that times have simply changed too much or the show was just a work of fiction in the first place, but I honestly believe that this world can be changed if each of us takes responsibility for ourselves and tries to set a good example for others.

So far, I've covered four of the five keys I think would make it possible for anyone to live in Mayberry:
  1. Live with Grace - This includes things like tolerance, forgiveness, trust, helping each other, and just generally treating people with the same kind of respect you expect from them.
  2. Value Other People - This means putting the needs and feelings of others ahead of your own and learning to be humble. If you can do this one, it will be a big help in doing the first one!
  3. Seek Peace with Others - This goes hand-in-hand with the first two and emphasizes the importance of love, patience, and the ability to let things go. It means accepting people who are different from you, and it means looking for non-violent ways to resolve conflicts as often as possible.
  4. Lead by Example - It's important to remember that others see you and can be influenced by your lifestyle. It's important to model the Mayberry mindset consistently if you want others to see its value and start living it for themselves.
All of this leads us up to the fifth key, which might actually make the first four easier...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

5 Keys - How to Live in Mayberry Today (4/5)

Do you ever watch The Andy Griffith Show and wish you could somehow escape to Mayberry? Do you long for simpler times filled with lots of laughter and loving relationships? Well, over the past few days, I've been talking about some of the basic principles taught on the show, and I believe these ideals have the potential to change the world if you let them! If we all could learn to Live with Grace, to Value Other People, and to Seek Peace with Others, wouldn't that be a huge step in the right direction?

If you said yes to this, then you're ready for the fourth key to living in Mayberry...

4. Lead by Example

If you want to live in a world where people treat each other with love and respect, you make that happen by first learning to treat others the way you want to be treated and then trusting others and teaching them how to follow your lead. Whether you sense it or not, people notice the way you live. They notice how you act, the things you say, and they see the outcome of your lifestyle. You can influence the community around you just by setting a good example – and perhaps the most important influence you can have is on the children in your life. This is especially true for parents, but everyone should remember that children who see you can soak things up like a sponge!

Perhaps the clearest example of this is in “The Case of the Punch in the Nose”. In this episode, Barney finds a record of an assault case 19 years ago that was never officially closed. The case involved Charlie Foley, the grocer, and Floyd Lawson, the barber. Since both men still live in town, Barney decides to dig into the facts in an attempt to officially close the case. He is seeking legal closure, when he should be seeking peace! As a result, Floyd and Mr. Foley get fired up over something that should’ve been left alone, and they begin arguing and fighting again. Then others get involved, taking sides, and the next thing you know, the whole town is divided into two camps. The fighting is not limited to the adults, either: soon Opie is sent home from school for fighting with his best friend, and it turns out they were fighting over the same issue! The children have followed the poor example set by the adults!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

5 Keys - How to Live in Mayberry Today (3/5)

The Andy Griffith Show came on the scene in the 1960 - the beginning a decade marked by wars, civil liberty disputes, assassinations... It was not a peaceful time, but this show reminded people then, as it does now in reruns, of a simpler age and a better way of life. Wouldn't it be great if we could somehow turn back the hands of time and live in a world like Mayberry?

Well, I believe you can bring some of the magic of Mayberry into your world today, if you're willing to simply live by a few principles that were modeled for us on the show. A couple days ago, I told you that the first key to all this is to learn to Live with Grace. Then, yesterday, I said the second key is to Value Other People.

Today, I'll explore the third key...

3. Seek Peace with Others

We live in a world that’s filled with a lot of anger and bitterness and hate. People seem willing to go to court or to start a fight whenever anyone even makes the slightest mistake. Congress has become so polarized on both sides that they can’t get anything done without first playing their game of “political chicken” to see how close to the edge they can take us before we go over the ledge. Issues like racism, abortion and the same-sex marriage debate continue to divide the American people. But if we truly want to live in Mayberry, then we have to learn to seek peace with others.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

5 Keys - How to Live in Mayberry Today (2/5)

Wouldn't it be nice if we could go back to a simpler way of living? Wouldn't it be great if people learned to get along more and everyone seemed to genuinely care about those they came in contact with? Don't you just wish sometimes that life was more like The Andy Griffith Show? Well, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, I believe you really can put some of the magic of Mayberry into your world today, if you're willing to live by just a few simple principles.

Yesterday, I talked about the first key to all this, which is learning to Live with Grace. This includes things like going "not so much by the book, but by the heart" (as Barney puts it) in the way you deal with people. It includes learning to give people a second chance, to forgive, to treat others the way you'd like to be treated. But this ideal isn't always easy to live up to, as I'm sure you already know.

That's why you also need the second key for living in Mayberry...

2. Value Other People

You might like to believe this is just common sense, but the truth is that many people today seem to be more concerned with “taking care of Number One” than with taking care of anyone else. The evening news is filled with stories about employees who didn’t care who they had to step on as they climbed the corporate ladder and parents who were more concerned with getting their next high than providing a safe environment for their children. Headlines tell of countless others who were willing to steal and cheat to get what they want with no regard for those who are hurt by their actions.

But in Mayberry, Andy and others give us example after example of a better way of life...

Monday, March 17, 2014

5 Keys - How to Live in Mayberry Today (1/5)

The 1960s was a decade marked by civil rights battles, the sexual revolution, an increase in drug experimentation, and the Vietnam War; yet one of the most popular TV shows in those days – The Andy Griffith Show (TAGS) – reminded people of a simpler way of life. Week after week, Americans tuned in and journeyed to a place where folks genuinely loved and looked after each other. “Mayberry” may have been a fictional town, but for many, it was the place they longed to call home.

From its debut in 1960 until it went off the air eight seasons later, TAGS was consistently among the highest rated shows on TV, and it has aired continuously in reruns ever since. Part of the reason for the show’s longevity is that the lovable characters seem real. Most viewers can think of real life examples of Aunt Bee or Floyd the Barber – maybe you can even see a little bit of Barney in one of your friends or hopefully a little bit of Andy in yourself! Another reason the show has endured is because it's family entertainment that teaches family values. Sure, Otis gets drunk on a regular basis and Andy gets grumpy from time to time, but you'll never hear them cuss or make sarcastic insults at the expense of others, the good guys always win, and you're virtually guaranteed to end every episode feeling happier than when it began!

I’ve often heard people say how life would be better if we could all just live in Mayberry, and I’m inclined to agree. But I would also say that you CAN live in Mayberry today, if you want!

How is that possible?!

No, I’m not saying you should move your family to Mt. Airy, NC (Andy Griffith’s hometown, which many believe was the inspiration for Mayberry on the show). And no, you don’t have to give in to delusions and just pretend that everything is fine when it’s really not...

Monday, March 3, 2014

Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

In 1997, Jim Carrey was honestly hilarious in his role as Fletcher Reede, a fast-talking lawyer who has to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth for 24 hours after his son's magical birthday wish comes true. Now, sure Liar Liar is entirely a work of fiction, and it's just a bit of fun to watch as Fletcher convulses and talks in weird voices only because he can't lie... but I wanted to take some time to talk about it today because I think there are some really good truths hidden in amidst the fun for us!

First of all, the movie makes it clear that lying has a way of hurting both others and yourself.

In the beginning, it appears that Fletcher will lie to almost anyone to get what he wants. He lies to his co-workers so they'll all like him. He lies to the receptionist so he can avoid awkwardness. He even recruits his secretary to lie on his behalf, and he doesn't seem to have any remorse over it. But when Fletcher tells his ex-wife that he'll be there to pick up his son at a certain time and he doesn't show up, it hurts them. It hurts his son, especially, and knowing this upsets him, too.

Maybe you don't consider it a lie when you make a promise and you can't follow through because of circumstances beyond your control, but to the person on the other side, it still feels the same. You said you'd do one thing, and you didn't keep your word. Whether it was your fault or not, that doesn't always change things - especially not in Fletcher's case, where we learn that this is a long-standing pattern. After Fletcher fails to come through too many times, his ex finally decides she can't put herself or their son Max through this anymore, so she accepts an offer to move away and marry her boyfriend. She's not really ready for that step, but she has to do something to make a change.

Lies and broken promises will hurt the ones you love, and they will wind up hurting you, too! That's why the Bible says we should never lie, and it's better to not to make a promise at all than to make one you can't keep (Leviticus 19:11-12; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6).

"Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
but those who act faithfully are his delight."
- Proverbs 12:22

Life would be so much easier if we all just told the truth all the time, then, right?

Well, maybe not...

This is the second big truth the movie shows us: Telling the truth can still hurt others and yourself.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Holocaust of Souls

Since 2005, the UN has designated January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This date was chosen because it was January 27, 1945, when the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by Soviet troops. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that today I've decided to write a little about Schindler's List - a film based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, who helped to save 1,200 Jews from concentration camps around Poland and Germany.

I know some people complain about Schindler's List because of its well-deserved R-rating. It's a movie that may very well shock the senses with its course language, full-frontal nudity, and harsh violence, and yet, this is one of those few films where these elements really are essential to the story, and it's a story that truly needs to be told. It's important, I think, that we at least try to understand the terrors that Hitler and his Nazis wrought.

It's important for us to remember the horror of the Holocaust because it shows us something of the depth of the depravity of man's sinful heart. Left unchecked, we are prone to all manner of temptations that can quickly take us down a slippery slope to a dark, dark place if we're not careful! Remembering the millions upon millions of people who were displaced, imprisoned and slaughtered by the Nazis should encourage us, too, to learn from the mistakes of the past and see to it that something like this never happens again! (Otherwise, things might very well end up like an episode of The Twilight Zone I wrote about last year!)

Meanwhile, sharing the stories of heroes like Oskar Schindler and so many others who tried to do what was right in the face of extreme danger ought to also inspire us all the more - as our baptismal vows call us - to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves!

I am so thankful for the many brave men and women of that greatest generation who sacrificed of themselves in order to put an end to Hitler's Holocaust!

But what if I were to tell you that the holocaust isn't over?!