Archives For grace

This week has left me a bit unsettled in terms of movies. The Oscars came and went I just sighed, “oh well.”

I am usually pretty spot on with movie award nominations (and winners) but this year has been all over the place with no single film standing out for the masses.

As there are so many good books that get overlooked, there are also so many good movies who suffer the same anonymity, especially in the flare of blockbusters.

One that sticks out is the 2014 filmcalvary-8Calvary, starring Brendan Gleeson (remember Hamish from Braveheart?), Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids), and Kelly Reilly (Flight). It is an Irish-made film by the talented director, John Michael McDonagh. I watched it in theater last year and then again this past week at home. I have always had an affinity toward Irish films like The Commitments, Waking Ned Devine, Michael Connolly, In the Name of the Father, Bloody Sunday, and Once. There is something about the unique dry humor in Irish films as well as their ability to hit some of the deepest emotional themes in life through storytelling.

Calvary may just be one of the finest films that has ever moved me. My film aficionado friend Erik Parks featured Calvary as the top movie of 2014, even beating out some of the Oscar winners this year. I agree with him.

 

The Irish sure know how to tell a story, especially a familiar story.

Erik shared a great overview of the movie from his blog:

The opening of this film shows a good priest in confession as he listens to a mystery man recount his years of sexual abuse by a bad priest. He then tells the good priest that as an act of revenge, he plans on killing him in a week. Crazy setup but a fantastic film that shows a faithful man of God dealing with psychological torture as he continues to love and care for the wicked people of his town. Mercy, love, forgiveness and ultimately Christ-likeness are the overarching themes in this dark, but extraordinary little Irish film. (Rated R for sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use.)

calvary-butcherI’m not sure why people are so afraid of the Gospel. When you read about Jesus, this is what we get. It’s very R-rated. It’s bloody. It’s violent. It’s poignant and challenging. As you read in the Bible within the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you get the nitty-gritty of Jesus’ life and death and in Calvary the movie, it follows well. That is why Calvary succeeds because it doesn’t hold back from real life.

Calvary may be the best movie representation of the Gospel I’ve ever seen.

It is rich with symbolism as well as lines to make you contemplate and pray over.

Father James Lavelle: “God is great and the limits of his mercy have not been set.”

——-

Father James Lavelle: I think there’s too much talk about sins to be honest not enough talk about virtues.

Fiona Lavelle: What would be your number one?

Father James Lavelle: I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.

——-

Father James Lavelle: He was a good man, your husband? (to a lady who just lost her husband)

Teresa: Yes. He was a good man. We had a very good life together. We loved each other very much. And now… he has gone. And that is not unfair. That is just what happened. But many people don’t live good lives. They don’t feel love. That is why it’s unfair. I feel sorry for them.

calvary3Your life will be changed after watching it. My encouragement is to go see for yourself and let me know what you think.

 

 

Recently, I watched the movie Calvary (2014), which was one of the most powerful representations of the Gospel I’ve ever seen on film.

I don’t want to ruin the movie but go see it but see it with caution. Often truth in a movie like Calvary can hit us like a two by four. It is also R-rated and deals with some of the most serious issues in life.

 

LIke I would do with any good film, I shared my enthusiasm with a few people and the first question was typically,

“Well, is it a Christian film?”

My reaction?

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I knew this question was coming and I bury my head in my hands every time someone asks it. It brings up the greater question, “What is ‘Christian’ in all media?”

When you ask if it is a Christian film, what are we talking about?

 

Is it about Jesus, Christians, or the Bible in general?

Is it a movie that people pray on-screen or talk about Jesus? 

Does a person who believes and follows Christ have to write and/or direct it? 

Is it produced by a company or person who believes in Jesus? 

Does a church show it to their congregation? Is it endorsed by a popular pastor? 

Is there an altar call at the end of the movie?

Is it produced by an evangelical? What about a Catholic?

 

Sorry, but I don’t have a specific answer to what constitutes a ‘Christian film’. Only God knows but what I do know is that he created each human being to ultimately honor him and movies are a great way to do it. I believe that the arts, especially in music, books, and movies are a way to showcase God’s great story. The Godfather of movie storytelling, Robert McKee shares,

“A fine work of art – music, dance, painting, story – has the power to silence the chatter in the mind and lift us to another place.”

Christians have a funny way of trying to package things in a pretty box. What if that box isn’t genuine, though?

I am thankful that God gave me a passion for books and movies and how they can have a transformative power to change lives. I feel like I in the majority of movies, I can point out the Christ figure in the film that represents ‘redemption’. Most of my favorite movies are written or directed by people whom I don’t know where they stand in their faith. I am comfortable with that and I’ll explain why.

For example, I know a lot of serious evangelical Christians who love Eric Liddell’s story. They love the movie Chariot’s of Firewhich tells some of Liddell’s story as the famous Scottish runner who in the 1924 Olympics refused to run a heat for his best race because it was on the Sabbath. The movie is widely quoted in sermons, articles, and blogs. What most Christians don’t know is that Liddell was played by Ian Charleson, who was gay and later died tragically from AIDS in 1990. Regardless of where Charleson stood in his faith, does the fact of his sexual orientation make the movie invalid as a ‘Christian’ film? Some Christians would throw the movie into the fire because of this fact.

Along with Chariot’s of Fire, here are a few movies that have had a profound impact on my life yet do not fit a typical mold of Christianity.

I think when you have good writing and good visual storytelling, a film can change a life. Redemption is at the core of good story, after all. 

I am comfortable seeing God in the beauty he presents through a variety of people. Some people may not but I challenge you to give these a chance with an open mind and to pray for God to show you his heart. Then go to scripture and dig deeper. And, as much as I want to celebrate every openly evangelical film, I want people to recognize that each of those films may not be a true representation of the Gospel in all its grit.

We live in a brutal society.

We live in a world where people are being decapitated on broadcast television. Children are being molested. Men and women are raped. Politicians and bankers are cheating the poor. Pornography is more accepted by culture. We can dance around the truth or we can engage with it head on.

Years ago, Michael Card wrote a book and song titled “A Violent Grace”. I believe the chorus captures life best.

So ruthless, He loves us, So reckless His embrace
To show relentless kindness, To a hardened human race
The joy that was before Him
On the Man of Sorrows face
And by His blood He bought a violent grace

I think this is why movies like The Passion of the Christ provoked so many people because it felt closer to reality of what Christ went through than previous movies portraying his sacrifice.

Scripture even backs it up in Isaiah 53:6 NIV

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Jesus’ death and sacrifice was brutal.

In order to follow Christ, we must engage with the fact that Christ died violently for us. There is no sugar coating it.

My encouragement is to pray for discernment when it comes to any information you take in any movie, book, or piece of music. Just because I am moved by the movies above, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything in them; the heart of the story is what I am after. N.T. Wright shares good caution from his book Simply Christian,

“You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.”

 

Here are some questions I ask myself and points I consider when I watch a film.

  1. Does it showcase ‘redemption’ well?

  2. Does it glorify sin? 

  3. What is the motivation of the film maker? 

  4. Does Scripture back up the heart of the story?

  5. Pray and ask God for discernment to show His way through these stories.

 

In the meantime, I challenge you to take risks and go see movies like Calvary. Let me know what you think.

What other movies have you watched that are not in explicitly Christian but have had a profound effect on your life? Why? 

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My Stan Musial Story

January 20, 2013 — 4 Comments

On Saturday evening, January 19th, 2013, beloved St. Louis Cardinal legend  Stan Musial passed away. In his Hall of Fame career, he helped the Cardinals win three World Series titles, won three MVPs, had 3,630 hits and 475 home runs, won the NL batting title seven times, while also appearing in a record 24 All-Star games. Despite all of those accomplishments, he even gave up the 1945 season to serve in the Navy during World War II. One of my favorite additional pieces is that in 1957, he became the first major league player to earn an annual salary of $100,000. After a sub-par season in 1959 and hit a career low .255, Musial asked the Cardinals to cut his salary to $80,000. Can you imagine someone today doing that? In 2011 he was given the much deserved Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. The numbers speak for themselves. But there is more to the man than the numbers.

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His statues grace Busch Stadium in St. Louis because of something different many always knew. There is a reason people would call him “The Man” that most people outside of St. Louis would not have had the opportunity to witness. The blessing for anyone living in St. Louis was that sooner or later you would have run into Stan The Man. I saw him at several events playing the harmonica or interacting with people at a game. That was just his character. I never got to see him play but I did get to see something even more special.

When I was 18, I was caddying and working in the pro shop at Old Warson Country Club in Ladue, Missouri. That summer of 1997, I was also worked as a “greeter”, which meant that I was the person who welcomed people driving up to the front entrance to drop off their golf bag before parking. My job was to make sure they had a pleasant and smooth experience.

One day, the legendary Cardinals broadcaster, Jack Buck, came to play with his son Joe (now famous as Fox Sports Commentator), and they brought none other but Stan the Man. It was special day because while they were warming up on the golf range, both Jack and Stan stayed to talk with me for thirty minutes.  I don’t remember specifically what we discussed but they were so cordial and interested in my life, and avoiding the temptation to talk about themselves. Once their time was ready, they went off to play their golf round.

Four hours later, I was slammed by a large group of people from a tournament that came in from the course so I was taking care of 4 or 5 people at any given moment. Unfortunately, the Buck-Buck-Musial threesome came back in at the same time and Stan walked up to me while I was running around.

Stan said to me while handing me his shoes and car keys,

“Hey Dave (yes he remembered my name), do you mind putting my shoes in my car while I go back and get something inside the clubhouse?”

I quickly replied,

“Yes of course, Stan. Right away.”

I immediately took care of that task because it was Stan and went back to taking care of every other golfer who needed help. When Stan came back from the clubhouse, he walked toward me and said,

“Dave, I’m ready to go. Do you have my keys?”

I put my hands in my pockets to get the keys and they weren’t there. I replied,

“One moment Stan, I’ll go find them, I think they are in the golf cart.”

I walked back to the cart and they weren’t there. I wondered where in the world I left them. I did what I knew and retraced my steps. I walked back all the way to Stan’s trunk of his car. I stopped and stared at the trunk for a few moments.

I thought to myself, Oh my God, I locked his keys in his trunk with his golf shoes. I’m dead. I’m fired. My boss will kill me. This is it, I’m done. Game over for me at Old Warson. I was the village idiot. On top of that, the realization that I just locked the keys in the car of a legend, my dad’s boyhood hero, Stan The Man, was hitting me. There was nothing I could do because I needed to tell him. So, I humbly walked back to Stan and as I approached him, Jack Buck walked up next to Stan. This became the humiliation-fest times ten now.

I said in a lowly voice,

“Stan, I am so sorry but I locked your keys in the trunk of your car with your shoes. I was moving much too fast and I’m incredibly sorry. How can I make this right?”

Stan replied with a big smile,

“Oh Dave no sweat at all, Jack is right here and he can take me to my house to get my spare set. We’ll be right back.”

The thirty minutes they were gone was agonizing to me because I was so worried that my boss would find out and they would be frustrated when coming back.

When they came back to me, both Jack Buck and Stan said,

“Thank you, Dave”

Then they handed me a $20 tip with 2 front row tickets for the Cardinals game that night. I was speechless but quickly regained composure to thank them.

It was the tip of a hat grace I will always remember. It was the character and action of real grace that Stan Musial will always remind me of in life. I remember coming home to tell my dad about what happened and he laughed so hard. I think he gave me a hug that night too as a reminder that no matter what mistakes we make in life, there is always a need to show another person grace. My story is not unlike many others who encountered Stan The Man thank God. It was his ongoing story of grace given to all of us.

Thank you Stan for that memory. For all of the memories.

Thank you for inspiring all of us.

Thank you for showing all of us what real grace looks like. 

stanharmonica

My friends Roy and Rachel Roper reposted this video on Facebook not long ago and I was surprised that I had not seen it since it occurred a year ago. Please watch this short 2 minute message before you read further. You will see that it speaks for itself.

I believe it took a lot of humility from both Robert Downey Jr. as well as Mel Gibson to publicly live through pain. Hollywood sure knows how to produce drama on-screen as well as off. In the past twenty years, both of these actors have thrown stones at others as well as had them thrown at them. And they paid a terrible price through broken families, damaged careers, health, and legal troubles. As Gibson put it, they have both “hugged the cactus” in life. Most of Hollywood abandoned them in their time of dire need. Thankfully, we all love a comeback story and I think scenes like this show us that grace can happen in the most unlikely places, especially Hollywood. I was in tears witnessing what real loyalty, forgiveness, and love looked like through their stories. God was not done with their stories yet because grace was at work.

This video makes me ask tough questions of myself.

  • Do I stand up for my friends?
  • Do I ‘really’ forgive those who have hurt me?
  • Do I really understand grace?

There are times when I’ve felt like I’m in life’s rut thinking it will never get better. Look back at your life and I’m sure there have been times when you may have felt the same. I am thankful I haven’t been in such an extreme position as Downey Jr. and Gibson but their stories are a beautiful illustration of God’s grace.

Thank God we don’t have to hug the cactus forever when our savior is always there for the warmest hug. Grace is always the best hug.

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Why Failure Matters

November 8, 2012 — 4 Comments

I am a failure.

You know those contests where people have to guess how many M&Ms are in a mason jar? Well I’d be willing to bet my failures would add up to ten dozen of those jars. I’m just getting started, too.

I am amazed by the idea of failure. I remember so many failures in my life, it still hurts thinking about them.

Why does failure feel so bad? I love failure for a good reason. It causes a person to look deep into their soul to ask the deep questions of “why” and a “do I have what it takes?”

There are times in life when I failed and quit.

There are times in life when I failed and kept going.

Both of those times hurt. Sometime early in life I was being told to keep going during these times. I didn’t really know what that meant but the more I failed, the more I wanted to get through that emotion of personal disappointment. It took victory upon victory to see what the failures meant.

Great stories begin with failures and end with greatness. Pushing through failures produces the character that will ultimately take you on the journey of being a better person. It is like a marathon runner who hits ‘the wall’ midway through a race. The pain becomes so excruciating, that eventually your body tells you to stop. Some choose to stop. Some chose to continue. Those that continue, find something inside of them that pushes through the pain. By pushing through the pain, euphoria takes over and you suddenly float forward to finish.

In the midst of pain, we discover what matters most. It is a process but it awakens us to what life is supposed to be. The pain of failure and the process causes us to cry out to God for help. Pick up your Bible because it is full of men and women who have failed. Grace in the form of Jesus picked them up so they could keep moving. They were stronger, bolder, and humbler because of this grace. They understood what the pain meant to push through.

My hero, Winston Churchill, faced failure on numerous public occasions during his career: He failed political races, was responsible for military blunders in World War I, was marginalized in Parliament between the wars, and lost battles as Prime Minister during World War II. Despite winning World War II, he was voted out of office. Did he stop? No he kept going and became Prime Minister again years later. His words carry me today.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

I am imaging the day when one of my daughters come to me full of some sort of worry. They will share their fear and it will be about losing a game, not making the cut, failing a test, or perhaps feeling rejected by a boy. I will hug them. I will tell them I understand some of their hurt. I will even cry with them. I will help pick them up and tell them to look up.

I will tell them about Winston Churchill. I will tell them about life’s marathon. I will tell them about my failures.I will share the Bible with them. I will tell them that it will be okay. I will tell them to never give up.

 

What has failure taught you in life?

Any favorite quotes or Bible verses that help you through failure?

 

Dad, That’s a Bad Habit

August 24, 2012 — 2 Comments

“Dad, that’s a bad habit” my daughter said to me as she caught me biting my nails when I was driving her to school. My daughter has become a version of Statler and Waldorf, the Muppet hecklers. She loves to walk around and tell people that they shouldn’t be smoking, biting their nails, or running inside. It is funny right up until she shouts it out in a crowd and the staring and laughter begins at my expense. I am always tempted to remind her of her own indiscretions but what more could a dad say when he’s reminded of his issues by a 4-year-old?

So I listen.

My kids are are a reminder that we need grace. Grace is the foundation of how we live a life of faith in Jesus. We don’t deserve it but we need it. Kids need it. Good Lord, parents need it. My friend Phil Davis reminded me that as parents we are constantly in a teaching and disciplining mode. Yes, sometimes we screw up in the way we parent and we pray that our kids even forgive us. That starts by asking our own Father for forgiveness as we learn to control our own tempers. Embracing patience is one of my toughest challenges as a parent and my kids love testing it. I now smile each time my kids remind me that I’m biting my nails. I even caught myself biting my nails as I write this. Sheesh.

I’d like to say that I truly understood grace when I became a Christian. I remember being on a spiritual high the week after I got back from Young Life camp in the summer of 1994. I had accepted Christ into my heart at camp and came home thinking I could fly. That flight was short-lived the first week back as I remember having a fight with my parents and writing in my journal about how bad I felt hurting them. It was as if the week before had encountered a train wreck of emotion through hurt, pain, and ultimately guilt. I don’t even remember what the fight was about but I do remember what happened next. God showed his grace through my own parents that week and I think helped make more sense of what happened at camp the week before. Grace was at work.

I’m reading Max Lucado’s upcoming book Grace (Thomas Nelson, 2012), which is helping to more fully understand this wild grace.

God’s grace has a drenching about it. A wildeness about it. A white-water, riptide, turn-you-upside downness about it. Grace comes after you. It rewires you. From insecure to God secure. From regret riddled to better-because-of-it. From afraid to die to ready to fly.

Grace is the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.


Paul reminds us where this grace comes from in Ephesians 2:8 NIV,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.

This post isn’t meant to be a confession but an acknowledgement that grace is real and available for those who don’t deserve it. We aren’t meant to fully understand this grace especially when it is given to murderers and molesters. I am usually so stubborn and I don’t ask for grace but God knows what I truly need. He doesn’t even wait and a long time ago he gave us his son Jesus as that grace. He freely gives it to you and me. Take this gift and run with it and tell the story.

PS One of my favorite movies/musicals that showcases grace better than any other is Les Miserables (1998). There is even a new version coming out later this year starring Hugh Jackman. I cannot wait

In one of my favorite movies, City Slickers (1991), a question is asked amongst friends who were on a modern-day western cattle drive adventure,

What was your best day?  

This is a great question to ask at different points in your life to get a pulse on where your heart is. I have a firm belief that in order to discover your heart that God gave you, it is essential to look back at the moments, in this case a day, to understand what stirs you.

For me, I remember driving through the Scottish Highlands with my good friend Steve Griffin and another South African friend. It was recommended that we go to the Isle of Skye in the west highlands. We weaved through long windy roads traversing historic and beautiful areas like breathtaking Glencoe, The Rob Roy Monument, and even the enchanting Eilean Donan castle. The day started by waking up in beautiful Portree, a small fishing village only to witness small boats heading out to sea with the sun rising above them. After a hearty Scottish breakfast of tea, eggs, and sausage, we drove and walked around the island. We drank water from the streams, walked along the coast, took pictures of the mountains, breathed in the beautiful air. Believe it or not, the Scottish Tourism Board isn’t paying me to write this as my sentiment is genuine.

After we left the island and drove north, we all were in awe and marveled at what we just witnessed.

I said to my friends,

“You know what would make this the most complete and best day ever?  “What if an RAF Tornado fighter jet buzzed through this beautiful valley?”

I had heard about military jets buzzing some of these valleys and since I’ve always been a fan of British and American airpower, this would complete it. Our South African thought we were delirious Americans who only cared about weapons. We laughed of course and didn’t think anything of it because of the unlikelihood.

Not five minutes later we heard a roar of a plane approaching us. I was in the passenger seat and could see it approaching us from behind us.  With half of our bodies out the window, Steve and I went crazy screaming and cheering as a Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado buzzed our car at almost supersonic speed.

After the plane roared on by, Steve said it best,

That’s the sound of freedom, baby.

I’ll never forget that day.

Our reaction to the RAF Tornado made me think of the awe and amazement of Christian Bale’s character, Jim, in the beautiful and tragic Steven Spielberg film, Empire of the Sun (1987) when he sees the P-51 Mustang buzz his concentration camp. Jim saw his “Cadillac of the Sky” as a sign that freedom is coming. I can imagine that it was Jim’s best day at that point in life, despite how hard things were.

Why does a best day ever even matter?

Since that day in Scotland, I’ve had several “best days” that have topped that one. I’ve been to the World Cup in Germany and seen amazing sights. I’ve also traveled around the Mediterranean to see Greek islands like Santorini. I think mostly about Brooke and I getting married and how beautiful she looked walking toward me at All Saints Chapel in Sewanee. I remember her smile, her grace, and beautiful blonde hair gracing her long flowing white dress all while walking along flowers. God was present that day, May 28, 2005, I know it. It was a “best day” indeed.

These “best days” matter because they give us a glimpse of heaven. It is a swagger in the golf swing, a tip of the hat, a wink of the eye. It is God showing us the way things are supposed to be and what we also have to look forward to for eternity in Heaven if we put our trust in Christ.

What about you?

What is your best day?