August 18, 2014

Musical Interlude: He is Exalted...by yours truly

Earlier this year I took up the saxophone. It's been lots of fun...and not a little therapeutic. Last night I played my first-ever special number at one of our local congregations.

Nothing spectacular, but Kenny G and Boots Randolph had to start somewhere...

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Robin Williams and the Desperation of Hollywood

Note: I had this article ready to run last week, then sickness hit and all blogging went by the wayside. So this is a little late, and was written before revelations about Williams' Parkinson's disease. I am posting it anyway, however, as I still feel it to be very important.

Confession: I’m a movie junkie. Perhaps atypical for someone in my line of work, but there are few things I enjoy more than sitting down next to the Brazilian Bombshell with a bowl of popcorn and watching a good flick. I’m into the new superhero movies and epic adventures, but what I really dig is a good comedy. Not the gutter slime that pass for comedies today, but the ones that reach inside my brain and tickle until I am in gales of uncontrollable laughter.

And I’ll be the first to admit, it’s pure escapism, but who doesn’t need to escape every once and a while? There is more to it than that, however. A good comedy will make you think in between the spasms of hilarity. God used a comedy to radically change my outlook on life…but that’s a different story.

Many times over the years this divine mixture of mirth and mind has been delivered to me through the incomparable gifts of Robin Williams.

Robin Williams was a genius…there is no other way to describe him. He brought not only laughter but many many poignant moments to the big screen. He did it all, TV, stage, movies, comedy, drama, entertaining the troops…everything. He was the best Hollywood had to offer.

As it turns out, the best Hollywood has to offer is not enough. The ease with which Williams could turn off the laughter and replace it with profound emotion always suggested to me that deep sorrow lay just beneath the surface.

Now, at this juncture the temptation is to say “Such a shame! If only he had known Christ, things would have been different.” Well…maybe. The truth is, many, many Christians suffer from depression…and there are many who profess Christ who consider ending their lives. Some of the greatest examples of believers I have known over the years—men and women I hope to imitate—have confided in me that they suffer from debilitating depression.

No, Christ is not an automatic cure-all for depression. What Christ brings to the table is hope. It is not just a hope that one day, in glory, we will no longer suffer from the ailments that afflict us—although that is certainly a part of it. Rather it is the knowledge that the bone-crushing shadow that overwhelms us does not represent the ultimate reality, that the love of God through Christ informs us of who we are despite what every fiber of our being says.

And this hope is exactly what Hollywood cannot offer. Hollywood thrives on appearances, illusion, smoke and mirrors. As long as you are producing good movies and entertaining people, you’re OK. If you can’t control your impulses and your life spins out of control there is always rehab. No shame in that, as long as you are out in time to make the next big movie, film the next TV episode, or record the next song. If things get so bad that that you can’t do any of those things, well, you’re done—the entertainment machine has no more use for you.

This video, which came to me via Twenty Two Words, demonstrates this hopelessness. As Williams talks about what he hopes Heaven will be like, watch his face, especially just before the camera pans away at the end. It’s heart wrenching.

As I have observed (from afar) the lives of Hollywood’s shining stars, the same word comes to my mind: hopelessness. When the laughter ends and the applause dies down…it’s just them, and that is unnerving.

And because the entertainment industry has so effectively marginalized the message of the Cross, when these towering geniuses of stage and screen hit rock bottom there is no cross to cling to. Many of them would scorn the believer for needing such a crutch as the Cross, but is it not a much more reliable crutch than fleeting fame, destructive relationships, and substance abuse?

Sometimes our favorite celebrities come so close to the truth. So...tantalizingly...excruciatingly...close. The following is from an online interview Williams gave not too long ago, answering a question about what causes him wonder:

"My children give me a great sense of wonder. Just to see them develop into these extraordinary human beings. And a favorite book as a child? Growing up, it was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - I would read the whole C.S. Lewis series out loud to my kids. I was once reading to Zelda, and she said "don't do any voices. Just read it as yourself." So I did, I just read it straight, and she said 'that's better.'"

Three thoughts jump out at me in that quote. First, he named his daughter Zelda. How awesome is that! Second, he read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the rest of the Narnia series as well. One can hope that somewhere in the darkest moments of despair he caught the light of the message Lewis was trying so hard to communicate. Third (and this is where I want to go with this whole thing) his daughter preferred that Robin Williams—the man of a thousand hilarious impressions—read the books to her in his own voice. The ones who love us most love us for who we are—not for the roles we play. It’s true of our kids, it’s especially true of our God.

I guess if I had the platform and could communicate one thing to the Hollywood greats who have brought me so much joy and laughter over the years, I would say this: God is not interested in the roles you play and the awards you win. After the lights go out, He is interested in you, as a person—not for what He can get out of you, but for what Christ has already done for you. How I pray that someone will be able to cut through all the noise and communicate that before it is too late.

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August 11, 2014

Musical Interlude: Tom Jobin's "Wave"

Been a while since I featured these guys. One of the better a capela groups out there today.

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Dia dos Pais (Brazilian Fathers Day)

For Fathers Day this year we decided to celebrate with something that would appeal to fathers everywhere: a churrasco (kind of like a BBQ, but with more meat).

The following pictures will hopefully give you a flavor for the event:


Rosa, our gracious host, with the raw material for our churrasco.


Standing guard over the grill.


Before and after.


Tools of the trade.


Kids and trees...there's a natural affinity.


Itacyara (aka The Brazilian Bombshell) and Andressa.


UNO, the international language.


Evening service.


Nathanael gets excited about the shorter catechism...

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August 6, 2014

Pray for "Frank"*

The following is the text of an e-mail I just sent to this ministry's supporters:

I'm sending out this special request now in hopes that it will arrive in time to be mentioned in your prayer meetings and midweek services. In recent letters we have mentioned "Frank", the husband of one of our new converts. We have been befriending him and witnessing to him for over a year now. For several weeks he has not missed a service. He has also begun to sit in on Bible studies we have been having with his wife and daughter at their home. We have shared the gospel with him numerous times, and his response is "I just don't feel it in my heart".

We would like to activate the "prayer machine" that has operated so effectively in times past over the course of our time here in Brazil. Itacyara and I remember many times when we asked you to pray, you prayed, and God answered in a big way.

So please pray for "Frank". In prayer meeting, at home, before meals, while you're driving...you get the picture. We long to see this dear man saved, and united with his wife and children in faith.

*Due to the public nature of the internet, "Frank" is not his real name.

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