Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

050515_avengers_blog_500If you enjoyed Avengers, you’ll love this one too.

When Tony Stark jumpstarts a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye, are put to the ultimate test as they battle to save the planet from destruction at the hands of the villainous Ultron.

Joss Whedon returns as writer/director, leading this perfect cast to another box office smash. It’s rare to have “all the right ingredients”, but trust me; Avengers 2 has all the right ingredients. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson, are all back and just like in the first film there is plenty of action and humor.

Speaking of which, I loved the humor in the film. You have to laugh at the running gag about Captain America’s old-fashioned ways. In one scene Iron Man curses and Cap responds with a simple rebuke of, “Language.” Well that’s all the team needs to relentlessly poke fun at the Super Solider. In another scene all of the other male members of the team attempt to lift Thor’s Hammer…but none are “worthy”. It’s good-natured fun that causes the audience to laugh as well as see the team in a more authentic and believable way.

Check out our complete youth ministry movie guides for over 20 films

Another way they do this is by revealing more of our heroes back story and personality. We see Black Widow and the Hulk exploring a romantic relationship. We learn some very interesting things about Hawkeye and were introduced to several new characters. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen appear as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Because Disney doesn’t own the film rights to the X-Men, the twins’ origin story has been changed. But they handled it nicely and they were a welcomed addition. And of course Vision is in this one…no spoilers here, just know that he is awesome. There is also more conflict amongst the team…which is of course the groundwork for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War film.

As great as the heroes are, we all know that every good hero movie needs a good (or really bad) villain. Well James Spader voicing the villain Ultron is incredible creepy throughout this film. He really is the perfect villain.

There are several times when scripture or biblical concepts are mentioned. (“Ask Noah”, “I AM”, “The church is in the exact center of the city. The elders [of the city] determined everybody should be equally close to God.” He labels that logic “the geometry of belief.” Later he misappropriates’ Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18, saying, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” I would keep an eye out for movie clip discussions.

Then there are the special effects. I went to see the film with some friends in IMAX 3D and I loved it. Sure there are unrelenting scenes of explosions and destruction, but that’s what I paid to see. I also loved the attention to detail. Stark’s toys just keep getting better and better.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is exactly what you expect it to be; another wildly entertaining episode in the ongoing adventures of Earth’s mightiest heroes. I loved every minute of the 2 hour and 21 minute film…it is Worth Buying.

NOTE: Make sure you stay for the post credit scene and keep an eye out for another Stan Lee cameo.

What youthworkers should know

There is no sex or nudity in the film and even the language is mild for a PG-13 film. The S-word is used once and a few other mild profanities.

The action sequences are really intense and Ultron is a little too scary for younger viewers. But this is a great movie for teenagers and adults.

Things to talk about

  • What was Ultron’s plan to destroy the Avengers?
  • How did he try to divide them?
  • Why is divide and conquer such an effective strategy?
  • Read Philippians 2:2 Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
  • Colossians 3:14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
  • Romans 12:4-5 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
  • Why was unity so important for Earth’s mightiest heroes?
  • Why is it important for us as Christians?
  • What can you do to maintain unity?

About the movie: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments.

 Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and the voice of James Spader; Directed by Joss Whedon (Avengers)


Lecrae Shows Conference How Smart He Is

By Ken McCoy

Last week I attended a conference of Christian “thinkers” – folks who tend to be on the forefront of our culture and faith. Think of it as a “TED Talks” for Christians kind of thing. The topics were wide-ranging, and the presenters were just as diverse. My brain was full after just the first day’s presentations – so you can imagine what my mental state was on the second day just before lunch. (I’m reminded of this Far Side cartoon.)

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When I looked at the next topic on the schedule – “Artists and Poets: What role does storytelling play in restoring brokenness?” – I was seriously thinking of turning to Rick Bundschuh, my good friend (people call us “twin brothers from different mothers”) and asking if we should just leave for lunch early.

But then, Lecrae walked out on the stage. Whoa!

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For eighteen minutes (the time limit on presentations at that conference), he talked through the different parts of a story: antagonist, protagonist, struggle, and outcome. He gave some very thoughtful examples of each part of good storytelling. He showed us the video to his song, “Welcome To America.” Very cool song and even better video! He then talked through how he wrote the song from the viewpoint of three different people, and he defined the different characters and their roles in telling the story.

Lecrae’s youth ministry resources page is loaded with tools for your ministry.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who left the building for lunch with a new appreciation for the intelligence and deep thinking behind this man’s music and videos. I’m sure glad that he’s a member of Team interlínc, aren’t you?

The Importance of Your Personal Note To Your Grads

It is the end of another beginning. Depending on whom you talk to, it is known as either “graduation” or “commencement.” The “graduation” crowd is mostly made up of the graduating Senior Class. They see this as the time that they finally come of age and bring to a close their childhood. At graduation, they tend to want to look back, to remember the fun things they did as children together.

Those who see this event as “commencement” tend to be parents, school officials, and youth leaders. We can see very clearly the future that looms just over the horizon for the Senior Class of 2015. We want our Grads to look ahead and make the wisest choices they can; choices that we adults know shape a person’s entire lifetime.

The surest way to see if a Senior is concentrating on “graduation” or “commencement” is to ask him or her a simple question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Upon hearing that question, some students will look a little sheepish, smile self-consciously, and innocently shrug their shoulders. Others will stammer out something that makes a little sense, but sounds suspiciously like something their parents would like them to say.

No matter how much your Grads want to focus on the past, their minds unwillingly sneak past graduation and look into the misty fog of the future. They wonder if they are doing the right things with their life. They question the directions they are heading. They hope everything will fall into place and work out well.

Youth leaders like yourself are strategically positioned to make a huge difference in a student’s life at graduation. We can help our Grads to celebrate their achievements. We can remind them of the great times they’ve had in high school. We can commemorate the fun, the commitments, the challenges and the obstacles that they’ve encountered. Most importantly, we can infuse this time with the truth of God’s Word and the power of His Spirit. We are, after all, youth ministers.

And sometimes, the last act we have is signing their yearbook, or a gift card, with a short message. What we write will definitely be read, and may be of great help to that person in the days and years to come. The ConGRADulations! Class of 2015 grad gift is a perfect vehicle for those messages. So, here are four suggestions that you can use as templates. Adjust them to fit your style and the relationship you have, and pray for each Grad as you write.

  1. To Fringe SeniorsYou’re stepping into your future, and I’d like to be there with you. Somehow I’ve lost touch with you, and hope that this gift will serve as an encouragement and a reminder — God loves you and I hope we can help you experience Him. Text me at { phone number }!
  2. To Influential Seniors – You are a key person in the Class of 2015, and I thought you would appreciate this gift. The music can be a source of encouragement for you. I know that this is a big time of change in your life, so if I can be of any help to you in these last weeks of high school, please text me at{ phone number }!
  3. To Any Senior – You’re stepping into your future… and I’d like to be there with you. Please accept this gift as an expression of my optimism about your future. The music on this album doesn’t just sound great; it has an important message for you. If you’d like to know more, give me a call at { phone number }!
  4. To Key Grads From Your Group – I can’t believe it’s come to this. You’re graduating! Your role in this ministry has been HUGE, and we are really going to miss you. May these songs remind you of all the God has done in your time here. I can’t wait to see what He’ll do through you next!

Top Ten Ways To Pray For The Class of 2015

Grads

By: Todd Pearage, Youthworker, Calvary Church, Souderton, PA and Ken McCoy, interlinc Editor, President, Jumpstart Ministries

  1. Pray for clear direction and wisdom. About 80% of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Pray that they will trust in the Lord with all their heart and not depend on their own understanding. Pray that they will seek His will in all they do, and that He will show them which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  2. Pray that they will form good spiritual habits right away. For many, this will be the first time they have freedom to make decisions on their own. Pray for them about their spiritual habits, study habits, disciple and balance. Pray that they connect with a church and/or a campus ministry quickly.
  3. Pray for their roommate(s) and new friendships. As students leave their high schools, many will also leave their friends behind. Pray that they will meet friends who will encourage and support them in their faith journey. Friends who will “spur them on to good works” and not “corrupt good morals” (Hebrews 10:24,1 Corinthians 15:33)
  4. Pray for their finances. Many students will have to pay for insurance, travel expenses, clothing, food, entertainment etc. Pray that they budget wisely, avoid credit card debt, and look to God to provide.
  5. Pray for them as they face temptations. Whether students continue formal education or go directly into the job market, they will encounter people of all ages, backgrounds, beliefs, and worldviews. Pray for them to be an example of a Christian in what they say, in the way they live, in their love, their faith, and their purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
  6. Pray for their health and safety.
  7. Pray that they will recall what they’ve learned in youth ministry. The veracity of their faith will be challenged. They need to be able to recall the sermons, the Bible studies, the conversations, and the experiences of the high school years, and stay strong.
  8. Pray for their teachers, coaches, professors, and counselors. They will encounter many new people in positions of influence. Pray that those people will build into them strength of character, an ability to think, and a sense of purpose.
  9. Pray for their parents and siblings. College may be the first extended absence that many will experience. Pray that their family bonds remain strong, and that they continue to honor their family.
  10. Pray for their witness. They will have incredible opportunities to show an unbelieving world what God is like. Pray that they are bold, confident, and willing to talk about spiritual issues with those that they befriend.

This “Top 10″ is part of the two step “Adopt A Graduate” Initiative sponsored by the National Day of Prayer Task Force and interlinc — 1) Identify and commit to pray for a graduate in this year’s class and 2) give that graduate a copy of the ConGRADulations! Class of 2015 Music-Media Grad Gift as a reminder that you are praying for him or her (available at grad2015.com)

 

The Most Meaningful Job

Forbes has just reported on the results of an annual survey of “most meaningful jobs that pay well.” (I can just hear you thinking right about now, “Umm, Ken? We’re youth ministers. What about the phrase ‘that pay well’ doesn’t fit?”) BUT, when they took the “pay well” caveat out of the equation, the results were the most meaningful jobs out there regardless of pay.

Guess what? Our job is tied for FIRST!

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Yep! Along with being an Orthopedic Surgeon or a Police Chief, being a youth minister is the most meaningful job in the country! (Yes, it’s the lowest paying job of the three. Go figure.)

And, you know it’s true. Youth ministry is indeed a meaningful job. When I was first considering being a youth minister (back when Noah was thinking of building his yacht), my pastor – who was recruiting me to be the youth pastor at the church – told me, “Ken, youth ministry is a high calling – and a lousy career. Make sure you’re called by God to work with teenagers before you make this decision.”

I don’t have to tell you why youth ministry is meaningful. We get to have a significant influence on the trajectory of young lives – an impact that lasts a lifetime. We get to introduce people to Jesus at a time in their lives when they are most open, and most capable, of making a faith-based decision to follow Him. We get to have a blast taking our young friends on mission trips, camps, concerts, retreats, and outrageous events.

What a privilege we have to spend our energies doing something meaningful and with eternal value!

Life Lessons from Basketball

Never Give Up. This phrase can often seem like a cliché, trotted out whenever someone is going through a tough situation. But in Lauren Hill’s life, this simple phrase took on a decidedly new and deeper meaning. The inspirational teenager passed away last night at the age of 19, succumbing to a brain tumor. But she went out fighting. She never gave up.

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Many first heard of her story last November when she was allowed to pursue her dream of scoring a basket during a college basketball game. As onlookers watched, Hill scored a layup 17 seconds into the game, leading to a heartwarming standing ovation. The video went viral and she became an internet sensation. But this was no pity party. Hill was a fighter, continuing to practice for as long as her body would allow, always pushing her limits physically and mentally. As a matter of fact, her doctors had told her she would not live past Christmas and, in true Lauren fashion, she lived past Easter

Her story is a difficult one to navigate through the lens of youth ministry. It is, in some regards, a heartbreaking story. This was a strong, driven young woman, taken long before she could experience some of the things many of us take for granted. But it is also a hopeful story of determination. Upon her diagnosis, she chose faith over fear. She decided to face her life and condition head-on and live each and every day as fully as possible. Lauren understood what Jesus meant when he described “a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10). She also dedicated her last couple of years on this earth to fighting for others. She became a voice for the fight to find a cure for pediatric cancer so that other young people may not have to face this same fight one day.

In one of her final interviews, Hill said, “Life is precious. Every moment you get with someone is a moment that’s blessed.” This sentiment becomes very real in a situation like this and it is a stunning reminder to discuss with your students. If you are interested in tools and resources through which to help discuss Lauren’s life with your students, please consider signing up to be a “Hoovey Insider” through Interlinc. Hoovey is a powerful film, based on the true story of Eric “Hoovey” Elliott, who was also diagnosed with a brain tumor as a teenager while playing basketball. Thankfully, his story played out differently and he is still with us today. This film and our accompanying teaching tools would be an excellent avenue through which to engage your students with regards to the fragility of life, faith through overwhelming circumstances and the resolve to never give up.

For more information on Lauren’s life and her work to find a cure, please visit this Facebook page. And click here to sign up for free resources and the chance to screen Hoovey at your church for free, or email us directly.

Furious 7

Furious-7-1

Review by Team interlinc Member Todd Pearage, Calvary Church, Souderton, PA

In Theaters April 3, 2015

Rated PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content, and brief strong language.

Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Tony Jaa, Ludacris, Ronda Rousey, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster and Kurt Russell

Directed by James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious and Saw)


Two things make this franchise a runaway success: crazy-fast cars, and a crazy-great cast.

After defeating Owen Shaw and his crew, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and the rest of the crew are able to return to the United States and live normal lives again. However, Owen’s older brother, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), is after Dom and his crew, seeking revenge for his brother’s death and putting the entire crew in danger once more.

I am thoroughly convinced of two things: 1) You need to check your brain at the door in order to enjoy Furious 7; and 2) Some people will never enjoy a Fast and Furious film.

You cannot THINK about this movie while you are watching it. I mean, can five cars parachute (yes, parachute) out of a plane and land on a single lane road? No way! But, it’s pretty cool watching it happen! Can a car jump between—no through—three different skyscrapers? Of course not. But, I’m telling you, it was one of the coolest effects I have ever seen.

Before you try to tell me that amazing special effects does not a great movie make (which I agree with by the way), please know that Furious 7 has a pretty decent story and an amazing cast. The story involves the one and only Jason Statham who, in my opinion, is possibly the coolest man on the planet. (That’s saying something about a guy who is in a movie with Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Paul Walker.) Between his cool-as-ice demeanor and his fighting skills, Jason is the perfect addition to the franchise. Oh, and did I mention Kurt Russell is also in the movie?

Besides some cool moves and great one-liners, they have some amazing chemistry. You can tell they had a blast making the movie and I had a blast watching it.

Finally we have to talk about the emotional tribute to Paul Walker at the end of the film. This really shouldn’t be a SPOILER for anyone, but if it is – I’m sorry. I knew what was coming, I knew they were going to tug on my heartstrings, yet I still got emotional watching the movie come to a close. Well-done, cast and crew. Well done.

So, why didn’t I give it a higher score? Because, just like all the other films, there is way too much (completely unnecessary) skin. Three different times we see several women in very revealing clothing dancing and showing off. My 13-year-old son just asked me today if he could go see this movie with a few of his friends. I wish those scenes weren’t in there so I could say yes. The cast is great, the story and director are great, the special effects are – AMAZING, but the sexualization of women makes it impossible to give it a higher score.

Official MPAA Rating is PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and destruction, mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language. There is a ton of violence and explosions, but the violence is not graphic or gory. Most of the scenes involve intense driving and a lot of crashes.

However there are several scenes where women are shown wearing vey skimpy bikinis, thongs, short skirts, etc. UNLIKE SOME OF THE EARLY MOVIES IN THE SERIES, THIS ONE IS NOT RATED FOR ANY SEXUAL CONTENT – but youth leaders not wanting to expose their students to sexualized images of women should be wary. The entire movie is not geared around sexuality, but the few opportunities they take to show women as sex objects are highly emphasized.

APRÉ-FILM DISCUSSION:
How would you describe the relationship between Dominic and Brian?

Why do you think they are so close?

Read Proverbs 18:24. “Some friends don’t help, but a true friend is closer than your own family.”

In your opinion, what qualities do those kinds of friends need to have?

Do you have friends like that?

How can you be that kind of friend?

 

Did you see this?

Creating The Future

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I just finished watching Apple’s “Spring Forward” event. If you know me, you know that I’ve been an Apple fanboi since the very first Mac’s came out in 1984. So, of course I’d spend ninety minutes of a workday watching an Apple event! While I miss Steve Jobs’ ability to sway an audience with his “Reality Distortion Field”, I enjoy getting a glimpse of what the folks in Cupertino have created for us mere mortals.

Today’s event featured the Apple Watch, a groundbreaking device that, if my family pays attention to my birthday present hints (read, “pleas and downright begging”) will reside on my wrist soon. That’s because I love watches. Always have. I’d have a different watch for each day of the month if I could. And, I love impressive new gadgets. Always have. After all, I owned an original Apple Newton (and endured scorn and ridicule because of it.)

There was, however, about a three-year period that I didn’t wear a watch. I noticed that none of the teenagers I was around were wearing watches. They always had their phone with them, and would pull their phone out of their pocket or purse to check the time. That seemed kind of cumbersome for just checking the time, but then I realized they were also checking to see if there were any new texts. That’s when I quit wearing a watch—I didn’t want to be seen as clinging to an old technology or mannerism. (Thankfully, kids began wearing watches again a couple of years ago. Big, honking things. I went back to wearing my pilot and hiker watches.)

So, I’ll be wearing an Apple Watch, for more reasons than just being a geeky gadget-and-watch-loving youth leader. Here are a few of my other reasons, and why I think that youth leaders need to stay on top of emerging technologies.

1. It’s Forward Thinking

This new gadget doesn’t merely replace my old watches with a new wiz-bang version of telling time. It opens a myriad of doors to new areas that can benefit from tech. Health tracking; even more timely and intimate texting than is available by phone; productivity and schedule help; Apple Pay; and more to come as developers figure out more cool things that a wearable device can help with.

2. It’s Cool

Youth leaders cannot afford to be dorks. I know, it’s a sad truth. While I can’t (and don’t) try to be “hip and with it” by adopting teenage styles and lingo, I do need to be someone that a teenager thinks is a cool old codger. Adopting new tech is one way I can remain up to speed with the fast changing youth culture.

3. It’s Functional

I can hardly wait to control the music playback or Keynote slideshow in a youth room from my Apple Watch. Or, use it to schedule an after-school “Fries and Coke” meetup with a couple of kids. Or, track my hikes, heart rate, and calorie burn with it. Or even freak out some parents with the “Fart” app!

The event concluded with this statement: “And that’s what we are focused on – pushing forward and creating the future.” That’s could also be said of us in youth ministry. Pushing forward and creating the future is one reason I’ve stayed in youth ministry so long. We live in the future!

The Dress

dressYesterday, a picture of a dress went viral because of fundamental disagreement. Some people saw a blue and black dress. Others saw a white and gold dress. Both were completely convinced that the way they saw the dress was correct and that everyone else was wrong (or that something was wrong with them). For the record, our office is divided on what color The Dress is (although it’s obviously blue and black).

Here are a couple of things we can all learn from this strange social experience:

  • We all see thing differently. Jesus calls us to see things in this world differently than the world sees them. (Romans 12:2)
  • If we are to effectively serve God and the world, we MUST walk in unity, regardless of differing opinions. We cannot afford to be so divided on issues that we cannot serve alongside one another. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

If this topic is still trending with your kids this weekend, here are a couple of ideas of how to use it on Sunday morning with your young friends:

  • Divide Into Teams – Have the kids stand in the middle of the room. Show the photo of the dress, and have those who see white/gold go to one side of the room, and those who see blue/brown go to the other side of the room. Now you have two teams!
  • Use It As An Illustration – This is a good example of subjectivity versus truth. People “see” the photo differently, but does that mean there’s not a “true” interpretation of the photo? Does all “truth” depend on a person’s opinion?

Here is a picture of the infamous thing in case you haven’t yet seen it.