Monday, December 26, 2016

My Top 10 of 2016 (Books)

I read 57 books this year. Well below my goal but not bad.  The following list is my top 10 favorite books organized by order read. With the exception of the last 2 which are my 2 favorite books of the year. I will be pasting the synopsis from amazon here on the blog in black and following that up with my own thoughts in blue.

Lasting Impact by Carey Nuehoff

You've probably noticed ...
Churches aren't growing.
Young adults are walking away.
Volunteers are hard to recruit.
Leaders are burning out.
And the culture is changing faster than ever before.
There's no doubt the church is in a moment in history for which few church leaders are prepared.
You can look for answers, but the right response depends on having the right conversation.
In Lasting Impact, Carey Nieuwhof leads you and your team through seven conversations that will help your church grow and have a lasting impact.
What if ...
      • Having the right conversations could change your trajectory?
      • There was more hope than you realized?
• The potential to grow was greater than the potential to decline?
• Your community was waiting for a church to offer the hope they're looking for?
• Your best days as a church were ahead of you?
Maybe the future belongs to the churches that are willing to have the most honest

conversations at a critical time. That's what Lasting Impact is designed to facilitate.

I started off my year with Lasting Impact. We read this as a staff at church and it is 7 chapters or conversations that will help you find ways to grow as a person and God willing grow your church.
Also highly recommended is the Carey Nuehoff leadership podcast available thru iTunes or wherever you get you podcasts.

The End of Me by Kyle Idelman
Author Kyle Ildeman examines Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and unpacks the many counter-intuitive truths, including: brokenness is the way to wholeness, mourning is the path to blessing, and emptiness is required in order to know true fullness. Ultimately you will discover how Jesus transforms you as you begin to live out these paradoxical principles. Because only when you come to the end of yourself can you begin to experience the full, blessed, and whole life Jesus offers.
A great book and lots to think about.








Unqualified by Steven Furtick
In (Un)Qualified, Pastor Steven Furtick helps you peel back the assumptions you’ve made about yourself and see yourself as God sees you. Because true peace and confidence come not from worldly perfection but from acceptance: God’s acceptance of you, your acceptance of yourself, and your acceptance of God’s process of change.
Probably my most looked forward to book of 2016. I will read and have read everything that pastor Furtick puts out. I was not let down.








Misreading the Scriptures with Western Eyes by E Randolph Richards
Biblical scholars Brandon O'Brien and Randy Richards shed light on the ways that Western readers often misunderstand the cultural dynamics of the Bible. They identify nine key areas where modern Westerners have significantly different assumptions about what might be going on in a text. Drawing on their own crosscultural experience in global mission, O'Brien and Richards show how better self-awareness and understanding of cultural differences in language, time and social mores allow us to see the Bible in fresh and unexpected ways. Getting beyond our own cultural assumptions is increasingly important for being Christians in our interconnected and globalized world. Learn to read Scripture as a member of the global body of Christ.
Honestly opened my eyes to a lot of cultural ideas that had previously stymied me in my Bible study.

End of Watch by Stephen King
The spectacular finale to the New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes (winner of the Edgar Award) and Finders Keepers—In End of Watch, the diabolical “Mercedes Killer” drives his enemies to suicide, and if Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney don’t figure out a way to stop him, they’ll be victims themselves.
This is the end to the Bill Hodges trilogy and it was worth the wait. I didn’t read a lot of fiction this year but couldn’t pass this up.









Chase the Lion by Mark Batterson
When the image of a man-eating beast travels through the optic nerve and into the visual cortex, the brain sends the body a simple but urgent message: run away! That’s what normal people do, but not lion chasers. Rather than seeing a five hundred pound problem, they see an opportunity for God to show up and show His power..
Chase the Lion is more than a catch phrase; it’s a radically different approach to life. It’s only when we stop fearing failure that we can fully seize opportunity by the mane. With grit and gusto, New York Times bestselling author Mark Batterson delivers a bold message to everyone with a big dream. 
A sequel to Batterson’s first book In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day this completes part of that story and is a brilliant followup even if it is 10 years later.


Night School by Lee Child
It’s 1996, and Reacher is still in the army. In the morning they give him a medal, and in the afternoon they send him back to school. That night he’s off the grid. Out of sight, out of mind.
Two other men are in the classroom—an FBI agent and a CIA analyst. Each is a first-rate operator, each is fresh off a big win, and each is wondering what the hell they are doing there.
Then they find out: A Jihadist sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, has received an unexpected visitor—a Saudi courier, seeking safe haven while waiting to rendezvous with persons unknown. A CIA asset, undercover inside the cell, has overheard the courier whisper a chilling message: “The American wants a hundred million dollars.”
For what? And who from? Reacher and his two new friends are told to find the American. Reacher recruits the best soldier he has ever worked with: Sergeant Frances Neagley. Their mission heats up in more ways than one, while always keeping their eyes on the prize: If they don’t get their man, the world will suffer an epic act of terrorism.
Every Year that a Jack Reacher novel is released is a year that a Jack Reacher novel will be on this list. This is probably my least favorite book in the series but it still made my list.

Silence by Shusako Endo 
Originally published in 1966 follows Two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to a country hostile to their religion, where feudal lords force the faithful to publicly renounce their beliefs. Eventually captured and forced to watch their Japanese Christian brothers lay down their lives for their faith, the priests bear witness to unimaginable cruelties that test their own beliefs
I read this book because I knew that Martin Scorsese had optioned the book for a movie and was currently working on it.  The book had a lot of heavy themes and I found myself lost in the world and the dilemma of the main priest Sebastiao Rodrigues. Great read.







How’s Your Soul by Judah Smith 
Judah Smith, New York Times bestselling author of Jesus Is ______, explores what it looks like to cultivate a healthy soul in the midst of a busy life and points readers to the soul’s only true home and place of rest and fulfillment: God.
Pastor Kelly got me thinking about grace recently and this book scratched that itch while asking a few questions of its own. I just finished the audio book and like it so much i picked up a physical copy so I could read, highlight and dog ear. I would put it as my favorite book of the year and it may well end up being that but I just finished it and i have so much deeper I want to go. 
I always worry that a movie I recently see or a book I just read will make these lists due to it being on my mind more and I try to avoid that. 



With that said my favorite book this year was…


With My Eyes Wide Open by Brian “Head” Welch
A life-changing spiritual awakening freed Brian “Head” Welch from a stranglehold of drugs and alcohol and prompted him to leave the highly successful nu-metal band KoRn in 2005. What followed was a decade-long trial by fire, from the perils of fathering a teen lost in depression and self-mutilation to the harsh realities of playing solo and surviving the shattering betrayal of a trusted friend. In this intensely inspiring redemption saga, perhaps most inspiring is Brian’s radical decision to rejoin KoRn and reconcile with the tribe of people he once considered family in the metal music scene.
I loved Brian’s first book Save Me From Myself (2007) and had no idea he was working on another. As soon as it popped up for preorder I snatched it up and waited for the release date. 
Brian has an amazing testimony and is an admittedly flawed person, as are we all.
One of the things I really liked about this book was how far Brian Welch has come since writing his first book.
If you read Save me From Myself you are confronted with a borderline cocky christian. Brian is new in his faith and in my opinion it feels like God hadn’t been completely given the reins to his life. There is more nostagia for the drug addled days than I was comfortable with and some language that certainly didn’t present itselff as christian.
It was clearly written by a man that had accepted Jesus and this was new to him.
By With My EyesWide Open there was a shift in the writing style and the attitude portrayed. It is a testimony in itself and I am thankful for Brian Welch.

Thanks for reading

Alan








Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Top 10 of 2016 (Movies)

I’m not going to put these films in order of how much I liked them. With the exception of my favorite movie which I saved till the end. They are in order of when I saw them in the theatre.

The Finest Hours Directed by Craig Gillespie who also helmed the 2011 remake of Fright Night and Disney’s Million Dollar arm gives us the story of the Coast Guard rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard in 1952. 
Staring Chris Pine (Star Trek) Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma) and Casey Affleck (Gone Baby gone). 
The Finest Hours is one of those movies I went to one afternoon with not expectations but to pass the time and ended up on the edge of my seat.  it’s an exciting family friendly action drama and I can’t recommend it enough.









Triple 9 directed by John Hillcoat, who previously directed my least favorite movie of all time 2009's the Road. 
Triple 9 starring Casey Affleck (Good Will Hunting) Woody Harrelson (Hunger Games, Cheers) and Chiwitel Ejiofer (12 Years a Slave, Doctor Strange) this is a multifaceted Heist movie.
999 or Triple Nine is the code for officer down and that is a big part of this film. 2 bad cops plan to kill one of their own (Affleck) in order to cause the diversion needed in order to carryout a robbery to relive themselves of Russian Mob ties.  The subplots involve a father (Ejiwofor) who's son is being used as leverage by the mob and the relationship of Casey Affleck’s character a cop new to the area and his Uncle played by Woody Harrelson. 
Triple 9 was again one of those movies that I didn’t really want to see but went anyway and left the theatre pretty jazzed that I decided to go.  




Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Directed by Zack Snyder (300, Man of Steel). Honestly this is only on this list because of Batman, were this just the sequel to Man of Steel it is unlikely it would have made my list.  
With the inclusion of Batman it by default would make my list.  
I have been on board with the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne since the announcement. Affleck in my opinion is the best Batman that has ever been on screen. I know a lot of people have an issue with the amount of people he kills in the film. This is an older Batman a Batman that is learning to live outside the rules that once colored his world.  Things that we haven’t seen things from his past like the murder of his partner Robin has given him a tougher stance on how to react to the criminal element. As they have escalated due in part to him being the Batman he has in turn escalated his violence towards them.
He still is not a Punisher style hero and when deadly force is not used against him he avoids using it himself. As displayed in the warehouse fight scene even while being shot he does not necessarily use deadly force in return. One henchman throws a grenade at Batman who returns the volley more than likely killing the criminal although that is not shown.
It is also in that scene I think Affleck does some of the best acting as Batman. One particular thug gets lucky and stabs through Batman’s armor into his shoulder. 
The look on Affleck’s face converted thru the cowl as he singularly focuses the shock and rage that someone stabbed him is phenomenal. He follows that up by not stopping or bothering with anyone else until he has removed the knife and pinned that selfsame thug to the wall with the very knife he used to stab Batman. Its an amazing scene and is everything I have said I wanted from Batman on screen since Batman and Robin.

Captain America: Civil War directed by the Russo Brothers who previously directed Captain America the Winter Soldier and are now a major player at Marvel Studios where they will Direct both of the upcoming Avengers sequels.. 
Civil War itself is a soft Avengers sequel pulling in almost all of the cast from the previous Marvel movies. The addition of Spider-man to the stable of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) heroes is a treat and has me very excited for Spiderman Homecoming due next year.  The airport fight alone is worth the price of admission. The surprise from Antman had people in the theatre I watched it in literally whooping from excitement.








Masterminds from director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) comes a comedy loosely based on a true story.  I was not expecting to enjoy this movie, I went begrudgingly but it turned out to be a really fun and funny movie. David Ghantt played by Zach Galifianakis (the Hangover films) is an extremely timid armored car driver who is coerced into robbing the company he works for by his former partner Kelly played by Kristin Wiig (SNL, Ghostbusters) and her friend David played by Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers).
Hunted but the FBI and Mike McKinney a hitman hired by David and Kelly’s accomplices David flees to Mexico. Masterminds is without a doubt Jared Hess’s most main stream movie and I think his funniest. Jason Suddeikis who plays the hitman Mike turns in the best performance of the movie and makes Masterminds a must watch.




The Accountant directed by Gavin O’Conner who steered the ship on the grossly overlooked feature Warrior (2011) shows he knows action in this movie starring Ben Affleck, (the Town, Argo) Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash).
The Accountant follows Christian Wolfe (Affleck) an accountant with aspergers syndrome. Wolfe works common everyday accountant jobs to look legit but also manages money for some very unsavory groups.  Called in to find the leak in a “legitimate” company’s books originally discovered by junior accountant Dana (Kendrick). In the process of discovering the person behind the leak both Wolfe and Dana are hunted by a hitman that will stop at nothing to kill them both. Using skills he gained from his early life and military career it is soon obvious that they have messed with the wrong accountant.
I loved this movie, definitely in my top three of this year.



Doctor Strange directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister) Doctor Strange is not the run of the mill Superhero movie. Delving into and bringing magic into the Marvel cinematic universe Doctor Strange is a welcome addition to the MCU.
Stephen Strange played by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) is a brilliant surgeon with unparralled skills and he will be the first to tell you that. Dr Strange is on his way to a speaking engagement one evening and has a horrific wreck. Broken beyond conventional repair Stephen seeks help from eastern medicine. He ends up in a monastery where he learns how to harness powers from astral dimensions and heal his mind and body.  
The monastery and its 3 sister moonstaries are attacked by ex-monks that want forbidden power and Stephen finds himself one of the few sorcerers that can stop them.
Doctor Strange was a great break from the superhero movie we have seen here lately and one of the best films of this year.


The Purge Election Year directed by James DeMonaco is the third entry into the franchise that Demonaco himselff has written and directed.
Following through on characters introduced in the second Purge film the Purge Anarchy it ramps up the series stakes and in my opinion provides the strongest film in the series so far.
The Purge Election Year stars Frank Grillo (The Grey, Captain America Winter Soldier) as Leo Barnes who in the previous film was only known as Sergeant. Barnes has aligned himself with a U.S. Senator Charlie Roan played by Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost, the Santa Clause 2) and is head of her security. Senator Roan is currently running for President on the platform of eliminating the purge. When Rain was a child and purger killed her entire family and left her orphaned all for fun. Growing up and rising to political power Roan is the number one contender to beat the incumbent president and purge supporter Edwidge Owens portrayed by Kyle Secor (Veronica Mars). Owens uses his political power to remove the purge clause of political exemption. Placing a target firmly on the back of Roan who if elected will abolish the holiday.
Roan and Barnes find themselves on the street alone and hunted by everyone including a government hit squad.
I genuinely enjoyed this movie and think it is a great bookend to the trilogy. Recently however a fourth installment was announced and we may not have seen the end of this franchise yet.


Conjuring 2 directed by James Wan.  James Wan started his career by cowriting and directing the original Saw film. Whether you like what that series grew to be over time or not the original film was a masterpiece of twists and suspense. Wan continued to direct horror movies including the first Dead Silence and Insidious. More recently Wan branched out to direct the Fast and the Furious 7 and is currently working on the Aquaman solo film for DC.
The Conjuring 2 finds Wan back in the horror genre with a movie based on the case files of Ed and Loraine Warren played by Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Insidious) and Vera Farminga (Up in the Air, the Departed).
Ed and Lorraine are the demonologists made famous by their real life involvement in the Amityville horror investigation.
The Conjuring 2 finds the two investigating a haunting in London where a young girl Janet Hodgson played by Madison Wolfe (the Campaign, Joy) and her family are haunted by a malevolent entity. Riding the home of the demonic force is harder than the Warrens had bargained for however and the fight takes them to the edge of their limits.
The Conjuring films are top notch haunted house movies and are guaranteed to give you at least a couple jumps.

Side Bar: Best Animated Feature
Moana this animated film directed by Disney great RonClements was my favorite cartoon of the year.  It feels weird calling this a cartoon because there is more heart and humanity in it than a lot of the live action films I’ve seen this year.
What is precisely what gives it the edge above the Secret Life of Pets and Trolls, both movies that I saw and liked but not as much as Moana.
The storytelling is superb, which is a given with such classics as the little mermaid, Aladdin and Hercules under Mr Clements belt.
Moana is the story of a Polynesian princess and her adventure to restore prosperity and their heritage to her people.
Along with Maui the cocky demigod voiced by Duane Johnson and her dimwitted chicken sidekick Hey Hey the three voyage across the ocean to restore the heart of the sea and the power of creation to the goddess Te Fiti before the darkness spreads and her people are lost.
With my love of superheroes and action movies you would figure that my favorite movie of the year would be along that vein.  

My favorite movie of the year for 2016 has occupied my thoughts at least once a day everyday since I watched it at the palace theatre in Springfield with my friend JB on Sept 19th.
More than anything else I have watched, I've found this film and its soundtrack has permeated almost every aspect of my life. I listen to the soundtrack nearly constantly. One song in particular has become my ringtone. I hunted down and ordered the original movie poster on eBay, which now hangs on my office wall.
It may not have been the biggest budget film, it may not have been as mindless and fun as other movies this year like Captain America Civil War but it always returns to the front of my mind.
This year to me belongs to one movie. 

Hillsong :Let Hope Rise directed by documentarian Michael John Warren (Jay-Z Fade to Black) follows the members of the worship band Hillsong united.
Hillsong United is driven by Joel Houston the son of Brian Houston the lead pastor for Hillsong church based in Sydney Australia.
Hillsong has grown from a small 20 person church to one of the largest churches in the world. With campuses in New York City, Phoenix, Moscow, and Germany just to name a few of its 17 locations.
Hillsong has several worship teams from that produce albums across the globe. Currently and arguably the most popular is Hillsong United. 
Let Hope Rise follows HU as they write their new album and perform live all over the world. This documentary takes you behind the scenes of their writing process as well as a look at their family lives. 
interwoven with concert footage and interviews.
From the time the film starts with the announcement that the lyrics will be on the screen during concert footage and the encouragement to sing along and worship in the theatre to the closing credits I was treated to an inspirational worship experience like I have never had before outside of church.
The Song Touch the Sky sung by Taya Smith is my favorite song of the year, it’s my ringtone and somedays it’s literally all i listen to all day. Just 8 hours of that song.

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is a meaningful movie experience. Every so often a movie comes along that makes me want to create. A few years ago that was Exit through the Gift Shop. 
What Hillsong :Let Hope Rise brings to the table that other documentaries and inspirational movies do not, even if they inspire creation within me is a connection to the Creator.
To reach out and feel God the one that created everything, that has given me the talents that He has and see people turn that connection into artistic creation inspires me to do the same.

The single best experience I’ve ever had in a theatre.

So what were your favorite movies?

Thanks for reading.


Alan