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A Resource by Mark D. Roberts

Archive for October to December 2006

Note: This archive contains all of my posts for this month that are not included in some other series. I really don't have the time to save things in more than one place. If you're looking for a specific item, use the "Search" button in the upper left hand corner. Thanks.

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2006 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

The Nativity is Coming!
Posted for October 17, 2006

One of my biggest pet peeves is the tendency for stores to rush into Christmas season before Thanksgiving. Of course, these days, Christmas marketing often begins before Halloween! Ugh!

You might think I'm being a bit of a hypocrite with this blog post, since it has to do with Christmas, and since we're still in the middle of October. But at least let me explain what I'm doing and why.

This December brings an outstanding ministry opportunity. I'm speaking of the release of the film called The Nativity Story. (See also the official movie website, which has a fancy and rather slow Flash intro.) The film will be in theatres on December 1, 2006. What is this film about? Simply stated, it tells the story of the birth of Jesus.

When I first heard about The Nativity Story, I felt nervous. Would this be a "debunking" sort of film, one that promises to tell "the real story" about the birth of Jesus, a film that strips the miraculous out of the gospel narratives? I can now say with confidence that this is not the case, since I've been able to check out the script. In fact, The Nativity Story retells the story of the birth of Jesus in an imaginative but basically traditional way. (Some will object that it is too traditional, no doubt.)

I expect that this film will raise popular interest in the birth of Jesus, and especially in Mary, who is played by Keisha Castle-Hughes (of Whale Rider fame). This means that we Christians need to be prepared to talk intelligently about the Christmas story in general and about Mary in particular.

Scot McKnight, one of my favorite biblical scholars and an outstanding blogger to boot, has written a book that comes just at the right time: The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus. It will be released by Paraclete Press in early November (prior to the official publication date you'll find at Amazon).

I have had a chance to look at an advanced copy of The Real Mary. It contains just what I'd expect from a popular book by Scot McKnight: rock-solid biblical scholarship communicated in a style that is suitable for all readers. This book will be extremely helpful while there is widespread interest in The Nativity Story. But it will have enduring value as a trustworthy guide for evangelical Christians who wonder what to think about Mary. (Some time ago I did an extended blog series on the topic of The Protestant Mary. There is growing interest in Mary among evangelicals and other Protestant Christians.)


Above: Poster for The Nativity Story

Below: Cover of The Real Mary

Before too long I'll put up a more extensive review of The Real Mary. But let me show my hand right now and say that this is a fine book. I'd strongly encourage you to buy it, especially in light of the pending release of The Nativity Story.

In order to spur well-informed interest in The Real Mary, Paraclete Press has put up a couple of chapters on its website. Click here if you want to download the PDF file. Check out these chapters and then buy the book. Also, if you are a church leader, contact Paraclete Press about special offers for churches that intend to use The Real Mary for group study.

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Harvest Festival Fun
Posted for Friday, November 3, 2006

I've been swamped at work recently, so I haven't had time to add to my series on Andrew Sullivan, Hugh Hewitt, and Retrofitted Christianity. Instead, I've decided to put up a few fun pictures from our recent Harvest Festival at church.

  My church does a Harvest Festival Celebration on the Saturday before Halloween. It begins with a child-friendly worship service. As you can see, even the adults get into it.
  The littlest ones seem to like the service.
  After worship we have dinner in the Fellowship Hall and then games on the patio. One game involves balancing tiny babies on the table to see if they can keep from falling off. (Not really. This is just a fun picture of a baby's first Harvest Festival.)
  We can still get the junior high boys to come out. They help the little kids during the game time after dinner. We were especially excited this year to have a visit from Governor Arnold Schwarzennegar (left). Yes, my son did indeed dress up as an outhouse!
  Here my son, now free of his potty suit, offers his head in the interest of making the freethrow shooting game more fun for the little ones. (Yes, the ball is moving in this picture, having made it through the net and clobbered my son on his face.)
  Then it's on to "Trunk or Treating" in the parking lot. Yes, we give out candy. But we also collect money for hunger relief in Africa.

Have a great weekend!

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How to Be Rightly Wrong: The Example of Ted Haggard
Posted for Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Eight months ago I wrote a post called "How to Be Rightly Wrong: The Example of Oprah." The context was the controversy over the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. When his purported autobiography was shown to be full of exaggeration, Oprah, who had promoted the book, initially defended it. But then, a couple of weeks later, she admitted her error on her television show. She said, plainly, "I was wrong."

In my blog post on Oprah's admission I wrote:

How refreshing! When is the last time you heard a public person – an elected official caught with his hand in the cookie jar, a CEO of a failed company, or even a pastor who committed some grievous offense – say, flat out, "I was wrong." Such people usually find ways to appear to be sorry, without admitting error. "Mistakes were made," is a familiar refrain. Or "I apologize for any confusion." Sometimes a leader will appear to admit error, "I take responsibility for what happened," while actually blaming others.

Well, now we've got another example of a public person, in this case a pastor who committed some grievous offense, who is "rightly wrong" because he has admitted his error without equivocation.

Ted Haggard's fall from power and prestige is well known since it's been all over the headlines. Last week at this time he was one of the leading evangelical pastors in America. Today he is defrocked and humiliated because of various transgressions, including sexual immorality and drug use (or at least purchase). It's hard to remember a steeper fall from power and prestige.

At first Haggard seemed to waffle about what he had done wrong. In a stunning display of Clintonesque doublespeak, Haggard said that he did not have a "sexual relationship" with the gay prostitute who had accused him, and that he had bought illegal drugs but didn't use them. But in record time Haggard went from prevarication to outright, blunt admission and apology.

Ted Haggard in much happier times.

You may have read a line or two from the letter of admission Haggard sent to his congregation, since these have appeared in press stories everywhere. You can find the whole letter here (PDF only). I want to quote several passages from Haggard's letter. My point is not to hold him up for scorn, but rather as an example of somebody who has the courage to take responsibility for his sins:

I am so sorry. I am sorry for the disappointment, the betrayal, and the hurt. I am sorry for the horrible example I have set for you.

The last four days have been so difficult for me, my family and all of you, and I have further confused the situation with some of the things I've said during interviews with reporters who would catch me coming or going from my home. But I alone am responsible for the confusion caused by my inconsistent statements. The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem. 

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry.

I created this entire situation. The things that I did opened the door for additional allegations. But I am responsible; I alone need to be disciplined and corrected.

Please forgive me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. I caused this and I have no excuse. I am a sinner. I have fallen. I desperately need to be forgiven and healed.

Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and, actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his actions will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger. He didn’t violate you; I did.

We will never return to a leadership role at New Life Church. In our hearts, we will always be members of this body. We love you as our family. I know this situation will put you to the test. I’m sorry I’ve created the test, but please rise to this challenge and demonstrate the incredible grace that is available to all of us. 

Now this is being "rightly wrong." Haggard doesn't try to blame others. He doesn't lash out at the media. He doesn't even condemn his accuser for exaggeration.

I'll admit that when I first heard about Haggard's moral failures, I was angry and sad. Both emotions had to do primarily with the damage Haggard has done to the church of Jesus Christ, including but not limited to his own church. Now, after reading Haggard's letter of confession, I am still upset, but sadness has overtaken anger in my heart. My sorrow has been multiplied by reading the letter written by Ted Haggard's wife, Gayle (PDF only).

I am not suggesting, by the way, that Haggard's being "rightly wrong" means that he should be restored to leadership in his church. Forgiveness, which Haggard deserves as a brother in Christ, does not necessarily imply restoration of this kind. My point is simply that Haggard, though having messed up in a huge way, has shown his true character by admitting his error and taking full responsibility for it. In this he has set an example for all who would find themselves in a position like his, even in much smaller and less public indiscretions.

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The Surprise of the National Association of Evangelicals
Posted for Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) has been in the news recently for the sad reason that its former president was the now-disgraced Ted Haggard. If you have read new stories referencing the NAE, you may well think of it as a hyper-right-wing organization of Christian fundamentalists . . . at least this is how the NAE is often portrayed by the secular press.

In fact, however, the NAE reflects a much wider spectrum of theological, social, and political perspective than one might think. In June of 2005 I did an extended blog series on what was then a new statement of the NAE. The statement was called "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility." (Click here for a PDF version of the 12-page statment.) In my blog series I commended this statement for its theological wisdom and for how this wisdom was worked out in practical ways.

Certain elements of the statement are what one might expect, such as opposition to abortion or same-sex "marriage." Both other elements might surprise you. Here are several unexpected excerpts:

God identifies with the poor (Ps. 146:5-9), and says that those who “are kind to the poor lend to the Lord” (Prov. 19:17), while those who oppress the poor “show contempt for their Maker” (Prov. 14:31). Jesus said that those who do not care for the needy and the imprisoned will depart eternally from the living God (Matt. 25:31-46). The vulnerable may include not only the poor, but women, children, the aged, persons with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, minorities, the persecuted, and prisoners. God measures societies by how they treat the people at the bottom.

Economic justice includes both the mitigation of suffering and also the restoration of wholeness. Wholeness includes full participation in the life of the community. Health care, nutrition, and education are important ingredients in helping people transcend the stigma andagonyof poverty and re-enter community.

We further believe that care for the vulnerable should extend beyond our national borders. American foreign policy and trade policies often have an impact on the poor. We should try to persuade our leaders to change patterns of trade that harm the poor and to make the reduction of global poverty a central concern of American foreign policy.

Human beings have responsibility for creation in a variety of ways. We urge Christians to shape their personal lives in creation-friendly ways: practicing effective recycling, conserving resources, and experiencing the joy of contact with nature. We urge government to encourage fuel efficiency, reduce pollution, encourage sustainable use of natural resources, and provide for the proper care of wildlife and their natural habitats.

Now you've got to admit this isn't what you'd expect from in a statement from the National Association of Evangelicals. There is much more wisdom  in this statement, representing an effort at a truly and fully Christian engagement with the world.

So, as you think of the National Association of Evangelicals, I hope you'll consider downloading and reading their excellent statement on Christian civic engagement. It's well worth the time and effort.

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Your 20,160-Minute Warning
Posted for Thursday, November 9, 2006

In the National Football League, the two-minute warning is sounded when two minutes are left in each half of the game. It's a reminder to the players to get serious about what is coming . . . either half-time or the end of the came.

So today is your 20,160-minute warning. As of 12:01 a.m. this morning, you had 20,160 minutes until Thanksgiving Day. (For the mathematically-challenged, that's the number of minutes in two weeks.)

Given the American propensity for watching football on Thanksgiving, it seems only appropriate to give such a warning. But I'm not especially interested in preparing you to watch football. And I'm not even reminding you to be sure to buy a turkey and stuffing.

So why a 20,160-minute warning? Here's what I'm thinking:

1. Gratitude is a hugely important aspect of a full and meaningful life.

2. Gratitude is often forgotten or ignored in our lives.

3. After a grueling election season, and with many difficult things in our world, we are especially in need of gratitude this year.

4. A day for gratitude is fine, but not nearly enough.

5. We need, rather, as season for gratitude.

6. So rather than waiting for Thanksgiving Day, let's make the next two weeks a time of additional gratitude in our lives.


Here are some practical suggestions you might want to take up:

1. During the next two weeks, write down in a journal (or wherever) one thing for which you are grateful each day.

2. Share gratitude around the dinner table.

3. Be sure to take time in prayer for thanking God.

4. Take out your calendar right now and write in a time when you can to to a place of solitude for an extended time of giving thanks to God.

5. Make a special effort in the next two weeks to let people in your life know you are thankful for them.

So, let's go. The clock is ticking down.

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A Prayer for Veterans Day
Posted for Friday, November 10, 2006

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Once known as Armistice Day, to commemorate the armistice that brought an end to the hostilities in World War 1, Veterans Day came into being in 1954 when Congress changed the name so that November 11th would be an occasion to remember all veterans. (Note: Officially, the name is "Veterans Day" not "Veterans' Day," since it is a day for Veterans, not belonging to them. Also, Veterans Day is meant to honor all who served in the military, in wartime or peacetime. For more data on this data, check this page of the Department of Veterans Affairs. )

For most of my life, Veterans Day didn't mean that much to me, other than as a day off from school. Three things happened to change my mind and heart. First, during the first Gulf War, I became aware of how much I was personally grateful for the commitment and sacrifice of those who served in the military, and for the freedom I enjoyed as a result of their effort. Second, at Irvine Presbyterian Church I came to know some men who had personally served in Vietnam. This touched my heart still further. (Even now, one of my ushers is preparing to return for a another tour of duty in Iraq.) Third, when I read Stephen Ambrose's book Citizen Soldiers, I realized more than ever before the kinds of sacrifices made by our veterans. I started talking with my father-in-law, who fought in World War II in Patton's army, about his experiences. This opened my eyes and my heart even more. So, today, recognition of Veterans Day comes naturally on the heels of my newfound gratitude.  

Thus, as I visited the website of my denomination today, I was pleased to find "A prayer for Veteran's Day" on the main page. The Presbyterian Church (USA), though we have many military chaplains, isn't always known for its strong support of the U.S. military. So I was glad not only to find the prayer for vets, but also to find it placed front and center.

The prayer reads as follows:

God of the ages, we thank you for all who have served in the armed forces of this country. Comfort those who grieve for those who gave the last full measure of devotion. Strengthen those who bear physical, emotional and spiritual wounds. Stand with those who provide care to them. Move us to reach out to sisters and brothers. Guide us to work for the day when no one needs to serve in the military. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is basically a fine prayer. And, since it is a prayer, I almost hesitate to raise any criticism. But since it's not a personal prayer, but one that was crafted by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, I think it's fair to highlight a couple of my concerns.

First, though it's great to thank God for those who have served in the armed forces, I miss any statement of gratitude for what their sacrifice has earned for us. This, it seems to me, is part and parcel of our thanks on Veterans Day. It almost seems as if the writers of this prayer aren't quite willing to acknowledge that the efforts of our vets have led to highly positive outcomes both for our nation and for the world.

Second, surely all Christians–and many who are not Christian, besides–long "for the day when no one needs to serve in the military." Our hope, in the words of Isaiah, is for the day when all peoples "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4). So it's absolutely appropriate, on a day when we thank God for veterans, to pray for the day when the world will need no more veterans.

The specific language of the prayer troubles me, however. It says, "Guide us to work for the day when no one needs to serve in the military." Honestly, I can't quite pray this on theological grounds, though I certainly can on emotional grounds. What's my problem? you ask. As I understand the biblical picture of the future, "the day when no one needs to serve in the military" is not something for which we can work, as if human efforts will someday accomplish this goal. The language of this prayer is fairly typical of Christian liberalism, with the view that our efforts can usher in the kingdom of God. But this notion just doesn't fit the biblical picture of how the kingdom is going to come. In Scripture, "the day when no one needs to serve in the military" will come only in God's time and through God's direct intervention in human affairs. We are not able to make the kingdom come. That's God's job, and God's alone.

This is not to say, however, that we are simply to wait around for the kingdom, living our lives just as we would if Christ hadn't come in the first place. On the contrary, we are in fact to live now in anticipation of the kingdom, and to reflect the kingdom in our lives in this world. We don't do this because we believe our efforts will either bring the kingdom or even hasten its coming. Rather, we do this because it is our calling and privilege, and because our efforts, when they are successful, will demonstrate to the world the truth of the good news that God has begun to usher in His reign on earth. (I realize that I may have lost some of my readers with this kingdom theology. If you want more clarification, I would direct you to my series called What Was the Message of Jesus?)

So, I'd like to thank the PC(USA) for putting up a prayer in honor of Veterans Day. But I'd also like to offer a couple of edits, if I may. These I'll put in italics. Perhaps you'll want to join me in offering this prayer, or one with your own edits:

God of the ages,

We thank You for all who have served in the armed forces of this country.

We thank You for the freedom their sacrifice has earned and guarded for us. Help us to prize this freedom and use it well.

We ask You to bless all living veterans in a special way today, as well as the families of all veterans.

Comfort those who grieve for those who gave the last full measure of devotion.

Strengthen those who bear physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds.

Stand with those who provide care to them.

Move us to reach out to sisters and brothers who are veterans, or relatives of veterans, or who currently serve in the military.

We pray for the day when no one needs to serve in the military. Help us to live now in anticipation of that day, as people who long for peace, who pray for peace, and who seek to be peacemakers in this world.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

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Thank You, Grandpa Glenn!
Posted for Monday, November 13, 2006

Last Thursday Glenn Wintermute went to be with the Lord. Today is his memorial service, and I've been thinking about him a lot in the last few days. So I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts.

Glenn was born in 1920. He served in World War II and was headed for the Pacific theater but the war ended just before he was deployed. Interestingly, he had been working as a scientist on the Manhattan Project before enlisting in the service. He knew he was a part of something important for the war effort, but had no idea exactly what he was working on.

I got to know Glenn in 2001 on the day his wife, Lee, died. She and Glenn had recently moved to Irvine to live near their children and grandchildren. Then, quite unexpectedly, Lee died. I first spoke with Glenn only minutes after her passing, as he was trying to find a minister to do the service. He and his wife had attended my church and had planned to join, so I got the first call.


Meeting with Glenn an hour later, I found a man obviously shook up and grief-stricken, but still kind and faithful. In our conversation, he mentioned that he liked teaching Sunday School, and would volunteer at church before too long. I figured he meant teaching adult Sunday School, given his age, so I said we'd look forward to his help.

A few months later Glenn did step forward to volunteer. He wanted to teach third and fourth graders! I was a bit concerned about this arrangement, because kids of that age can get pretty rowdy, and Glenn didn't seem like the strict disciplinarian type. His was a gentle spirit. But he insisted he knew what he was doing. Indeed, he did. Glenn charmed those kids with his obvious love for them, for God, and for the Bible. He had amazing control of his class, never needing to raise his voice. The kids loved him, calling him "Grandpa Glenn." Not surprisingly, when my daughter heard that Grandpa Glenn had died, she was heartbroken.

It turns out that a whole bunch more kids in our town thought of him as Grandpa Glenn. He volunteered at his grandchildren's school, where he was, predictably, appreciated by students and teachers alike. Though he doted on his own grandchildren, he had plenty of love for those who adopted him as their Grandpa Glenn.

Glenn's commitment to children was unsurpassed. His example reminds me–and by virtue of this blog post, you too–of the importance of the young. Glenn lived out the heart of Jesus who said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs" (Mark 10:140.

Glenn was also one of the kindest and most encouraging people I have known. Every time I saw him he offered a warm handshake and greeting. He regularly told me how much he appreciated my preaching and pastoral leadership. I don't think I ever left an encounter with Glenn without feeling uplifted. This includes our last conversation eight days ago. Glenn had come to church, something he hadn't been able to do often in the last months. He seemed so grateful to be there in worship and to receive communion. As always, my heart was warmed after our meeting. I knew Glenn was pretty weak, but I didn't realize that would be our last encounter this side of heaven.

As I remember Glenn, I will be encouraged to give my life away to children, just as he did. They are infinitely valuable today. And they are the future. Also, I will strive to be a kinder, friendlier person, somebody who is generous with gratitude and encouragement.

Thank you, Grandpa Glenn, for all the ways you have enriched my life and my church. You will be missed! But our loss is heaven's gain.

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The Nativity Story: A Fantastic Opportunity
Posted for Friday, November 17, 2006

Note: I'm interrupting my series on Unintended Lessons from Ted Haggard to give you on update on The Nativity Story.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the soon-to-be-released film, The Nativity Story. I explained that I had seen the script, and was excited about the possibilities afforded by this film. Well, now I've seen an advance screening, and my excitement has been multiplied considerably.

I'll write a more reflective review of the film shortly before its release on Friday, December 1. Today I want to note a few salient points that make The Nativity Story such a fine movie.

1. The movie is faithful to the biblical accounts of Jesus's birth.

The Nativity Story takes the gospel accounts at face value. It doesn't, for example, engage in all sorts of speculation about how Mary came to be pregnant, the sort of thing you find in secular scholarship and anti-Christian websites. Rather, in The Nativity Story, as in the gospels, Mary becomes pregnant by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. This will bother folks who want to debunk the Christian story, but it will please others, and not only Christians, but also non-Christians who don't need to turn every movie into an axe to grind.


2. The movie provides a creative, compelling, and historically-sensible picture of life suggested by but not specifically mentioned in Scripture.

For example, those who wrote the film did their homework with respect to cultural customs and historical realities in Galilee during the time in which Jesus was born. They rightly portray the feeling of what it was like for Jewish peasants to live under the twin terrors of Rome and King Herod the Great. The Nativity Story even provides the "back-story" of the Magi. No doubt some critics will object to the traditional portrayal of three Wise Men from the East. The film even uses the names of these men as they have been passed down in Christian tradition, though there's no biblical record of their names or even really who they were.

If you're looking to The Nativity Story to provide the definitive documentary on the birth of Jesus, then you'll be disappointed. But if you're looking for an excellent bit of creative filmmaking that affirms but goes beyond the biblical material, then you'll be quite pleased. Is this movie exactly what I would make if I had the chance? I doubt it. Is it better than what I would make? No doubt about it. Is it well worth seeing? You bet.

3. The movie doesn't offer up too much religious schmaltz.

I was worried, for example, about how this film might portray the angels. I mean, I love The Glory of Christmas at the Crystal Cathedral, but I was hoping that The Nativity Story would avoid having beautiful blond female angels fly around in the sky. I won't spoil the surprise by telling you how the angelic presence is portrayed in the film. But I will say that I found it to be within the scope of reasonable art, rather like some of the classic paintings of the Annunciation to Mary.

4. The Nativity Story dramatizes aspects of the Christmas story that I had not before considered.

I've studied the birth accounts of Jesus for over thirty years. I've taught on them and preached on them. But certain aspects of the story only now have become real to me. For example, it never dawned on me to think of what Mary must have experienced in her own family as she told the "tall tale" of being miraculously impregnated. I sensed in The Nativity Story the vulnerability of Mary and Joseph in a new way.

5. The Nativity Story does not turn its major characters into glow-in-the dark, other-worldly superman and superwoman.

When you're dealing with Mary and Joseph, your walking on holy ground, and not only holy ground, but holy ground about which many people have strong feelings. I wondered how The Nativity Story would portray these two characters. Overly pietistic? Plastic and unbelievable? Iconoclastic? Or . . . ? What I found was a pleasant surprise. Mary seemed like a real, fifteen-year-old faithful Jewish girl, but not at first a saint in the making. Nothing in the film demeans Mary, mind you. But she isn't envisioned as spending hours in prayer, either. Joseph was portrayed as even more believable, as someone I could relate to in a powerful way. In one of my favorite scenes, he and Mary are talking quietly about their experience of the angel. Joseph said the angel told him not to be afraid. "Are you afraid?" Mary asks. "Yes," he admits. "Me too," Mary agrees. This, it seems to me, captures what was surely the experience of the real Mary and Joseph, even as they faithfully followed the angel's lead and trusted God in an extraordinary way.

6. The Nativity Story includes some stunning scenery and wonderful music.

The movie was filmed on location in Italy and Morocco. In fact, the filmmakers used the ancient city of Matera in Italy, the same location Mel Gibson used for The Passion of the Christ. I'm going to buy the soundtrack by Mychael Danna as soon as it's released (December 5, apparently).

My Recommendations

First of all, be sure to see this movie! It's well worth the price of admission, especially in the season leading up to Christmas.

Moreover, if at all possible, see the film on its opening weekend (December 1-3). Why then? Because opening weekend numbers are what Hollywood execs scrutinize when they consider what sort of movies to make. On the heels of The Passion of the Christ and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a strong opening for The Nativity Story would surely lead to the making of other films that reflect faithful Christian values and ideas. (My personal hope is that the opening weekend of The Nativity Story will surpass the opening weekend of Borat by a longshot!)

But, second, don't only see the film, get others to see it! If you're a pastor, let your church know about this movie. If you're a youth leader, tell your kids. If you're a blogger, blog about it. Invite your friends and neighbors.

A note of caution for parents: This film contains a few intense scenes (Roman soldiers, the killing of babies in Bethlehem, and two birth scenese). These are filmed tastefully, without blood. The PG (not PG-13) rating is appropriate. But I don't think I'd bring children under 7 to the film, especially if they're apt to be scared.

If you're inviting folk who aren't Christian, surely let them know that The Nativity Story is a faithful retelling of the Christmas story. No need to pretend. But even non-believers will enjoy this movie, especially when the Christmas season is upon us. There is nothing "preachy" about this film, nothing that would offend a non-believer.

In two weeks The Nativity Story will be opening in over 3,000 theatres around the country (and 8,000 worldwide). This gives you time to make plans to see it, and to tell lots of folks to join you. Please help me in getting out the word!

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Rocky Balboa: Another Fine Movie for Christmas
Posted for Friday, December 22, 2006

Note: I'm taking a brief break in my Dickens series, and will return to it soon.

If you see one movie this Christmas season, be sure to see The Nativity Story. If you see two movies, add Rocky Balboa to the list.

I saw Rocky Balboa tonight with my son and a few of his friends. I had heard enough about the movie to expect something good. In fact, my expectations were exceeded. I really liked this film for several reasons.

What adjectives would I use to describe Rocky Balboa? Tender, sweet, thoughtful. Yes, you read correctly. You may not associate these adjectives with a boxing movie, especially if you've seen any of the Rocky films numbered II to V, but not the original Rocky. If you're old enough to remember the first Rocky, or if you've rented it recently, then you know what I'm talking about. The first film had a sweetness about it that was lost in the spectacle and machismo of the following Rocky movies. Rocky I was, above all, a tender human story. This dimension has returned in Rocky VI.

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) and his son (Milo Ventimiglia) in one of several intense father-son conversations.

Oh, to be sure, Rocky Balboa has its predictably grueling fight scenes. And, to be sure, Rocky plays the Energizer bunny role once again. He takes a beating and keeps on ticking. But the fight really isn't the main point of the movie. Rather, the major themes in this film have to do with loss, growing old, grief, friendship, kindness, grace, and family. Rocky Balboa is about redemption, not just of Rocky, but of many who are connected with him.

When I saw my first Rocky movie I was nineteen years old. I was inspired by Rocky's kindness and willpower. Thirty years late, I'm still inspired by Rocky's kindness and willpower. But I can also relate to his struggle with growing older, as well as his struggle to figure out who he is in a world of change and loss. Rocky Balboa isn't a self-help documentary. But, besides being entertaining, it will touch your heart and stimulate your mind. These days, that's saying something special about a movie.

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