Five Facts About Jesus’s Crucifixion We Ignore, But Shouldn’t

Having preached quite a few Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter sermons, I can say that there are things about those days that are easy to find in our Bible texts to want to teach our people. We Love familiarity, even if it can breed contempt. With the Bible, the familiar passages and truths are extremely important and I would never advocate ignoring them. I would only encourage my fellow pastors and their worship leaders to keep the passion alive because it should never get old to us.

I also advocate for dealing with lesser-known yet important facets of the familiar stories in the Bible and teaching them to our people, even if they hurt our brain, make us uncomfortable or risk confusing someone. These are the main reasons we are tempted to ignore parts of Scripture, but this is unwise to me. Christians need all the cards on the table when it comes to our source of truth. Today I want to discuss five of the things that are a part of the Jesus crucifixion narrative—from the Last Supper the night before he died until his actual death—that are too often ignored.

1. John’s timeline of the Last Supper and Crucifixion appears to conflict with the other three Gospels.

In short, the Synoptics–Matthew, Mark, and Luke–say that the Last Supper was a “Passover meal” (see Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:16; Luke 22:13). John, however, says in 19:14 the day of Jesus’s crucifixion was “the day of preparation of the Passover”.

Often in sermons and in writing, I have chided the temptation of those critical of the Bible to find contradictions in details in things like the four Gospel accounts. There are many if you believe the Evangelists who wrote the accounts of Jesus’ life were trying to be precise by modern courtroom standards and that they were trying to present one cohesive account of what happened. They were not on either charge. Examples of what I mean are that one writer says there were two angels at the tomb and another says there was one. One says the stone was rolled away before the women arrived and another says it was rolled away by an earthquake in their presence. My response to many of the ‘contradictions’ is that they make about as much sense to consider them in conflict as a modern NFL fan would consider it a contradiction for one Chicago Bears fan to say that their team won the Super Bowl in 1985 and another to say they won it in 1986. If you are not an NFL fan, the contradiction is easily explained: the NFL regular season takes place in one calendar year and the Super Bowl takes place in the next. Every Chicagoan calls that team the “85 Bears” yet technically they won the Super Bowl on January 20, 1986.

In fact, for my Easter sermon in 2013, I interviewed four Bears fans who watched that Super Bowl and asked them three questions about it—the score, the year, the MVP—and their answers varied slightly. As N.T. Wright has stated, the fact witness accounts differ does not mean that nothing happened. To Bears fans in January of 1986 something amazing happened! That is not the nature of eyewitness testimony and we can easily find contradictions in 2,000-year-old data by parsing the words in English. Witnesses often have differing details and if one writer says there were two angels while another says there was one, that doesn’t mean there was only one. I can easily say, “I’m going on vacation next week” and if later you hear me say, “My wife and I are going on vacation next week,” you’d be obtuse to think that is a contradiction.

Yet, the issue of what days the Last Supper and Crucifixion took place is not quite so easily discarded. It would be like hearing one parent say their child was born on Thanksgiving and the other say their child was born on Christmas. Again, it doesn’t mean their child was not born, but it does present some difficulties with the witness.

The scope of this article is not to hash out how this apparent disconnect can be resolved. My goal is to get Christians to think about these things when thinking about Good Friday. Because the skeptical world is thinking about them. I will give an excellent resource that discusses many possible resolutions and that gives an opinion on the most likely one: Last Supper & Lord’s Supper by I. Howard Marshall. The short version of the best solution to him is that the first three Gospel writers and John are using different calendars. But I strongly urge all of our REO readers to do a deep dive into it. Beyond the controversy here, Marshall offers great thoughts on the Last Supper in general, which is an event we still celebrate to this day.

2. Many early manuscripts do not contain the verse about Jesus sweating great drops of blood.

This is found in Luke 22:44. It and the prior verse are not as well attested by the massive amount of NT manuscripts textual critics use to determine original wording. Depending on what translation and what type of Bible you use, there may be a note in the margin or below that indicates this.

Let me be clear that I do not think that textual notes you read in Bibles that say “not found in many of the earliest, most reliable manuscripts” is some kind of trump card to know whether verse or phrases belong in our Bibles. So I am not saying or implying that Luke never meant to put in this verse about Jesus sweating blood and a scribe later added it. There are many people who believe that Mark 16:9-20, John 7:53-8:11, Acts 8:37 and similar passages and verses are later additions, but there are also good defenses of them belonging. Just because a manuscript is “early” does not mean that it is better and the word “reliable” is very subjective.

No, my point is that this is the kind of thing Christians should be aware of. It honestly does not matter to me what a person’s opinion is of whether Luke 22:43-44 is original or not, nearly as much as it does that Christians know how our Bibles are put together. One of my favorite resources on this topic is the NET Online Bible (, because it gives textual notes and notes on the original languages about verses like these. And while the text critics who write for this Bible are not the final authority, they do have informed opinions and often give the reader all of the possible options instead of a merely dogmatic take of their view.

3. The prophecy about Judas getting 30 pieces of silver and buying the potter’s field is cited from Jeremiah in Matthew 27:10, but appears more easily cited from Zechariah.

As with #1 above I do not consider this to be a legitimate contradiction that should somehow cast aspersions on the reliability of the Bible or its inerrancy. A detailed explanation of possible reasons Jeremiah is mentioned instead of Zechariah can be found here.

Instead, to me, this is simply a fantastic opportunity for Bible readers to dig deeply into Old Testament prophecies and how the Old Testament impacts the New. Zechariah seems on the surface to be where Matthew is quoting from, but as you read passages like Jeremiah 16 and 32 it helps you understand how you can connect those passages to what Matthew was writing. Finding connections between the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures and the Greek New Testament is crucial to practicing correct hermeneutics. Readers of the Bible only stand to benefit from reading Jeremiah, regardless of whom Matthew meant to cite. Jesus said the entire Old Testament testified about his suffering, death and resurrection. Matthew 27:10 would be a part of that.

4.The bodies of many holy people who had died came to life when Jesus died.

Found only in Matthew (27:52-53), this seemingly random and crazy twist in the story is one that I have not heard many people talk about. And since its mention comes and goes so quickly, I could sort of understand that…if it didn’t foreshadow exactly what Christ was about to do in less than 48 hours. Resurrection means everything in the New Testament and every time it happens in the Bible, whether it be God using Elijah or Elisha in the Old Testament or the resurrections of Lazarus, Eutychus or Jesus himself in the New, it matters. They all are significant and contribute to the foundation of our theology and understanding of God and eternity. Those two verses in Matthew 27 on the heels of the temple curtain being ripped should be mentioned with frequency during our Good Friday sermons.

5. What happened to Jesus’s soul between Friday afternoon and his resurrection?

I honestly do not believe this is greatly ignored in the American church because I have heard it discussed but I do think it deserves more attention than it gets. And I wonder if the strangeness of some verses in the New Testament that try to explain it (especially 1 Peter 3:19-20) gives us pause in preaching it.

And again, my intent in bringing it up is not to pontificate about my own personal view of the subject, but to urge us to think deeply about it and do a careful interpretation of the New Testament passages that can help us understand it. Even the difference in where the quotations start in Jesus’s statement to the thief on the cross matters–is it, …I tell you today, “You will be with me in Paradise”… or …I tell you, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise”…? Rightly dividing the word of truth is not for the lazy or careless and on topics like these a healthy dose of humble yet focused work is prudent.

Let me be clear again that I definitely believe the core aspects of the Good Friday part of the Passion narrative are more important than what I have shared here. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, his forgiving of those who killed him, and his words to the Pharisees and his statements while on the cross deserve a million sermons. Yet there are details in the story that are easy to overlook but teach us vital aspects to God’s story as revealed to us in Christ’s crucifixion. We need not lose one to gain the other. We just need to give the richness of these passages their due.

The Resurrection and the Prominence of Empirical Evidence

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
[The Apostle John]

The most obvious and crucial distinction between Christianity and other major world religions is that it is based not on rules, philosophy or human goodness, but on the facts of a man’s life. It is appropriate that Christmas and Easter are both so widely celebrated (even if a Sunday morning attendance box to check for many) because both, in stark contrast to some other major religious and holy days, answer the question “What happened?” What happened in real time and space in 3D world history?

And it is not merely as simple as something happening. In both cases, something amazing happened. Something literally miraculous and literally incredible. Something scientifically impossible. A virgin gave birth and a man rose from the dead. Someone more poetic than me has commented that Jesus entered the world through a door marked “No Entrance” and left through a door marked “No Exit.” Which makes the juxtaposition of what happened and why Christians believe it so fascinating.

For if you read the New Testament carefully and notice which themes emerge, you can definitely find doctrine and morality. Jesus, Paul, Peter, John et. al. taught things like, “Return evil with good,” “Love is patient and kind,” and “If your neighbor is hungry, and you have to give, it is wrong to turn him away.” But if you get at the heart of the New Testament’s message, it definitely is NOT “Be good and you can get to God” or “Think correctly and you will be enlightened.” It really is about what Jesus did. What happened. The miraculous, impossible things that men and women gave their lives to make sure the rest of the world would know forever.

When John opened his first epistle, he didn’t begin with loving your neighbor, or even with Jesus’s atoning sacrifice being for the entire world. No, he began by pronouncing Jesus as God and saying “We saw him. We heard him. We even touched him.” In short, he is making a case that the impossible things that Jesus did by coming and going from this world were empirically verified by those who followed him. And THAT is the message he wanted to begin with. All truth claims about Jesus and the morality that follows hinge on what they experienced with their five senses.

Peter, in his second letter, also values this early on:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

And this was also how even Luke, who was not an apostle but was a scientist and doctor, began:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

And perhaps it is no surprise since he also wrote Acts and as a result recorded numerous direct quotes from the apostles that kept highlighting the importance of them being witnesses to what happened with Jesus, notably his resurrection:

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it…

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this…

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things…

We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead…

“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me…

Empirical evidence of Jesus’s resurrection was so important to Paul that what we now know as the Apostles’ Creed is the main thrust of it:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

In short, the creed was not rules or philosophy, but what Jesus did. It is precisely what happened—what they experienced with their senses. The theological implications arise from that.

I close with noting two of the scenes from the Gospels that were, in part, the basis all of the aforementioned verses. They fascinate me for several reasons I want to discuss. All of them are empirical save one. First from Luke:

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

First, I cannot help but notice that the cognitive dissonance of a dead man now being alive was so outrageous and so overwhelming, the empirical-based evidence of actually seeing him wasn’t enough. Resurrection from the dead was so magnificently far away from what they could comprehend (notice the use of “joy” conjoining amazement above), they could not even believe their own senses. That is a historically special case of “What happened?” Because it was, indeed, impossible. And that is the truth that launched the Christian faith.

Second, I cannot help but be deeply impacted by the fact that Jesus kept trying to empirically prove it to them by eating the fish. It’s almost like “Me actually being here in the flesh isn’t enough? Touching me isn’t enough? You think I am a ghost? Watch this.” And then he does something else they can observe with their five senses. An incredible scene.

Next, coming full circle, from John:

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Similarly as above, I am again amazed that Jesus solves the doubt, not by telling him to have more faith or to merely believe his eyes, but by going further and letting him touch him. It is that sense that John mentions as well at the beginning of 1 John that really grabbed my attention as I was preparing my mind and heart for Easter this year.

But as any good student of the Bible will tell you, John 20 doesn’t stop with belief based on the empirical. Jesus tells Thomas after he confesses him as God that those who have not seen and still believe are “blessed.” That includes you and me. The apostles witnessed based on what they saw, heard and touched. We witness based on what we believe. But we are not the unfortunate ones. God, in his divine sense of justice, again turns the world upside down by proclaiming the blessed group the opposite one as you’d think. Just as with the Beatitudes. Those who have not experienced Jesus in real time and space join the ‘poor in spirit’ and ‘those that mourn’ as blessed in God’s kingdom.

Yet who is blessed is not the heart of our Gospel. The heart is the apostles’ message of Jesus. Their empirically-verified message passed down from generation to generation for nearly two millennia. All of our theology is built upon “What Happened.” And that makes Jesus wholly distinct from Mohammad and Moses and Siddhartha Guatama, the founder of Buddhism. He wasn’t just killed and buried. He resurrected and appeared, so that he could be seen, heard, and even touched. That is how Christianity began. And that is the heart of Easter.

Five of Our Favorite Easter Themed Songs

It has long been our contention that Easter does not get the kind of attention it deserves. At least, when compared to another religious holiday like Christmas. Specifically, Easter-themed music feels like an afterthought a lot of the time. We think that is sad and unfortunate. Easter is the moment our faith became a reality – the specific moment in time when God defeated sin and death and made our redemption possible. It is a time of reverent contemplation and passionate celebration. So, as is our way, we have to chosen honor this season by highlighting five of our favorite Easter-themed songs. We hope you enjoy the list we put together.

♦ “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin

Chris Tomlin may need to leave old hymns alone or “stay in his lane” (I disagree with statements like this but I won’t fight about it), but I don’t think I can stand for people besmirching him over a song like this. This song isn’t a theological essay like many great hymns but the one point it makes is extremely important and it makes it well. Christ’s resurrection isn’t just an empirical fact in history; it means everything for us as far as what happens to our bodies and souls for eternity. 

And it is rife with biblical phrases and allusions. Look at just a few from the very start: 

There’s a peace I’ve come to know (Reminds me of John 16:33) 
Though my heart and flesh may fail (Taken directly from Psalm 73:26 but also reminds me of Job 19:26 and 2 Corinthians 4:16) 
There’s an anchor for my soul (Sounds like Hebrews 6:19) 
I can say It Is Well (Not Scriptural as much as it was clearly taken from the H.G. Spafford hymn, which is entirely appropriate) 

And as he gets to the chorus the number of citations or allusions to how Jesus beat death are multiplied. No, this song isn’t as deep or complex as 1 Corinthians 15’s take on the resurrection. Clearly, this theme can fill thousands of pages of doctrinal discussion. But we rejoice in the mere fact that resurrection wasn’t a one-time isolated event for one man, but the firstfruit of the resurrection of everyone who trusts in that man. I have played this song overlaying an iMovie of Scriptural references, many of them above, the last three times I have preached at Easter at my church–2009, 2013, and 2017. I cannot say enough about how much it floods my heart with the joy and hope of what matters most—how the Bible answers the problem of the vilest, most despicable, unforgivable villain there is: Death. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. –  Gowdy Cannon

♦ “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” by Charles Wesley

“Christ the Lord” was written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley and 17 other siblings.

Interestingly, Charles and John didn’t enter into a personal relationship with Jesus until right after they finished serving as missionaries to Georgia. On the boat ride back home to England, they met a Moravian constituent. Once back in London, he introduced the Wesleys to fellow Moravians who led them to Christ. From them, they learned what it really meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Wesley’s conversion experience took place in 1738 and he wrote this hymn almost exactly one year later. It was written and played as one of the first hymns of the brothers newly founded Wesleyan Chapel in London. This was just the beginning of his hymn-writing career. He would go on to write well over 6,000 more hymns. I have not read or sung all of these songs but I have heard that many of them are mediocre at best. But those that are great are considered the best of the best in all of hymnology (many consider his “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” the most theologically rich Christmas song). And “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is one of the most theologically rich Easter songs. It has certainly been one of the most popular Easter songs since it was first published in 1739.

Christianity celebrates the entry into new life by dying and that new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus is what this hymn clearly celebrates. It is via our acceptance of this sacrifice that we truly live. I Corinthians 15:19 tells us that if this life alone is all that we can expect, we are of all men most pitiable. But for Christians, it isn’t all we expect. We have a hope of life with Christ after we die. That is why we can confidently say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). This truth is at the very center of Christianity. That Jesus died and rose again so that we too may die and rise again into everlasting life with Him. 

The first three stanzas of this song remind us that Jesus rose three days after His death, rose to heaven to reign as a glorious king, finalized his work of redeeming grace, and opened paradise for all. But the song also reminds us that this was not just something that happened and finished up over 2000 years ago. The fourth stanza is clear that this is still true for us and that we have reason to sing praises to God above for His great work of love all the world. He, all three persons of the Godhead, did this for us. The last two lines finalize: “Praise Him, all ye heavenly host, alleluia! Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” – Ben Plunkett

♦ “Grave Robber” by Petra

This is not an Easter song. It is a song about what Easter made possible. One thing that Petra (mainly Bob Hartman writing the lyrics) excelled at was incorporating Scripture into their songs. This one is filled with allusions, direct quotes, and paraphrasing. This song, more than almost any I have heard, is entirely focused on the hope the resurrection of Jesus brings to believers. The lyrics are powerful, encouraging, and triumphant. As the chorus of the song so aptly states:

Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies

In the here and now, we still struggle and fight with death, but one day, death will be no more. Death will finally die. That is our great hope, provided to us by the death and resurrection of our Lord. This classic song, by the preeminent Christian rock band of the 1980s, is the perfect reminder of this truth. For my money, few songs can match it in melody, structure, sound, and message. Every year around Easter, this song makes its way into my music rotation and I never regret it. It moves me every time I hear it. I hope it will move you as well even if the style is not your preference. Focus on the lyrics and the truth they convey. One day, the Grave Robber will “wipe away our tears – He will steal away our fears. There will be no sad tomorrow – there will be no pain and sorrow.” That is a truth worth singing about. – Phill Lytle

♦ “Remember Me” by Ben Shive (Performed by Andrew Peterson)

I’ve been listening to Andrew Peterson’s music a lot lately, especially his latest album Resurrection Letters: Volume I, released just in time for Easter last year. I heartily recommend the entire album (along with the Resurrection Letters, Prologue EP and the Resurrection Letters, Volume II album released 10 years prior[1. Yeah, I don’t understand volume two being released 10 years before the prologue and volume one either. ]), but I am supposed to write about just one song.

I strongly considered the modern congregational hymn “Is He Worthy?” (which Chris Tomlin borrowed for his latest album Holy Roar) and my personal favorite “His Heart Beats” which focuses on the actual moment of Jesus’s resurrection. In the end, I chose “Remember Me”.

“Remember Me” was written by Ben Shive (with whom Andrew Peterson collaborated on all of the Resurrection Letters albums) who, in his words, “wrote these songs [“Remember Me” and “Into Your Hands”] to help myself and the folks at my church remember Jesus this Good Friday.”[2. Link] I love that this song wasn’t written primarily to be published and recorded (though I’m glad it was) but was written by someone to help himself and his fellow church folk to remember Jesus.

I chose this song mainly because the lyrics cover the full story and meaning of Easter from our part as “wayward sons” and “prodigal daughters” in need of a redeemer to “ascend that hill” for us, through the story of Jesus during his last week from triumphal entry “as a King” to death on the cross to resurrection, to the resulting hope we have of our eternal life with our Lord when Jesus returns.

Secondarily, I chose the song because of the groovy pop tune atypical in Easter songs. It’s refreshing. – Nathan Patton

♦ “Arise My Love” by NewSong

I love a good power ballad. I love Easter Sunday. Put them both together, and you get “Arise My Love”. 

It is, formulaically, every bit 80s power ballad. A slow build, synth, echoey drums, it’s all there. Stryper could have done this song, and they would have killed it. If they added in a screaming guitar solo, it would be icing on the cake. (I’m still holding out for a Stryper cover BTW).

But this song is so much more than just an epic build. This song is a freight train of theologically sound emotion that is focused on the most victorious moment that humanity has ever witnessed. When you listen to this song, you get the sense that all of creation, all of Heaven and Hell, has been moved to contemplative silence at the tomb. Then you get to the chorus, the airy, heavenly “Arise, My Love! The grave no longer has a hold on you! No more death’s sting, no more suffering! Arise! Arise, My Love!”

I cry every time I hear it. I’m tearing up right now as I write this. It takes a lot to move me to this kind of emotion, but this song captures that most epic moment of all time so very well. Jesus is blazingly glorious, and this song gives just a tiny, minuscule glimpse into that reality. 

“Sin, where are your shackles? Death, where is your sting? Hell has been defeated! The grave could not hold The King!” – D.A. Speer

Hopefully, a few of your favorites were included in our list. We welcome you to share some of your favorites with us in the comment section. Let’s celebrate, through music and song, the resurrection of our Lord together.   

Why My Family Decided To Leave Chicago

I did something yesterday that I thought—and many times vowed—I would never do. I announced to my church that I was resigning as a pastor and elder and my family would be leaving Chicago, effective this summer.

When I moved here in 2002 right after college, it was in my mind a decision for life.  This was a church plant and the work to be done would not be done overnight, so I wasn’t going anywhere. And with time, God overflowed my life with purpose and meaning from this volunteer, bi-vocational role in this church. So leaving seemed impossible. When I started dating my wife in 2014, I was upfront that I was in Chicago for good and there was no reason to pursue a relationship if she wasn’t willing to move. She joyfully consented, we married a year later and in 2017 we even bought a house with the intention of being here for decades. We wanted to use it to serve our church and community and not just to grow a family. We often called it our “forever home.” “Home” has been such a significant word to me in Chicago, and specifically at Northwest Community Church. When I see my family at Christmas and then leave to come back, they know that is where I am going–home. Finding out last summer that our son Liam would be added all this just made our lives beyond fulfilled.

But several things have happened in the last few months that changed everything. The details would be boring and aren’t essential for this article. But the gist of it is that both my wife and I began to feel weighed down by the heaviness of the very things we were in Chicago to do. My wife has dealt with unrelenting, overwhelming stress the entire four years she’s been here and new trials have been thrown at her no matter how hard she has tried to find relief. I changed jobs to teach from home and to make more money to provide, but my new job required more overnight hours, taking a lot out of me. I could minister to my wife more effectively before. Now, it was becoming harder.

Around November, it was becoming obvious to me that trying to balance my ministry as a volunteer pastor-elder, my job as an English teacher and my role as a husband and soon-to-be-father was taking more out of me than I probably could stand longterm. On a particularly stressful day where my wife was beyond frayed, and I had zero left in my tank after a weekend full of overnight teaching and church ministry and meetings, I just blurted out, “Maybe we should move.” The weight of that statement was stunning because we had never seriously considered it. It was not a rational statement. It was said in frustration. But it was the first step in a series of conversations we had over a couple of months where we talked about what life would be like if we moved. We began to consult wise people in our life, people we knew would tell us the truth even if it wasn’t what we wanted to hear. The fruit of all of these conversations was that in order for us to be healthy, and to be the spouses and parents we really wanted to be, something had to give. My role in the church, as crucial as it was to my spiritual development for 17 years, was the most expendable.

There are two things I really want people to know about this decision. I realize I should not care too much what people think, but I still have been advised that it is wise to be proactive in protecting my family. As I think about Joseph in the Gospels, staying with Mary knowing that people would not understand why he did it and would likely gossip, it occurs to me that sometimes people do not understand decisions we make for our families and sometimes we just have to take the hits. Yet I know there are mature friends and family out there who will read this and take it to heart.

First, I want people to know that we are not leaving because we are afraid to raise Liam in Chicago. The very opposite is true. It has been my dream since before I ever met Kayla to raise my children bilingually, and not merely academically at home, but in the real world context of my church where people from different languages sacrifice for each other. If there is one thing about this decision that kills me more than others, it is that Liam will never know Chicago as his home. The place that I loved with my whole heart and poured blood, sweat and tears into for 17 years will only be known to him in stories and short visits. That breaks my heart unlike anything has in a while. Every time I have told someone of this decision, this is the part that causes me to become emotionally unglued. Northwest is by far the best place I know of to raise my son. I can still raise him to value people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, but there will never ever be another church like Northwest to me in this regard. It was the church that took me straight out of college knowing little about how to be a pastor and how big the world is and discipled me to value the things I do. We are not leaving Chicago so Liam can be safe. I feel safe in my neighborhood but even if I didn’t the risk would be worth it. Safety for myself or my family is not high on my list of priorities. This was not part of the decision making.

Secondly, my fear is that since I was in Chicago 13 years before Kayla and I got married, and I trumpeted to anyone who would listen how I planned to live the rest of my life here, that people will think Kayla asked for this or manipulated it somehow. The truth is that if I could live anywhere in the world I would choose Chicago without batting an eye. My wife would not. But she married me with the intention of going the distance and if I asked her to stay for 40 years she would have. She has never asked me to move or pressured me in any subtle or overt way. I brought up the idea out of concern for her and for us (our marriage and soon to be all three of us), and she pushed back at every turn. She doesn’t want me to be unhappy so she constantly challenged me on if this was the right thing to do. She did not move to Chicago to be a part of a church, primarily, like I did. She moved to get married. But she bought into what Northwest does and she sacrificed heavily for four years to make it work, giving up Saturday evenings—her only day off—to practice on the worship team and sitting in a Sunday School class where she often didn’t understand the language. She was ready to be here indefinitely. But I do not think it is fair at this point to ask that of her.

We offer no platitudes, cliches or Bible College verbiage about “God’s will” or being at peace about this decision. As Haddon Robinson once said, Jesus proves you can be in the middle of God’s will and be so stressed that you sweat blood, and Jonah proves you can be out of God’s will and be so at peace that you can sleep on a boat. This decision has caused suffering for both of us like few things have. But ultimately all of the reasons I could come up with to stay were selfish and beneficial more for me than for my family. Moving seems to be what is best for all three of us at this juncture.

I am more than willing to discuss this further with anyone who may want to talk about it with me. Feel free to contact me if you have my cell number or email or want to PM me on Facebook. Decision making can be messy in God’s kingdom so it’s not a neat and tidy event. It was not this time. But it yielded a result that I think will please God.

The Five Most Insane March Madness Runs I’ve Witnessed

March Madness is hands down my favorite playoff in sports for several reasons. It never fails to produce gigantic upsets (UMBC over Virginia!) and buzzer-beaters (Bryce Drew to beat Ole Miss!) and more emotion than an episode of This Is Us (just watch the 2017 One Shining Moment for proof). Even One Shining Moment itself is a mammoth part of March Madness’s appeal.

Another significant one is to me is when a team comes out of nowhere and catches fire, busts brackets everywhere by reeling off upset after upset and is still standing in one of the late rounds. Today I want to discuss what I consider to be the five most improbable of these runs in all the tournaments I have seen. This means that anything that happened before 1986 will not be included, so two of the premier examples in N.C. St. in 1983 and Villanova in 1985 will not be discussed. That is sad in one sense but in another those have been written about numerous times in the last 35 years. So I am happy to give some props to some others.

To qualify what I mean by improbable, I want to be clear that I do not simply mean a low seed makes it far in the tournament. I am considering all other things as well—the history of the program, the immediate context of the program, how they won their games and who they beat. To give an example, the list that I considered before whittling it down to five did not include UNC making a Final Four run as an 8-seed in 2000, Michigan St. making it as a 7 in 2015 or Syracuse as a 10 in 2016. Those are championship programs and constantly do well in the NCAA tournament, so even low seeds didn’t make their runs that big a shock to my mind. Similarly, Kent State’s run to the Elite Eight as a 10-seed in 2002 didn’t feature any truly earth-shattering wins (though they were upsets) so while it was considered, it was quickly dismissed. Similarly dismissed were a run by 10-seed Temple in 1991 and the same Temple program as an 11 in 2001, and a championship game run by 8-seed Butler in 2011 after making the same game the year prior. Finally, I add that a “run” to me is at least two games, and in the modern era, two games starting with the 64-team field and not the “First Four” de facto play-in games. So as amazing as UMBC’s victory over Virginia was, they didn’t really have a “run” in the tournament in my mind. You need to at least survive the first weekend.

But here are some other honorable mention examples of what I mean, in chronological order:

1986: 11-seed LSU’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Only team in modern era seeded as low as 11 to make the Final Four until 2006. Even more amazing they were the only team to be seeded lower than 6th in the modern era to make the Final Four until two 8s made it in 2000. Beat #1 Kentucky.

1986: 7-seed Navy’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Beat Syracuse in the 2nd round. Hasn’t won a tournament game since. Hasn’t made the tournament since the 90s.

1987: 6-seed Providence’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Beat recent champ and #1 seed Georgetown and hasn’t returned to Final 4 since. Didn’t return to even Sweet 16 for ten years.

1988: 13-seed Richmond’s run to Sweet 16
Why It Was Insane: Beat defending champ Indiana in the first round and Georgia Tech in 2nd Round.

1991: 11-seed Loyola Marymount’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Beat defending champ Michigan in 2nd Round. Only their 2nd tournament with any advancement ever. Has not returned to the tournament or even the NIT since. Pulled off the run after their leading scorer, Hank Gathers, died during the conference tournament.

1994: 9-seed Boston College’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Beat defending champ and #1 UNC in 2nd Round, in what I consider to be the biggest 2nd round upset ever (maybe tied with N. Iowa over Kansas in 2009 in a very similar game). Has not been back to the Elite 8 since.

1997: 14-seed Chattanooga’s run to the Sweet 16
Why It Was Insane: Beat #3 Georgia and #6 Illinois. One of only two 14s to make it this far. Haven’t won a tournament game since and haven’t won one since before 1982.

1999: 10-seed Gonzaga’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Only 2nd NCAA appearance ever (the previous one was five years prior) and the first one with any advancement. Nearly knocked off eventual champ UConn in the Elite 8.

2000: 8-seed Wisconsin’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Only 5th tournament appearance in sixty years. First in the modern era ever going past the 2nd round. Beat #1 Arizona.

2002: 12-seed Missouri’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Remains the lowest seed to date to make the Elite 8. The program has never made the Final 4.

2008: 10-seed Davidson’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Beat Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin (easily). First time in school history ever winning one game in the tournament in the modern era. Nearly knocked off eventual champ Kansas. Have not won a tournament game since.

2013: 9-seed Wichita St.’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Beat #1 Gonzaga and popular champion pick #2 Ohio St. Program has never made another Final 4. Last Elite 8 was in 1981.

2013: 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16
Why It Was Insane: The first, and still only, 15-seed to win two tournament games and survive the first weekend. Beat #2 Georgetown. The program didn’t even begin until 2002. Still the only non-First 4 wins in program history.

2014: 11-seed Dayton’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Program’s first Elite 8 since 1981. Only 2nd time even advancing to Sweet 16 since then. Beat heavily favored Ohio St. and Syracuse.

2017: 11-seed Xavier’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Destroyed #3 Florida St and beat #2 Arizona. Only three E8s in program history and 0 Final Fours.

2018: 11-seed Loyola Chicago’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Hadn’t even been to the tournament since 1985. No deep runs since 1963. Heart-stopping win over #3 Tennessee.

For various reasons, all of these were considered but not worthy of the final list of Five. Reasons ranged from Navy in 1987 having David Robinson to Xavier having many tournament runs in their history to Loyola getting to play two very low seeds in their last two wins. Now, on to the Most Insane Five:

5. 14-seed Cleveland St.’s run to the Sweet 16 in 1986

They are still one of only two 14s to make the Sweet 16 and one of only three to make it that far as a seed lower than 13. What separates their short but improbable run from Chattanooga in 97 and Florida Gulf Coast in 2015 is that they beat the next year’s champion (Indiana) and St. Joe’s, and then didn’t return to the tournament again until 2009. Additionally, those two years are their only appearances in school history. This run makes no sense. Its statistical probability is infinitesimal.

4. 7-seed UConn’s run to the National Championship in 2014

If you’re tracking with me you may be ready to cry foul (no pun) at this one since they are a championship program. But there are a few reasons I make this exception. One is that once Jim Calhoun retired, this program has bottomed out. Except for this outlier year. They have only two tournament appearances since 2011, and only one win other than this title year. Kevin Ollie, who coached this team, was fired four years later, which was almost quick enough to make Gene Chizek jealous.

Secondarily, the way they did it was mind-boggling. In their first game vs. 10-seed St. Joseph, they trailed virtually the entire final 5 minutes and were down three in the final 45 seconds and tied it on an ugly offensive rebound, put back, plus a foul and the and-one. They triumphed in overtime. Who would have guessed that a team that struggled to put away lowly seeded St. Joe’s in Round 1 would go all the way? Then there were the victories over 2-seed Villanova (the 2016 champion) in the 2nd round, Michigan St. (perennial Final Four contender) in the Elite 8, and Florida (the overall #1 seed in the tournament) in the Final 4. Each game they seemed woefully undermanned and in the Florida game, they fell way behind. Yet every time they plodded along and willed a victory to survive and advance. Finally, they faced Kentucky in the championship, who despite being an 8-seed felt like a team of destiny. UK had won game after game on late heroic shots by Aaron Harrison and seemed like the trendy pick. But UConn shut them down as well and took home the championship. Nothing about this run was normal. It was completely unprecedented for a 7-seed and in general.

3. 11-Seed VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011

The most important facts are obvious:
–They were an 11-seed from a mid-major conference with not so much as a Sweet 16 in their tournament history
–They were the first and still only team to go from First Four to Final Four.
–They knocked out #6 Georgetown, #3 Purdue and #1 Kansas all by double digits. In fact, the only close game they had the whole tournament was vs. 10-seeded Florida St., in one of the most oddly seeded Sweet 16 games of all time. The Kansas game was the biggest shock because 11s beating 6s and 3s isn’t unheard of. 11s beating 1s in the Elite 8 had happened only twice in modern history (LSU in 86 and George Mason in 06).

Shocka Smart and crew just would not lose. Essentially no one saw this run coming. No one. To this day no other First Four team has so much made an Elite 8. And VCU has not even come close to replicating this success in the 7 years since, only winning one tournament game in that frame.

2. 11-Seed George Mason’s Run to the Final Four in 2006.

The thing that makes this run more impressive than VCU’s by a hair is the teams they beat. They rolled through #6 Michigan St., #3 UNC and #1 UConn–all championship programs–to break a 20-year drought of double digits seeds making the Final 4.

Additionally, while VCU was never a Final 4 team, they had won some games in the tournament before 2011. George Mason had three appearances before this 06 run—as a 15, a 14 and a 14 seed–and was ousted immediately each time. And like VCU, they have not been able to repeat this success, only procuring one tournament win in two total appearances since this amazing jaunt through March. And they have had 5 more years to add to that total than VCU has had. It was just an extraordinary and borderline bizarre run, both at the time and very much in hindsight.

1. 7-Seed South Carolina’s run to the Final Four in 2017

I may get pushback on this one for two reasons: First, I am a Gamecock fan in the heart, soul and blood. And secondly, how can a 7-seed from a major conference trump 11-seeds from mid-majors on the same run? Well, hear me out.

Here is a list of USC’s tournament appearance since 1975 to date (other than this one):
1989, 12-seed, out in First Round
1997, 2-seed, out in First Round
1998, 3-seed, out in First Round
2004, 10-seed, out in First Round

That’s it. The numbers are freakishly bad. Four total appearances in forty years. Zero wins despite two very highly seeded years. 13 years between their last appearance and this blindsiding run. And the team has not even come close to sniffing the NCAA in the two tournaments since.

At the risk of piling on, consider this as well: This Gamecock program made the Final Four of the National tournament despite the fact that they have not even made the semifinals of SEC Tournament since 2006. Read that again. The team has a Final Four more recently than a conference Final 4 by 11 years. This team has never even won the SEC tournament. All of this adds up to an anemic resume that even previously anonymous programs like George Mason and VCU could not match. And for that reason, I consider this run, in which they beat #2 Duke, #3 Baylor and #4 Florida, the most improbable of my lifetime.

What do you think? Comments, disagreements and declarations of ignorance are welcomed below!

Five Things I Assumed About My Newborn That Proved to Be False

On January 18th of this year, I became a dad for the first time. To say I knew nothing about babies is barely hyperbole. I knew very little. I’d spent maybe 30 minutes total in my four-decade-life holding them. I’d never changed a diaper. I tried to read some of my wife’s books but they bored me to tears. Yet simply applying common sense I thought some things about a newborn would be true. I had fewer assumptions about the stages after that, but newborns are simple, right? Not even close. I have stood corrected and humbled but in magnificent ways. Here are five assumptions I had that have proven to be false.

1. I assumed this stage would be a little boring.

They eat, sleep, and poop. And that’s it. What else could there be? I’ll have to wait until he could talk or play before I would be stimulated by him, surely.

Wrong. As a person with zero parenting experience, I woefully underestimated how entertaining every little thing my baby does would be. I had seen this mocked on TV before, but it makes total sense why even the most mundane, normal things they do are seriously entertaining in real life. Like when my son sneezes twice and then coos. Or when he yawns. Or sighs. Or when he screams bloody murder for a bottle and then when he gets it puts on an expressionless face where you would never guess two seconds earlier he was grimacing, red, and yelling as though we were hurting him. All of these things intoxicate me and some of them make me laugh. I could stare at my son for hours, watching him flap his arms or look around or just lie there completely content. Every day floods my heart with joy, even when there are some extremely tough but fleeting emotional moments (like several nights when he didn’t sleep well and we were exasperated).

2. I assumed I would not be able to take care of him for extended stretches.

I work night shift teaching ESL to kids in China in addition to volunteering as a church pastor, so it was on the table that when my wife went back to work I could possibly take care of him during the day. I balked at that, not out of some misplaced sense of gender roles (though I will add this was going to be temporary, as I plan to end up with a job with a more normal schedule), but because I felt my ignorance about newborns rendered me unqualified and would be unfair to my son.

However, while the mental toughness aspect of parenting a newborn can be hard, much of the actual care is not. The things I didn’t know I learned quickly and some things my wife and I are learning as we go. The cliche is that they do not come with instructions and while there is a ton of wisdom out there for us to follow, there are a lot of gaps to fill through trial and error. I am fully qualified as his dad to do just about anything, and the idea of taking care of him alone for eight hours at a time isn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.

3. I assumed diaper changes would gross me out beyond comprehension.

I have a very weak stomach. I do not handle gore or defecation or vomit well, in movies much less in 3D real life. The stories veteran parents would tell me about babies pooping in tubs and having blowouts so bad that it was up the baby’s back terrified me.

And while I won’t pretend it isn’t hard, and while I definitely do not take the annoying suburban mother on Seinfeld stance—“Because it comes out of your baby it isn’t gross”—it isn’t as bothersome as I would have guessed. It’s not like I’m super excited to change a bad diaper but at the same time, I can do it with a minimal negative reaction. I do have to talk to myself when the dirty diaper is really bad and my running commentary entertains my wife, but that is much different than being overly grossed out. Much like my answer when people ask how I deal with Chicago winter, I say, “I just do it. Because I have to.”

4. I assumed simple tasks like feeding him would be straightforward.

Ha! That’s all I have to say to that. My son came 23 days early and that should have been a sign that he was going to do things his way and on his own timetable. Sometimes Liam will down four ounces in 15 minutes. Sometimes he will take an hour and a half to do two. Sometimes he will go for five hours without eating, sometimes only two. Sometimes he latches immediately to the bottle; other times he will fight and struggle with it. I can’t figure any of it out. The older he gets, feeding time in general has gotten easier but in the earliest newborn stage it was supremely unpredictable.

5. I assumed that I would not be overly affectionate.

I’ve never been that affectionate with any baby, including my own nieces and nephews. And with a few exceptions, I’m not affectionate with adults. But some kind of flip switched in me the day Liam was born. I kiss him all the time. I tell him I love him several times a day. Without even trying I often sound exactly like my mother, who has a very distinct vernacular and tone of voice when talking to babies. As Liam gets older I am sure I will have to seek wisdom on how to navigate some of this (I will always tell him that I love him, no matter what, but kissing him may change), but right now I am enjoying the unfiltered opportunity to be as physically and verbally affectionate as I can. All he can do in response is let me! 

I am sure that I will carry new assumptions into each stage and that my unique child created in the image of God will keep humbling me. And I am looking forward to it. The ride through eight weeks has been exhilarating.

Creed II Spoiler Review: Two Sequels, One Film

The belt ain’t enough. You need a narrative. One that sticks to the ribs.”
[Buddy Marcelle, to Adonis]

“Don’t you pretend this is about your father.”
[Mary Anne Creed, to Adonis]

A truly notable aspect of the original Rocky is that there is essentially zero background given for any character. A quote of advice his dad gave him and a brief glance at picture on his mirror of himself as a child is it for Rocky himself. The fact Stallone was able to make people love this character based entirely on what happens in that one film and not on some sentimental life circumstance, like being an orphan, is amazing. With seven subsequent stories, each movie serves as its own background for the next and that is why the franchise has been so successful over four decades.

In this respect, Creed II is such an avalanche of sequel (I can’t think of a better noun than that) I needed two passes to take it all in. I didn’t mind, of corse, as I watch all Rocky movies over and over and had zero doubt I would want to see this one at least twice in the theater.

The reason I allude to above that I needed two viewings is what makes this movie special. The first viewing I was so consumed with the continuation of the Rocky IV story that I had a hard time assimilating the Creed narrative. Rocky IV, while not the best of these films, is the most re-watchable to me and is exploding with personality. You can’t have an all-time American sports movie icon vs. a roided-up Russian in the 80s with death on the line and not get a movie to remember. And that fight is the best sporting event in film to me. So in every scene in Creed II with any combination of Drago and Rocky, I was locked in like a fat guy watching the dessert table at a church potluck.

As such, everything that happens with Donnie and Bianca and even Rocky’s story arc from Creed needed a second viewing to truly appreciate. With substantial background from two movies to consider, my brain just couldn’t take it all in. And as I watched it a second time in the theater back in November it was then I realized this movie is truly two sequels in one and that I, personally, needed to see it twice: once with “Rocky IV Part 2” eyes and once with “Creed I Part 2” eyes. It is through this lens I will be giving this review, which is packed with spoilers.

Rocky IV, Part 2

As I said in my Rocky rankings back in November, I deeply and significantly appreciated that in Creed the producers masterfully blended an old story with a new one, giving fresh life and a younger audience to one of the great stories we have in America cinema. I didn’t assume that Creed would pay meaningful homage to Rocky. I knew he was in it but I assumed this new Michael B. Jordan character would be the dominant focus and the Rocky universe would play a minor role. That didn’t happen. Stallone’s Rocky was prominent and major and minor allusions to the previous six movies were everywhere.

This movie does the same, but on steroids. If you loved Rocky IV, you can’t help but adore the bulk of this movie. It’s literally Apollo Creed’s son vs. Ivan Drago’s son in a boxing ring. That as a premise is epic in and of itself, and I know that word is overused these days so I use it sparingly and accurately here.

But Rocky’s history with Drago is even more intense. The moment in the trailer when Rocky comes face-to-face with Drago in the ring for a Donnie/Viktor bout flooded my soul with joy and is without question made me want to see this move more than any other trailer has for any other movie ever. My favorite moment in the actual movie is when Drago stops by the restaurant to chat with Rocky, at which point I nearly passed out from all of the oxygen leaving my head causing my heart to beat a gazillion miles a hour. This whole scene immediately became an unforgettable part of Rocky lore. And the crowning jewel of that scene is when Drago opens up his dialogue by noticing that there are no pictures of his fight with Rocky on the wall, as there are of all of Rocky’s other legendary victories. Rocky replies, “No, there ain’t nothing from that in here.”. Later, Rocky is trying to talk Donnie out of taking the Drago fight and he says, “He broke things in me that ain’t never been fixed.” Both of those quotes not only caused me to feel deep emotion, they both do something that I profoundly appreciate: they make me love Rocky IV even more. Knowing the impact of the events of that fight for Rocky 33 years later only serves to make those events even more entertaining. This is something I am hoping these extra Harry Potter plays and movies would do but have not yet[1. The Fantastic Beasts movies are still good, for what it’s worth.].

Something this movie does that Rocky IV didn’t do is to give Drago and his son actual character. Drago was sensational as the villain in Rocky IV in one snese, but he was pretty flat and cartoony (a legit critique I made for Rocky IV in general in my last articles) and only had like 7 lines, half of which aren’t in English.[2.Because apparently his tongue didn’t come through customs.] Drago and Vicktor by contrast are not simple characters in this installment and they even make you feel for them at the end. I was thrilled to see Viktor and his father as humans, and not just “Bad Russian Men.” Even if the plot to achieve that was a tad cheesy and the standard “They are messed up because the mother/wife left them” trope. The moment at the climax where you think Drago is going to walk out as Viktor’s mother did, but instead throws in the towel, is tearjerking. And while it was quite different in key ways, that simple action also took Rocky fans back to IV.

Lastly I will add that even though the Rocky references (both subtle and unmistakable) are mainly from IV, there are plenty of plot points and dialogue that recall the other movies. A huge one is the fact that Adonis fights and loses and then wins the rematch, which has echoes of Rocky III. A more obvious one that I loved with my whole heart was when Donnie was extremely nervous about proposing and asked Rocky what he said to Adrian. Rocky quotes himself from II directly: “I asked her if she wouldn’t mind marrying me too much,” which is classic Rocky vernacular. I do think they missed a fantastic moment to have Rocky recall that he asked her what she was “doing the next 40 or 50 years” prior to that, but maybe they felt it would have made the scene less poignant. As a Rocky fan, I feel Rocky’s entire marriage proposal to Adrian would have been worth quoting.

Creed 1, Part 2

Not to be diminished by the Rocky IV hoopla is how beautifully and satisfying Donnie and Bianca’s narrative is advanced. After one viewing I wasn’t sure how I felt about all of these plot points, but after I had a chance to focus on them my second viewing (instead of the ‘other’ sequel), I lauded them.

First, Donnie being nervous about proposing allowed the callback to Rocky II, but it was also not lost on me that this cocky, smooth-talking, champion boxer was overwhelmed and flummoxed by the moment and needed help. This was a touching scene and made Donnie a relatable everyman for a moment, and hence, a better character. This kind of humility will always endear me.

And the storytelling wrenches the heart even more when this young couple has to deal with the possibility that their daughter inherited hearing loss from the mother. The moment when Bianca sees her husband break down when their daughter doesn’t respond to the test was some of the finest acting I saw in 2018. One of my brothers (the same one who allegedly tears up at the end of Rocky II, but I still will not name) texted me after he saw the movie to say that he shed tears at several moments but this was the toughest one.

For my money the most emotional moment was also on his list: Donnie visiting Apollo’s grave at the end. I wept for sure. A close second is also at the very end when Rocky visits Robert and his grandson he doesn’t know. It saddened me that they did not include Robert in Creed but for one passing comment, but I assumed it was because Sage Stallone had recently died and it would have been awkward for real life Sly Stallone for his fictional son (once played by Sage) to be included. Why else would Robert not show up when Rocky had cancer? As they kept mentioning him in this sequel, it was killing me that Rocky was estranged from him and his only grandchild. Rocky was a family man before Adrian died and it is almost perverse for him be going through life with only a surrogate son in Donnie. So when he predictably travels to Canada in the very last scene, I beamed like a new parent at a newborn child. I also nearly jumped out of my skin when it was revealed that Robert was again portrayed by Milo Ventimiglia, reprising that role from Balboa. My wife will testify that as Rocky got close to the house, I kept nudging her and whispering “Will it be Milo? Will it be Jack?” (His name on This Is Us) to the point of being annoying. Having Milo and Michael B. Jordan in the same movie should be illegal it’s so good.

One Unified Movie

I do not want to imply the movie was fragmented at all. The writing and direction blended the two sequels magnificently, like two lines that run so closely together they are distinct yet clearly connected, and that touch at key points. Perhaps the best illustration of this is how both Donnie and Rocky cannot escape the demons of the 1985 Creed-Drago fight and specifically Apollo’s death: Rocky for not throwing the towel and Donnie for never knowing his father. They produced one sequel to two classic movies so well so that I am tempted to put this chapter in the Rocky saga near the top of the rankings, just behind the original. It is that good. The heart of Rocky and the spirit of Creed are interwoven together like magic and I am excited that now it is on Blu-Ray and DVD, I can watch it as many times as I want.

Five Stars out of Five

Five of Our Favorite “Mad Scientists” From Film and Television

What constitutes a “mad scientist”? Single-minded focus? Crazy, sometimes dangerous inventions? Wild and unruly hair? A white lab coat? If those are the qualifications, we think the five we came up with fit the bill almost perfectly. This is not a best-of list. (We give official REO Top Ten rankings when we post stuff like that.) No, these are simply some of our favorites that we felt would be fun to write about. We hope you enjoy the list and feel free to add some of your own favorites in the comment section below the article.

Doc Brown – The Back to the Future Trilogy

You know you belong in this group when actual dialogue from your movie describes you as “a crazy, wild-eyed old man who claims to be a scientist.” Michael J. Fox may have owned the 80s in some sense, but he would have just been an average teenager in these films without its other crucial piece, Doc Brown. He had some timeless catchphrases that my brothers and friends and I still quote today: “88 MILES PER HOUR!!!” and “ONE. POINT. TWENTY-ONE GIGAWATTS!!” He was, to me, the brightest star of these movies.

And we loved Christopher Lloyd for it. I was young and naive when Back to the Future was new and so I thought he looked just like Doc Brown. I remember reading in TV Guide that he was going to do a guest spot on Cheers once and I watched the episode and was stunned at how he looked. Because the crazy wild-eyed (and wild-haired) scientist was nowhere to be found. And that’s how he will always be to me, even though he had a great career outside of this trilogy. Doc Brown is an icon of the 80s and an absolute treasure of a role. (Gowdy Cannon)

Flint Lockwood – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Flint Lockwood is different. Always has been. His entire life he has cared about only one thing: inventing things that will help others. Most of the time, his inventions end up causing more problems than they fix, but that doesn’t deter him in the least. At a young age he invented spray-on shoes that unfortunately he was never able to take off. He also invented rat-birds for some unknown reason and they have harassed his home-town (home-island?) of Swallow Falls ever since.

When we meet him as an adult near the beginning of the movie, he is working on the greatest invention of his life – a machine that will convert water into food. Any kind of food imaginable. Through some happy accidents, his machine actually works and things start to look up for Flint. He meets a girl. The town loves him – a big change from their usual annoyance. Of course, being a movie, things go wrong, Flint has to save the day and learn a few important life lessons along the way.

What makes Flint Lockwood so memorable is that he is not at all like any other heroic lead I’ve ever seen in a film. He is weird. He has very few social skills. He narrates all of his actions in his laboratory as he performs them. He has a pet monkey named “Steve.” Flint is odd, funny, unpredictable, and full of unexpected humor and heart. He stacks up with the best of the mad scientists out there. (Phill Lytle)

Doc Heller – Mystery Men

Doc Heller fits right in with his clientele, the oddball wannabe superheroes on the 1999 superhero comedy, Mystery Men. Doc Heller has a genius mind which he uses for all manner of insane inventions for things such as aromatherapy, laser hair removal, carnival rides, and a chicken rental business. He’s also an inventor of non-lethal weaponry for The Mystery Men team. This includes things like Canned Tornado, the Blame Thrower, the Shrinker, the Hair Dryer, and Glue Grenades.

Heller first garners the patronage of the Mystery Men after they fail to stop the Red Eyes from robbing a nursing home. Fortunately, Doc Heller is there on the scene romancing a resident and witnesses the whole incident. It is then that he tells The Shoveler that he has the non-lethal weapons they need to come out on top. Good ol’ Doc for the win!

While Heller is never actually made an official part of the team, his mad scientist-ery is instrumental in the final defeat of the archvillain, Casanova Frankenstein. (Ben Plunkett)

Doctor Heinz Doofenshmirtz – Phineas and Ferb.

You could argue that the appropriately named Heinz Doofenshmirtz is only one of three “mad scientist” in this fantastic Disney television show. Both Phineas and Ferb are master scientists in their own right. I would not classify them as “mad” as they don’t seem to be consumed by their work. Heinz, on the other hand, is completely consumed. His tragic (and hilarious) backstory sheds some light on how he turned into the crazy and power hungry inventor we see in the show. His inventions (“inators” of various kinds) are always far too convoluted for their own good and his end-game goal of conquering the entire “tri-state area” is incredibly limited in scope, which only adds to his charm.

Doofenshmirtz is full of one-liners, comic pratfalls, and running gags. His epic fights with Perry the Platypus are a thing of legend. (Seriously, if this doesn’t qualify him for iconic status, I don’t know if anyone qualifies.) While his failures are numerous, he keeps on trying, giving all future mad scientists a perfect role model. There are very few TV characters that make me laugh more than Dr. Doofenshmirtz, and that is enough justification for including him in this list. (Phill Lytle)

Frederick Frankenstein – Young Frankenstein

Frederick is of this infamous Frankenstein family line. He is so ashamed of his mad scientist ancestry that he pronounces it Fronk-en-steen in order to hide this embarrassing fact. At the beginning of the movie, Young Frankenstein (directed by Mel Brooks), Frederick has successfully spent years in adamant denial of his mad scientist family lineage. All of this changes after he inherits the castle of his great-grandfather, Baron Beavort von Frankenstein, the father of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the even more infamous monster. (Many incorrectly know this monster by the name of Frankenstein when it was really Frankenstein’s Monster. Come on!)

In the end, Frederick (played to comedic perfection by Gene Wilder) returns to his family home, to his grandfather’s laboratory, and learns to embrace his inner mad scientist. With Wilder’s perfectly disheveled hair and mad eyes, one truly believes he has transformed into the mad scientist role. Verily, it is his destiny. He is assisted by the buffoonish yet well-meaning Igor (pronounced Eye-gore), a descendant of a long line of hunchbacks who have served the Frankenstein family; the beautiful Inga (Teri Garr) and Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), the Frankenstein castle housekeeper and possessor of a number of dark family secrets.

Frederick’s mad scientist antics do not end with the famous “It’s Alive!” moment. Oh no. Indeed, he is so obsessed with his creation, he loves it so deeply that he takes it to the stage where the two perform “Putting on the Ritz” for the masses. (Ben Plunkett)

Church Discipline: The Form, The Attitude, The Reasoning, and The Goal

While I am positive the Bible runs counter to every culture in the world in many ways, it is how it is countercultural to America that most interests me as a citizen of this nation. Here at REO, we’ve written about many of them and one that I have not touched thus far due to how nasty its connotation can be is the issue of how churches deal with people caught in sin. What happens when the church finds out about a marital affair? Or a porn addiction? Or that someone has been lying habitually, or dealing with anger in sinful ways?

I realize that orthodox American Christian churches historically have messed up this aspect of theology and practice quite badly at times and that has caused the concept of church discipline to be treated as a profane term to be avoided both in speech and action. I add that I believe my current church in Chicago has actually done this quite well biblically speaking, thanks almost entirely to the other elders I have worked with. This doesn’t change the fact that this issue is significantly misunderstood and poorly practiced in some Baptist and Evangelical churches, if practiced at all.

I fear churches avoid discipline for at minimum three reasons. First, people so often in recent church history have done this with so little grace and without reconciliation in mind that it conjures up images of gossiping, self-righteous church members and leaders and scarlet letters. Second, on the opposite end, some churches simply do not judge the behaviors of their membership. Either through a warped view of grace, because of the fear of man, or a huge overlap of both, they never confront for any reason. These first two demonstrate how easy it is to live in extremes and not in the tension of balanced biblical interpretation and application—in this case, grace and truth[1. Which are not true opposites and need to work together, and that is basically the point of this whole article]. And third, the the current American church culture bends to segregating your church life and your personal life so that church is just a place to worship an hour a week and blend in and not a place to live in transparent, confessional community with other believers every day.

None of these things are remotely biblical.

Today I want to deal with it head on and with as much wisdom as I can. And as alluded to above, I do not come at this with mere head knowledge. I feel like I have been led by other men of God and have through the fire. By the grace of God we have come to understand this area of theology to some level. Having said that, while the best teaching and preaching involves illustrations and personal experiences, I will obviously be avoiding that today out of prudence and common sense. At least for the most part. A simple interpretation of a few Bible passages will be enough to start and these interpretations—and not my own war stories—will be most effective in helping others understand this topic. Jesus and Paul, the main source material for the NT for this topic, both speak very plainly about it.

With these two men in mind, here are four crucial aspects to confronting sin in the church, according to the inspired New Testament authorities:

The Form: Four Steps of Increasing Severity

In Matthew 18:15-18 Jesus gives a very basic and practical model to follow when a fellow believer has sinned. First, confront them personally. If they do not listen, take another Christian with you. If that doesn’t work, take it to the church. And then if they still do not listen then “treat them as an unbeliever (Gentile, pagan) or tax collector”.

There is a lot to unpack there and some of it is open to interpretation but I’ll try to be succinct. Disagreement here is welcomed below in the comment section (as well as disagreement with any part of this). The first two steps are pretty simple so I’ll skip to the third one. Our church has interpreted “the church” as this being the step when the elders get involved. Not the whole church at large. Not only does the latter seem impractical in our culture, it is our aim to show as much grace and patience in keeping things private until absolutely necessary. I hasten to add here that my church does not practice these steps with a “one and done” approach, meaning we may have several conversations at each step with the person caught in sin, as we try to figure out the truth and how best to serve the person, either through discipline or counseling or something similar.

Once the fourth step comes, then there is no choice. If the offending person shows no willingness to repent or even to meet with the church to present their side, then the person is removed from membership and the church must be notified.

What exactly does it mean to “treat them as an unbeliever or a tax collector”? Well in some way I believe it means you consider them as someone who is not a Christian because they cannot be if they are living in unrepentant sin. Especially after being shown that much grace. That part seems pretty straightforward. And after that? Well, this is where it can get hairy and part of this discussion is affected by how we view certain passages on the topic. I once had a disagreement with another elder at my church about how to treat a person at the fourth step, as far as how to interact with them. Based on 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 I was adamant that this person needed to be cut off and left to their own selfishness as punishment. No association with them would be biblical. Another elder more graciously advocated for trying to win them back through relationship, since that is what our church does with unbelievers. Isn’t that the ultimate end to treating them as a pagan or tax collector? Could Paul and Jesus be in conflict here?

We discussed it for a long time. I admit the other elder was closer to the truth than I was but we both moved some towards the middle. We established that the way we would go about would be to try to maintain a relational connection if possible (in our experience people in stage four often do not want to have any communication with the church), but only to try to win them back with loving and graceful truth. Essentially by evangelizing them. But this does not mean we simply hang out with them as we would any other lost person just to be a friend. I share Jesus with the lost friends I have but not in an aggressive way every time we are together. Sometimes we just get together to watch a baseball game. I may work Jesus into the conversation, but it is not always the main point in the meeting. That is a crucial difference between a Step Four unbeliever and an unbeliever who has never been a part of the church. The former needs to be approached with restoration as the primary goal of the meeting. That is at least where my church landed.

The Attitude: Humble Self-Awareness

In Galatians 6:1, Paul makes it clear that when we confront someone in sin, no matter which step I would think, it has to be with humility. This can be shown through our word choices and the whole of our nonverbal communication, though I am sure what humility looks like will change from person to person. It obviously isn’t weak or passive or apologetic in this context but it absolutely should communicate to the sinning party, “I am not better than you. I could very easily be caught in sin just as you have been.” Self-righteousness has no place in church discipline. And it is my firm belief that if a Christian is living face down before God in worship, preaching the Gospel to themselves, and seeking forgiveness from God and others daily, then when it is time to confront, they will be able to practice Galatians 6:1 correctly. Isn’t this what Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1-3 as well?

The Reasoning: Protect the Body from Death

Paul gives a significant amount of teaching on this topic in 1 Corinthians 5. But for this article, I want to zero in on one thing he teaches. We practice church discipline and are willing to put people out of membership for a reasonable end: if you do not take sin out of the church, it will spread throughout the church like gangrene in a diseased foot will go to the rest of the body. Amputation can absolutely be the most gracious thing to keep a body healthy. He uses the illustration of yeast in bread but the point is the same; the sin of one person can corrupt the whole church if not extracted. That is just the nature of sin and humanity. If a person sins without repentance and the church lets them stay, other members will be extremely inclined to fall into similar temptations. So by removing the unrepentant former member from the church community, you are actually doing something entirely gracious—you are protecting God’s bride, who is supposed to be presented to him as radiant and without spot or wrinkle. This is of course primarily because the blood of Christ makes the church clean, but repentance keeps her clean. A lack of repentance, even by a single individual, can potentially ruin the whole body. Churches must be willing to seem ungracious to that one so that they are being gracious to all.

The Goal: Reconciliation, Always

Perhaps the biggest sin of Phariseeism is that its self-righteousness makes reconciliation impossible. No matter the teaching in the New Testament, I cannot help but comprehend this topic as one where reconciliation with the one caught in sin and the church as the goal of every step. There is no room in our churches for “You messed up so you don’t belong here.” Quite often in my experience, people do not say this to the sinning person’s face; they just gossip them out of the church. Gossip is about as perpendicular to healthy confrontation, humility and reconciliation as it can be. And as such is listed with the worst sins in New Testament lists (Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20).

Instead, we need to be actively seeking reconciliation and restoration with the person caught in sin. That is what Jesus was teaching by giving the steps he gave in Matthew. It seems obvious to me that just looking at those four verses (vs. 15-18) you can see grace being shown by giving the person numerous chances to repent and by giving their sin privacy. But by looking at the larger context of Matthew 18, it becomes even more obvious how essential it is to see the guilty person as someone to be forgiven if they repent. In 18:21-35, Jesus teaches that we forgive over and over and over precisely because God has forgiven us far more than we have been offended.

Additionally, I believe Paul dealt with the offending man from 1 Corinthians 5 in his second Corinthian letter and taught to welcome him back into fellowship. Now I must assume that the man had repented because I do not think you can have reconciliation without repentance. You can forgive without it, but reconciliation takes two people: A forgiving victim and a sorrowful offender. But the fact Paul advises to forgive and accept the man from 1 Corinthians 5 is powerful when you consider how repulsive his sin was.

Much more could be said on this topic but part of why REO exists is to foster discussion and not presume to present the final, authoritative word on subjects like these. So feedback even in the form of disagreement is welcomed below.


Five Amazing Songs I First Heard On TV Episodes

It is a beautiful thing when I am watching a TV show and a song I don’t know plays behind a significant moment, especially a climax, and I am so blown away by it that I immediately look it up on the internet. It’s cool when music and TV scenes come together with marvelous synergy and it’s a song I already know. Yet when I do not know the song it is even better, as I love being introduced to new music. And when this collision of an unfamiliar song overlaying a TV moment rocks my world, the two will forever be linked in my mind. The song then becomes more than music and lyrics; it becomes part of TV lore.

This has happened dozens of times in my life. Here are five that rise to the top of the list.

[Note: There are major spoilers revealed in these scenes.]

“Not As We” (Alanis Morissette)
TV Episode: House M.D. 04:03 “97 Seconds”

This is my favorite House episode as it chronicles House’s argument against the idea of an afterlife. His mind is not changed after he goes to extreme lengths to find the truth but the fact Wilson cleverly and articulately pushes back against House is a huge part of why I loved this show.

The song itself plays when House, after being told by a man who was legally dead for 97 seconds that there is something amazing on the other side, tries to replicate this experience by electrocuting himself in the hospital. Where he knows he will be revived quickly but not immediately. Honestly, the song lyrics do not match the scene to me and would play far better behind a person trying to move on after an intense break-up or a death. But the music does match the tone of the episode and I’m sure that is why they chose it.

The song reaches deep in its emotion and really pulls me in. Alanis Morissette did this for a lot of people many times over, especially women. This one time she got me as well. I’ve listened to it dozens of times.

“One October Song” (Nico Stai)
TV Episodes: Chuck 03.18 “Chuck vs. the Subway” and 04.07 “Chuck vs. the Fistfight”

Chuck is a sleeper show to me, one that doesn’t have a huge following in my circles but was surprisingly good and very versatile. An action-comedy at heart, it had plenty of romance and drama and heartstring-pulling. It also had some epic guest spots that gave tribute to the 80s, including Dolph Lundgren in a one-off and Linda Hamilton and Scott Bakula in recurring roles as Chuck’s parents.

Perhaps the most tear-jerking plot development in the series is when Stephen suddenly gets killed by Shaw at the end of Season 3. This song plays alongside that moment and enhances the emotion and has compelled me to listen to it over and over again. Which in turn lets me relive this Chuck episode. The song plays again at the end of a Season 4 episode and compliments it as well.

“Boston” (Augustana)
TV Episode: Scrubs 05:19 “His Story III”

The Janitor on Scrubs had a pretty simple role on the show: to give J.D. an extremely hard time and to make super weird off the cuff comments that bordered on disturbing. So when we got a chance to peel back the curtain a little and see him as a human being, as we do in this episode, it is special. Make no mistake–the ending moment with the song is set up by the Janitor kidnapping J.D. and making a bunch of random hilarious declarations to a man in the hospital who needed a computer to talk but could not for a while as his computer was broken.

Since no one else would talk to him and because everyone else was busy insulting the janitor for having a menial job, the janitor utilizes this man’s forced silence to vent to him. And, as a result, to bond with him. It’s very subtle and doesn’t really pay off until the very end the conversation when Dr. Cox comes in with the sick man’s new computer and the first thing the man says is “Thank you”. After Dr. Cox accepts his gratitude the man says, “I wasn’t talking to you,” before the camera pans to the Janitor mopping up the floor with a look of humble satisfaction at this small victory in his monotonous work life. At that very moment, the line from this song, “No one knows my name” is heard. Which is just perfect, since the Janitor’s name is never given in this show and since the whole point of this subplot was to highlight his invisible job in a place where the most important life or death jobs are on display.

Honorable mentions for Scrubs would include “Closer” by Joshua Radkin and “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” by Colin Hay. This show mastered music and climaxes so well I had my own “Scrubs” playlist on iTunes.

“I Go To The Barn Because I Like The” (Band of Horses)
TV Episode: Psych 04.16 “Mr. Yin Presents”

This is my favorite TV episode of all time, of any genre, and this song helps it achieve that lofty accolade.

The Yang trilogy is truly exceptional entertainment, from the heightened stakes, to the villain’s acumen, to Mary’s presence, to everything that Shawn and Gus say and do. And at the climax of the second part–the episode that honors film Part 2s like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II by being the apex of the series–we get a mind-blowing and goosebump-shattering cliffhanger. And the song that James Roday chose to play along with it was, in his words, the only song he could have chosen that would work for this ending.

It begins with Abigail telling Shawn that unless he can give up Psych and having psychopaths wanting to hurt the people he loves, she can no longer be with him. Then it cuts to a series of poignant scenes without words that melt my heart every time: Juliet finally breaks down in Lassiter’s arms after trying to hold it together after her traumatic experience, Henry cleans the paint off of the Psych office door that Yin used to taunt Shawn, Shawn and Gus attend Mary’s funeral dressed in full racquetball attire, Yang stares ahead from her padded cell and Yin comes home as the camera pans to a picture on his table of….Yang and young Shawn? WHAT???

Just a phenomenal three minutes of TV. It messed with my head for days. And I quickly found the song on iTunes, put it on my iPod Nano and listened to it 50 times the next few days.

“Easier to Lie” (Aqualung)
TV Episode: Lie to Me 01:01 “Pilot”

Lie To Me didn’t have the best series premiere of any show ever (Lost and Friday Night Lights would be shows on that short list) but it was still excellent. And after a twist ending where Cal lies to get a girl to tell the truth, this song helps close the episode over a montage of scenes that gave me chill bumps and let me know this was going to be my kind of show. I also love the added touch of Dr. Lightman telling Rita: “Believe what you want to believe. Everyone else does.” This has never been more obvious than in the social media age.

So that is my list. What are some of yours?