For those of us who grew up in a LEGO world, this is the LEGO movie we’ve been waiting for. There are already several LEGO movies, of course, many of which my son has found on Netflix. There is a Batman movie, a Clutch Powers movie, an entire Ninjago television series, and many others. This big screen adaptation, however, is not limited to a specific set or brand of LEGO, nor is it animated in the same way. It looks like it’s stop motion, but it’s really CG with stop-motion principles and rules.

The brilliance of The LEGO Movie, though, is in its story. It’s not simply a kids’ movie, though it does urge adults to be more childlike. The movie celebrates the triumph of participatory imagination over controlling enshrinement, of play over mise-en-scene. Lord Business (Will Ferrell) is bent on freezing everything and everyone perfectly in place with his nefarious weapon, the Kragle. Emmet (Chris Pratt), the ill-equipped Special and fulfiller of prophecy, and his rag-tag team of master builders must stop Lord Business using the mysterious Piece of Resistance before he unleashes his weapon on Taco Tuesday.


In wisdom we must become adults, but in imagination we must remain as children.
The jokes are playful but the insight is deep. Lord Business represents the inclination we develop as we grow older – to control, to create merely to look upon rather than to engage in hands-on play. The LEGO world, the world of our imaginations, needs to be set free. In wisdom we must become adults, but in imagination we must remain as children. The childlike imagination demands participation, interaction, and invention. We don’t simply create a world and stand back from it, like the god of deism. Rather, like the God of Christianity (though not to the same extent, of course), we create a world and enter into it. The need to control stifles our imaginations, throwing us to the mercy of the instruction manual. But a child whose imagination has been set free is not bound by such instructions. They are free to create and truly play.

This is what The LEGO Movie is about, and this is why it’s important for us adults to see, especially those of us with sons and daughters who love LEGO as much as we did. This is a hilarious, touching, even incarnational film about what it means to stay young even as we grow older.

The first month of the Year of No has come and gone. It went pretty well for me. The idea of self-denial has been at the front of my mind all month, and I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process. You see just how dependent you are on something when you start to remove it from your life. On the other hand, you also see that you can survive without it, not to mention that life can actually be richer and fuller without it.


The Year of No is a spiritual war against idolatry.
The Year of No is all about overcoming entitlement and resisting indulgence. It is, in theological terms, a spiritual war against idolatry waged in daily skirmishes of temptation and self-denial. But gods are powerful things, and they take root deep within our hearts. I found this to be true when it comes to the idol of food.

My first entitlement, as described in this post, is Eating whatever I want, including eating out and drinking Coke too much. Food-indulgence is a growth area for me, and I didn’t expect to master it in just one month. The next step for me is doing a better job of planning ahead for work days. Getting the kids up and out of the house for school can be a whirlwind, and I get so focused on the immediate task that I don’t stop to think about packing a lunch. Planning is a discipline that I can add into my life that will bear a lot of fruit.

One of my other entitlements is Binging on entertainment, and I discovered The Walking Dead this month, so that one was pretty much a failure! Actually, that’s not entirely true. I was able to read three books in January and post reviews for all of them, as well as write a little bit of my book.

Overall, I’d say my biggest opportunity for growth is the same as it was on January 1. I allow too much room for indulgence and entitlement in my life. Even as I write this my mind is thinking of ways I can justify getting Chipotle for lunch and watching an episode of The Walking Dead before I have to leave for a meeting. It’s your day off, after all. You’ve already had to go to the dentist, and soon you’ll have to go to a meeting! You deserve a treat. This is where and when I have to find the resolve to say, “No!” Life is more than food, and the mind is more than entertainment.


The way forward is marked out in specifics.
Have you ever seen a vague mile marker on the side of the highway? Mile 102ish, or maybe 108. I don’t know, I haven’t been paying attention. No, you haven’t. Mile markers are always specific because vague markers don’t show you the way forward. The way forward for me is marked out in specifics. Planning ahead for meals while at work. Reading the Bible before engaging with social media in the morning. A specific number of pages read per day instead of an entertainment binge. The vision of becoming the man God wants me to be is realized by taking specific steps of self-discipline and self-denial.

It’s that way for all of us. Nobody just falls into Christlike character by accident. It takes hard work, focus, and self-discipline to get there. You have to be specific. If you haven’t named your entitlements yet, do that. Be specific. Be honest. Be ruthless with yourself. And then outline an equally honest and specific way forward. But remember, this is accomplished in steps, not in one giant leap. The art of discipleship is learning to put one foot in front of the other, following Jesus along the way. The Year of No is a journey within the greater journey of your discipleship with Jesus. It’s meant to help you name and overcome your idols through the long, slow act of self-discipline. But for discipline to take, it must be specific.

The-Contemplative-Pastor-Peterson-Eugene-H-9780802801142Unbusy.

Subversive.

Apocalyptic.

These are the adjectives that ought to describe the pastor, according to Eugene Peterson. Though written in 1989, The Contemplative Pastor is just as, if not more, relevant to today’s church culture. The pastors we honor in American evangelicalism often do little or no pastoral work. They are high-achievers, brands unto themselves. They are CEOs of ever-expanding religious empires. They are busy. They tackle problems head-on. They have neither the time nor the patience to plow the fields of the hearts of their congregation.

The pastor should not be busy. “The word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.” We often search for significance in busyness. If I am busy, then I am important. But this is vanity, argues Peterson. Instead, the pastor should be unbusy enough to do three things: pray, preach, and listen. “The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?”

The pastor should not use blunt force, but rather use the subversive methods of the kingdom of God. Jesus, after all, was the subversive par excellence. He preached in parables, which “aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith.” The kingdom which is grown is more permanent and powerful than the kingdom which is imposed. “God does not impose his reality from without; he grows flowers and fruit from within.”


The way the gospel is conveyed is as much a part of the kingdom as the truth presented. -Peterson
The Contemplative Pastor is must-reading for all who are pursuing the ministry. My fear is that many young pastors, especially church planters, are motivated not by the needs of the kingdom but by the needs of their own egos. Peterson is a douse of cold water to a drunken narcissist. The work of the pastor is gloriously ordinary, but we have stars in our eyes. We long for crowds and lights and buzz, but the pastor receives something far better – ordinary people who struggle to believe, to be faithful, and to attend church even twice a month. This is not the job for superstars, but it is perfectly suited for the unbusy, apocalyptic subversive.

We recently started a new sermon series at Grace Church called Everyday Virtue. In it, we are exploring the lives of Bible characters, learning certain virtues from them. My sermon was on John Mark, whose story is found in several books of the New Testament. The virtue we learn from John Mark’s life is perseverance. He failed in a couple of big ways, but God remained faithful to him, and powerfully redeemed his story.

GISM_Cover_150ppi

What does God look like in slow motion? Does the thunderbolt in his hand meet halfway between the earth and sky, like real lightning? Does the furrow of his angry brow seem extra intimidating in super slo-mo? In fact, God in slow motion is Jesus in real life, and according to author Mike Nappa, there are ten “unexpected lessons” we can learn from his life.

These ten unexpected lessons take the form of apparent contradictions – oxymoronic chapter titles that capture the inverted nature of what we think God looks like and how he actually appears. Mischievous Glory is how Nappa describes the birth of Jesus, which is the first, and perhaps most profound, chapter of the book. Nappa argues that the way in which God chose to enter the world upends all of our expectations of what glory truly is. We see, in the nature of the Incarnation, that Glory = Humility. 


“God, in his great wisdom, thumbed his nose at all human expectations of greatness, choosing humility underfoot as the most resplendent setting for the opening act of his grand redemptive work.” (9)

Taking ten stories from Jesus’s life and ministry, Nappa paints a picture of God that is both surprising and comforting. God is, after all, like Jesus, and not like the angry gods of our imaginations. To see God in Jesus is to see God in slow motion, viewing each frame of God’s activity with full clarity and in sharp focus. Jesus makes God clear, though that doesn’t mean the oxymoronic lessons make any more sense to our imperfect, rightside-up (or is that upside-down?) minds.

Nappa’s book reads like a series of sermons about Jesus, and would be useful for new or younger believers that are just getting to know what God is like. It could also be a tremendous help for those who have grown up with a false understanding of God, particularly one that painted a picture of God as a loveless, joyless, graceless deity ready to dole out punishment at the first opportunity.

BookSneeze® provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.