Thursday, December 31, 2009

Figuring Out Your Favorite Movies

Would you be able to share your all-time favorite movie if someone asked you to? What about your top 20? When you've seen hundreds, if not thousands of movies over the course of a lifetime, it can be challenging to to come up with a list of favorites when put on the spot., a website that I got introduced to by Whitney over at Pop Candy, helps you rank your top movies through a simple match-up formula.

It goes like this... Flickchart offers two movies and you choose which one you like better. If you haven't seen one or both of the movies, you click through to the next option. The matchups go quickly and, after going through a number of selections, you'll likely find that the list that has been generated for you is pretty close to what you would have chosen yourself. If a movie that is one of your favorites doesn't come up as a option, just search for it and you can then begin to rank it against those you've already selected.

This was a fun diversion for me during a holiday break. You can try it out here. According to Flickchart, here is my top 20:

1. Jerry Maguire
2. Memento
3. Rocky
4. The Godfather
5. Hoosiers
6. The Shawshank Redemption
7. Spider-Man 2
8. Notting Hill
9. Do the Right Thing
10. Forrest Gump
11. The Dark Knight
12. The Truman Show
13. Return of the Jedi
14. A Few Good Men
15. The Green Mile
16. Coming to America
17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
18. Saving Private Ryan
19. Shrek
20. The Butterfly Effect

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reading Through the Bible in a Year

With the dawn of other calendar year just hours away, many of us are considering our New Year's Resolutions and how we can better ourselves in the year 2010. Along with the common goals related to weight loss, kicking bad habits, exercise, etc., one goal that some Christians strive for is to actually read through the whole Bible in a year.

As the most widely read and distributed book of all time, the Bible contains all the elements of any popular modern-day book. There is sex, greed, corruption, love, heroism, evil, good and an overarching theme that is better than anything else ever written. I've heard it said that although there are numerous characters and a large chunk of time that passes between beginning and end, there is one common theme of the Bible: It is of God's perfect creation, our rebellion against Him and His plan to redeem us.

As a committed Christian, I read the Bible for guidance, direction, wisdom and encouragement in my faith. I also read it to learn more about the character of the God I serve and those that have gone before me in a shared faith. It was written by a few dozen authors, over several hundred centuries and on multiple continents. Quite simply, it is the best work of literature that I have ever read.

For the past decade I have read through the Bible each year. I take at least 15-20 minutes each and every day to spend time in the Holy Scriptures. Even though it is the same story and I know how it begins and ends, I learn new things each year. It changes me and makes me a better person when I apply what I read and learn.

There are a plethora of reading plans on how to read through the Bible in a year and they're all good. The plan that I use is found at The One Year Bible Online and is very simple. There is a portion from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalms and Proverbs for each day and it takes less than the time it takes to watch a sitcom.

Whether you are a Christian seeking to grow in your faith or a seeker that is wanting to learn more about the Scriptures, there are few things that would be as worth your while as spending a quarter of an hour each day to read through the most popular book ever written. It was written thousands of years ago but it is powerful. As the writer of the book of Hebrews said,
"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
Why don't you try to read through the Bible this year? I promise you you won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The "Merry Christmas" Wars Heat Up

Over the past several years there has been a battle playing out in the public eye between those that want to emphasize Christmas during the end-of-the-year holiday season and others that want to move away from any references to Christmas. has a good article which can be found here which summarizes some of the political battles that are forming around the Christmas holiday.

For those of us that get irritated when a retailer wishes us a "Happy Holidays" as opposed to a "Merry Christmas", I do think that we can overact on this point. For example, we are in the midst of a season that has several holidays that most American Christians celebrate -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. So if someone is wishing someone else Happy Holidays, they may not be seeking to exclude Christmas but are simply recognizing the other holidays that fall in this time of year.

Of course, there are some that have moved away from any mention of Christmas as to not offend those that don't celebrate the holidays (e.g. Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc.) and make attempts to include other holidays like Hanukkah or Kwanzaa that are also observed this time of year. I have no problem with other holidays being recognized for those that celebrate them, but can't it also be okay to recognize Christmas since it is this holiday that the vast majority of Americans celebrate?

Unfortunately, the original meaning behind Christmas (which literally means Christ's Mass or "the celebration of Christ") has been lost in many respects. For the sake of argument, let's say that all retailers go back to wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Will that cause us to celebrate Christ more? Or does it just further confuse American consumerism with the celebration of the savior of the world?

It doesn't take the recognition of non-Christian holidays to cause us to miss the point of the Christmas holiday. The presents and Santa and trees and cookies are all fine but the holiday is really about Jesus. I liken a Christmas celebration without including Christ to a wedding without a bride. You may get a good meal and some nice presents out of it, but you're kind of missing the point of having the celebration in the first place.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Giving Patterns of Americans

We are in the throes of the Christmas season and for many Americans that means an increase in their charitable giving. I can attest that the donors to our ministry give more to us at the end of the year than at any other time. In fact our donations can be anywhere from 20-50% more in December than at any other month of the year.

As one that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for our non-profit charity over the years, I am always interested to learn more about the giving patterns of Americans. Justin Taylor recently shared some interesting facts from concerning the charitable giving of Americans.

Here are some statistics that stood out to me:
1. Americans are #1 in charitable giving in the world. It would take 3 French OR 7 Germans OR 14 Italians to equal the charitable donations of 1 American.

2. Americans give over 300 Billion each year to charities. However, we give over 400 Billion to Walmart.

3. There are close to 1 million public charities in the U.S.

4. The charity with the largest amount of revenue is Lutheran Services in America. They draw in over 16 billion a year.

5. The average American family gives about $2,000/year to charities.

6. Those who earn less than $20,000/year are twice as charitable (as a % of income) as those who earn over $100,000 (even though they donate 1/4 as much). The most common reason upper income people don't give to charity? They say they can't afford it.

7. Where does our giving go?
  • 35% - Religion
  • 13% - Education
  • 11% - Foundations
  • 9% - Human Services
  • 8% - Public Society Benefit
  • 7% - Health
  • 17% - Other
8. Conservatives are more likely to give than liberals and are twice as likely to attend religious worship services. Religious people even give more to secular causes than non-religious people do.
To learn more about the charities you give to, visit the Better Business Bureau or Charity Navigator.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thoughts on Tiger Woods

In the past couple of weeks on at least two different occasions I sat down to write about Tiger Woods and all that has been going on since that fateful car accident Thanksgiving weekend. But in both instances, I couldn't formulate what I wanted to say and just deleted the post.

I'm not sure what I think or how I feel about this whole mess. On one hand I can't fathom how someone with so much would be so reckless in his personal life. On the other hand, I feel sorry for a guy that is facing public scrutiny in a way that only few can even begin to relate to.

Although Tiger Woods is an icon that has transcended his sport, he is also just a man with the same frailties and weaknesses that you and I possess. As more and more details have emerged during this ordeal, I truly wonder what is going through Tiger's head as he ponders his next steps and what his life is going to look like once he decides to emerge from his Windermere mansion.

On an encouraging note, I am pleased to hear that he is taking an indefinite leave from golf in order to work on his marriage and get his personal life in order. There has been much damage done to his marriage, his reputation and his marketability. In order to come out of this whole thing a better person, he needs to examine why he thought that running into the arms of women that weren't his wife would bring him life and satisfaction.

As people with a sin nature each of us are prone to run to things that won't ultimately bring us life. It could be sex. Or it could be food or alcohol or drugs or television or any other number of things that can't take the place of God. One of the pastors at my church, Dave Abney, has quoted G.K. Chesterton as saying,
"Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God"
I wonder if Tiger did the things he did was because he needed an escape from the expectation that he needed to be perfect? It's a realization that we must all come to that we are imperfect people that live in an imperfect world. Tiger's a sinner just like I'm a sinner. I hope that somebody in his life shares with him that there is One who loves him in his imperfections and would love to help him experience true life. Perhaps you've done some pretty bad stuff, too, and realize you need some help. This might be a good first step.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Say Thanks to a Soldier

Thousands of American servicemen and women are currently overseas and are unable to spend the holidays with their families. Xerox is helping you to send a little piece of encouragement from home. Let's Say Thanks is a program where you can visit a website, choose a greeting card and Xerox will print and send it to a solider currently deployed overseas.

It only takes a minute and can be a small way to let a solider know that they are not forgotten and that their bravery is valued. Here's one thank you for a solider that benefited from the program:
"I wanted to contact you to say thanks for this outstanding effort to make our Military personnel feel a touch of home wherever they are. I have been deployed several times to various parts of the world. No matter what is going on around us, when we get encouraging words from home it seems to make a difference that is beyond description. Something as simple as words. Something as common as a crayon drawing. Something as appreciative as Let's Say Thanks. These things can mean the world when you are a world away."

- A Soldier
Please take a moment to visit today.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What are the Top Religion Stories of 2009?

Time Magazine recently compiled its suggestions for the top ten religion stories for this past year, 2009. Here they are:

1. Secularism or Bust - the growing anti-religion sentiment that is sweeping across Europe.

2. What Reformation? - the Catholic Church's acceptance of Anglicans who are dissatisfied with the the direction of their own church.

3. Keeping the Faith-Based - President Obama's expansion of the White House faith-based office initiated by President George W. Bush.

4. Faith Healing Turns Fatal - the death of a child whose parent's opted for prayer instead of traditional medical treatment for their sick daughter.

5. Going to the Chapel - a popular Catholic priest is removed from his Diocese after pictures of him with a woman on the beach surface.

6. Dr. Dobson Has Left the Building - Dr. James Dobson steps down as the leader of Focus on the Family.

7. Obama's Notre Dame Touchdown - Pro-choice President Obama offers a commencement speech at the pro-life Catholic institution.

8. Americans Go Church Shopping - more and more Americans change churches, change faiths or give up on organized religion altogether.

9. Banning the Baha'i - several leaders of the Baha'i faith are held in prison in Iran.

10. Religious Runaway - a teenage Muslim girl converts to Christianity and runs away from home because she says she fears for her life.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Our Airport Adventure

Lori and I spent much of this past week in southern California at some meetings with about fifteen other leaders within Campus Crusade. Our housing was nice and our meetings took place in a rental property right off the Pacific ocean. We moved forward on important ministry initiatives, had quality time with good friends and ate some tasty food. Although we had a great time during the week, our scheduled departure at the airport didn't go as smoothly.

After returning the rental car, we got on the shuttle to the airport. We eventually arrived at the airport, grabbed our bags that the shuttle driver had insisted on loading onto the shuttle and went to the kiosks inside to check-in for our flights. As I began to check us in, Lori said, "This isn't my bag." What? "This isn't my suitcase! My purse is in my suitcase!" We realized that someone that had gotten off the shuttle before us must have taken our suitcase accidentally. This was not good.

You see, my parents had come down to visit us in Florida and were watching the kids while we were gone. But their flight back to Detroit was leaving the next morning and we had to get back to Florida on our scheduled flight. Without Lori's purse that would be a little difficult.

After a few moments of panic, we planned our strategy and figured out a plan to try to get our suitcase back. We called the rental car company and explained what happened. The suitcase that was in our possession did have a name and address (although no phone number) and we asked the rental company to search for that person's reservation and see if they had a mobile phone number listed. Todd, the helpful Enterprise agent, was able to locate their number but got no answer when he called. He left a message for them with my information. Lori and I took a moment to pray for our attitudes and that we would be able to find our suitcase.

Time was of the essence! If they got on their plane with our suitcase, then we would be S.O.L. -- that's right...straight outta luck :) I suggested we try to page them in the airport and Todd thought that was a great idea. Shortly after locating a courtesy phone to page them, we heard over the loudspeakers, "Lori Crocker, please report to the Southwest security gate." We were on our way.

While hurrying to the other terminal, I received a call from the owner of the suitcase in our possession. "Dude!" he said. "That shuttle driver switched our suitcases!" We figured out what had happened and he shared that he and his wife had already gone through security when they realized that they had our suitcase and not their own. He alerted a security agent who suggested a meeting point outside the entrance to security. We found each other in the mass of people and made the exchange.

We hoofed it back to our terminal and finally went through our security checkpoint. Although we didn't have much time before making our flight, Lori and I were able to make it on the plane and board as scheduled. Thankfully we made it home in time and my parents returned back home as planned. As it turns out, this was just another funny story to tell for this frequent traveler. Fortunately for us it has a happy ending.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Albums

In conjunction with the spirit of the season, our family will soon be getting out our box of Christmas CD's and listening to them for the next few weeks. In case you're looking for some new holiday music, here are my top favorite six Christmas albums. They are listed here in descending order, as follows:

6. Nat King Cole - Christmas Favorites
Possessing one of the smoothest and richest voices of all-time, Cole put together a great collection of traditional Christmas carols. Highlights include his well-known version of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and my favorite version of my favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night.

5. Celine Dion - These are Special Times
Arguably one of the greatest singers of our age, Dion certainly gives you your money's worth on this 16-track disc that runs close to an hour and ten minutes. Highlights include The Prayer (a duet with Andrea Bocelli) and the John Lennon tune, Happy Christmas (War is Over).

4. Kirk Franklin & The Family - Christmas
Kirk is probably my favorite gospel singer and whether he is singing with The Family, God's Property, Nu Nation (or any of his other collaborations), his original writing and direction stands out. Highlights on this 1995 disc include There's No Christmas Without You , the funky Jesus is the Reason for the Season and one of his greatest songs ever, the standout track Now Behold The Lamb.

3. Amy Grant - Home for Christmas
Amy must really like Christmas since she's made three different albums focused on this holiday and this one is my favorite. She demonstrates on this record why she is the greatest selling Contemporary Christian Music artist of all-time. Highlights include I'll Be Home For Christmas, The Night Before Christmas, and the powerful Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song.)

2. Steven Curtis Chapman - The Music of Christmas
Steven is far and away my favorite singer. We even thought about naming one of our boys "Steven Curtis Crocker," but we resisted that temptation. This album is chock full of great traditional and original songs. Standout songs include This Baby, Christmas is All in the Heart (with CeCe Winans), and the theologically rich Our God is With Us.

1. The Carpenters - Christmas Portrait
It is simply not Christmas for me without listening to this 1978 album. This is THE Christmas album that my family listened to while I was growing up. Whether while we were putting up the tree, decorating the house, or relaxing in front of our fake fireplace/record & 8-track player, mini-bar thingy (my parents and sister know what I'm talking about), Karen Carpenter's beautiful voice and the splendid musical stylings of Richard was playing in the background. Listening to this CD still brings back a flood of good memories each year. Favorite songs include Sleigh Ride, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and Karen's stunning rendition of Ave Maria.

So those are my favorite Christmas albums. What are yours?