Heather and I went to see Avengers Saturday night. Here are my thoughts …

  1. It was awesome.
  2. I thought they dragged out bringing them all together – after all, the post credit scenes had already done that in previous films.
  3. Heather thinks point number two is incorrect in that only nerds like me watch the post credit scenes and she didn’t know who most of them were so the beginning was useful for her.
  4. Hulk punching Thor. I about died laughing. I seriously didn’t hear the next few lines because it was so awesome.
  5. Hulk wrecking Loki. See point number four for the level of laughter I once again experienced.
  6. Is a flying aircraft carrier really effective? It just doesn’t seem practical.
  7. It was awesome enough to have two points referencing its awesomeinity. It’s a word.

And now I wait for The Amazing Spiderman.

A Beautiful Mess | Mark Oestricher

I finished reading Mark Oestricher’s new book, ‘A Beautiful Mess,’ this afternoon. It’s not huge, so it really only took an hour or so to read, but I really love it. In a lot of ways, it felt like a natural progression from his book ‘Youth Ministry 3.0’, which I also love.

I found myself highlighting my way through the book, saving quotes to use for later.

I appreciated his affirmation of smaller, under resourced church youth groups. I agree with his observation that too many fall into the trap of thinking a showy program with expensive toys is somehow better. The reality is – we’ll never be able to compete with the glitzy stuff the rest of the world is putting together. It will always be cooler, hipper, and more incredibly cool to young people than what we can pull off, no matter the budget. Relationships truly are where it’s at. Being those loving adults in a young person’s life that they hunger for.

I think one of the strengths of the book, as opposed to so many books that identify the problems in youth ministry and come up with fixes, Oesstricher instead focuses on what he sees working throughout the country. It’s simple. It’s solid. And it’s affirming, both to the calling of youth ministry and that there are great things happening all over the place whether we realize it or not.

One quote that I am grabbing and using in my youth leader training was this:

Let me be clear about the thre three things that are necessary for great youth ministry:

  • You like teenagers.
  • You are a growing follower of Jesus.
  • You are willing to live honestly in the presence of those teenagers you like.

I love it. It sums it all up so eloquently and simply. It’s easy to remember, easy to pass on, and opens the door to a lot of great training conversations. You can find the book in both digital and physical formats here; and for a limited time, the digital versions are FREE. Grab it!

Contagion (movie review)

I just saw this the other day.

Now I’m afraid to go anywhere, touch anything, or even breathe in public. All of you need to stop touching your faces. Seriously. Just stop it.

The premise of the movie wasn’t original; the global population decimated by a new disease has been done before (loved it in 12 Monkeys). What made this different was the pacing, the editing style, and even the bent more towards documentary.

It was in some ways slow moving, yet quietly riveting. What was terrifying in it was the believability of the movie – it genuinely felt like it could happen. So in a subtle, yet powerful way, the film grabbed my attention.

Definitely worth checking out. Especially if you want to be afraid of contact with any other human being ever again.

I’m also not happy with pigs or bats, either.

In Time

In Time was kind of an odd movie for me. On the one hand, I mostly enjoyed it, but for the most part it all felt like too much of a stretch for me. Even the basic premise, that everyone has a clock on their arm with time ticking down to their death. If we’re advanced enough to halt the aging process at 25 years old, and then potentially live forever if we acquire enough time, wouldn’t it be done it a more subtle manor? Would it really be a giant, glow in the dark clock covering an entire forearm that then requires all of the characters to try and hide their clocks in various ways?

On top of that, with time being the currency instead of cash, it just seemed way too easy for people to steal and transfer it. If you doze off someone could just wipe out your clock? Would it really be set up to be that easy? It’s easier to protect our currency now than in this fictionalized future.

And finally, the whole relationship between Justin Timberlake’s character and Amanda Seyfried’s character felt like a stretch to me.

But other than all that, it was fun enough to keep me interested until the end. But one viewing was enough.

Real Steel

I’m gonna admit it. This movie caught me off guard. The only reason I watched it was because it’s science fiction and I like Hugh Jackman, but I really thought the whole premise was a joke. Basically the classic rock’em sock’em robots game, right?


The movie had a LOT of heart. It was basically Rocky (which I love, by the way – all six of ’em). Literally. The story line totally mirrored it, but in this futuristic world where humans control robot boxers that are able to battle it out to the brutal end in the ring. What caught me so off guard, even though I knew it had to go this way, was just how much it had my heart beating in the final moments of the film, and even finding myself emotional in a few moments.

Besides the whole Rocky thing going on with the robot, I also enjoyed the whole father/son story that played out between Hugh Jackman’s character and the child he had abandoned at birth who was now temporarily with him.

Cheesy? Maybe. But it was still surprisingly good. And probably one of the cleanest PG-13 films I’ve seen in a while. I would totally watch it again.

Great games resource

I bought this Minute to Win It ‘Ultimate Party Pack’ earlier this year and loved it! It has about 15-20 games in it from the show with all the props and equipment to pull it off, as well as an instruction booklet and a timer.

The downside is that it is set up to play one person at a time, however, with all the props being simple things like cups, ping pong balls and playing cards, it was easy enough to use it as a guide and replicate it so I could have four people competing with each other to see who could finish a challenge first (instead of the minute time limit). It was definitely a big hit – all of the games we did up front for our Fall Retreat were based on this, and there are still a bunch we haven’t done. Part of what made it great was the audience response – the teens watching and cheering on their friends thought it was hilarious.

Anyway, all that to say it’s a fantastic game resource for youth pastors and it’s under $20. If you want to save time, you can order multiple copies of it so you can multiple contestants at once, or you can be like me and use it as a reference for buying the materials yourself (which was crazy cheap). You can find it here.

Love is an Orientation Small Group DVD

I finished working my way through all six sessions of Andrew Marin’s new DVD study resource based on his book, ‘Love is an Orientation.’ The short review? It’s a must buy. Well put together, thought provoking, amazing DVD that lives up to the book it is based on and the topic of elevating the conversation with the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender)

It’s actually three resources in one, which I don’t think I totally realized until I finished watching the whole thing. The first four sessions are a great exploration of what it means to make love the priority, how to build bridges – and why it’s so Christlike to build bridges. And finally, in the fourth session after laying the critical foundation of love and priorities, Marin gets into the tough questions. He does it eloquently, with passion, and in a way that is both provoking and challenging – especially to those who have grown up in churches that have not been loving to the LGBT community.

The fifth and sixth sessions are not ones we’ll use with our small groups – not because there is anything wrong with them, but because they are the second and third resources I was referring to above. Session five is an amazing training session for youth workers and parents on how to respond to adolescents who are coming out, or are questioning their sexuality. I loved that he brought in a couple other experts to weigh in and help give some guidance in an area that is become an increasingly real scenario for many families and churches. And session six is a guide to creating your own ‘Living in the tension’ group like what the Marin Foundation does in Chicago.

I think one of the significant things Marin has done in this resource is include the stories of six individuals representing different places in the LGBT community. I think it’s important because for many conservative and/or legalistic church goers watching this series, it humanizes the conversation. It’s a lot easier to resort to hate and angry rhetoric when you don’t know the other person’s story or heart.

Maybe this is the best way I can recommend this resource: literally within moments of finishing session six, I got online and ordered several more copies of the DVD and study guides. This is the one topic that more of our high school small groups are asking to work through, but my leaders don’t feel like they have the resources to tackle it well – now they will. While it’s targeted at an adult audience (hence Zondervan publishing it instead of a youth ministry company), it will certainly work in a student ministry environment.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I finally saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes the other day now that it’s on DVD.


Okay, so for the record, I’m a big Apes fan. I own the original five films and have seen them repeatedly. I lined up to see Tim Burton’s entry back in 2001 (was disappointed that it was more of an action thrill ride than an actual social commentary or plot driven story like the original series’ legacy). I bought the DVD set years ago for the short lived tv series, and I’ve even watched the animated series. I’m so much of an Apes nerd I even read the original book that inspired the whole thing. Suffice it to say, I came at this new movie with low expectations what with Hollywood’s fascination in recent years with taking brilliant classics and both dumbing them down and resorting to all special effects/action with no story.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes defies that. The special effects are amazing, but really are secondary to a well written and beautifully performed story. It explores relationships, questions ethics, considers freedom. It was compelling, fascinating, and brilliant – and it happened to be science fiction. It was a great reboot to the series.

I loved the plausible story line, the setting the stage for earth to become a planet ruled by apes. Part of me wondered even with the quickly learning apes becoming more intelligent how they could prevail against the sheer numbers of humanity – but the stage was set for that in a great, and surprising way in the credits. It’s been a while since a film has left me this excited to see where the future installments will go.

Blue Like Jazz movie review

This might be an excuse for me to brag about seeing a rough cut of Blue Like Jazz (the movie based on Donald Miller’s amazing book of the same title), and even more significantly, brag about shaking hands with the director, Steve Taylor. But I’m totally going to blog about it, so here goes.

The movie wasn’t finished – Steve Taylor is making his final tweaks this week, in part based on the surveys we all filled out after watching the film, so anything I say won’t necessarily reflect what hits theaters April 13, 2012. And on top of that, once the story editing is finished, the special effects and sound editing still needs to be completed as well. But even as a rough cut, it was compelling.

What I appreciated about the movie was that it wasn’t afraid to face some really tough questions, the type of doubts and real struggles that young Christians face in their teen years and college years that for many are a breaking point in their faith. It culminates in a powerful scene at the end of the film that really becomes a teachable moment without being cheesy. For those wondering what earns a ‘cheesy’ title in my mind, I’ve only seen one other Christian film that I thought was relevant and cheese-less.

The actors were great, and other than the youth pastor (who was only on screen for a few moments), the characters were incredibly believable. I really found myself resonating with some of the main character’s struggles and doubts with faith in my own faith story – I wrestled a LOT with that in my teens and early twenties.

It will definitely earn it’s PG-13 rating. Between language, content, and some of the imagery (a giant condom on a church steeple … I’m not giving away any secrets here, Donald Miller has been pretty open about that story element), it is edgy. But that’s also what makes it more real, and the reality is, it’s still just a taste of what young people have their faith challenged with daily. Part of me wonders, though, if the film won’t be graphic enough for the secular audience while being too graphic for the Christian audience. It’s a challenge to say the least!

All that being said, I look forward to seeing the finished product in theaters next April. I think I do want to watch it with some of the older teens and college age types … I would love to do so with a coffee shop on the agenda afterwards for some intense discussion. I’m hoping the film team will put some resources/ideas out there, but if not, it’s easy enough to grab some from the book and launch with that. Or just ask what resonated with people and go from there.

Games: Video Edition by Youth Specialties

I recently purchased the ‘Games: Video Edition‘ DVD from Youth Specialties. I have to admit, I was kind of skeptical about it, but a friend recommended it so I figured I would give it a shot.

I love it.

There are 25 different game ideas on the DVD, all of which are great. What’s different is that instead of writing a description, they demonstrate each game. They actually pull it off in 30-45 second descriptions, making it quick and easy to review ahead of time … or it’s even an option to show the game to the group so they both hear the rules and see how it works.

Here’s where I thought it was great – see the games in action really sold me on some that we ended up using at our recent all nighter, and honestly, if I had just read them I would have been unimpressed and never considered them. In particular, the Mellow Yellow (mustard dipped marshmallow toss) and Bologna Face (bologna on the face), which have never interested me if I hadn’t actually seen them in action on the DVD. Awesome!

All that to say, great concept and I hope they have more on the way. Definitely worth the cost, well put together, great games, and a solid must-have youth ministry resource! You can find it here.