Regular readers, and my personal friends, know that I have a great love for film and movies. I came to a deep appreciation of film, as art and as a medium that could powerfully move people in positive and negative ways, later in life. My background was not anti-film but I had very little intelligent appreciation of its great value. I enjoyed an occasional film in the theater, especially in the dead of winter when getting out of the house was a desirable short-term adventure. I would watch a DVD if someone told me it was really worth seeing. That was about it. I never studied the art of film-making and never knew much about how a film is conceived, a script written, a project undertaken and financed, a finished product produced and a film finally sold.
It was only after studying the theology of film, and reading a number of really great books on the subject, that I took a much deeper interest. Then, about three years ago, my friend Andrew Sandlin invited me to participate in a gathering of Christians involved in making and producing films. This event was in Newport Beach, California. Seeing these Christian artists who had a kingdom-centered worldview profoundly altered my own thinking about the place and value of films.
Fast forward my story to 2009. My nephew Chris Bonga, who has become one of my best friends and is a really great donor to ACT 3, introduced me to two of his friends, Johnny Meier and Dave Stone. Johnny and Dave, who live in Phoenix, became ardent disciples of Jesus just a few years ago through the witness of John Mitchell, a friend to Chris and former pastor here in the Wheaton area. Johnny and Dave were already into film in a big way as non-Christians but they soon began to see how their art and Christian worldview connected. My nephew Chris then introduced Johnny and Dave to me. Last April Johnny and Dave came to Chicago to spend several days shooting me and my friends on hours of film. The result is a completed video, the ACT 3 Story. This is a 30-minute film that presents my personal story and shares the vision of this mission clearly. I am thrilled with how this project turned out and hope that you will go to ACT 3 and see it on our home page.
My relationship, with Johnny and Dave, has now become a real and lasting friendship. Friendships are at the top of my priorities in the kingdom so getting to know these two brothers has been a profound joy. I see Jesus making and developing friendships as the key to how his mission grows in our life. For me it has become the way that I pursue my calling day-to-day. My friends are from all kinds of backgrounds and do all kinds of things to extend the kingdom of God. Increasingly, in the past decade or so, my friends have increasingly been young adults in their twenties and thirties. This development is an answer to a prayer I shared publicly more than a decade ago. I believed then, and now it has been confirmed, that God wanted to use my life to equip leaders who would impact the church and the kingdom of God long after I am gone. My teaching at Wheaton Graduate School has allowed me to pursue this generation of leaders and gatherings like this one in California do the same.
Now, take my friendship with Johnny and David, and mix in my special friendship with my nephew Chris Bonga, and you have the context for my unique ministry this week in San Clemente, California. Today and tomorrow thirteen men and women will gather in my nephew's condo overlooking the historic San Clemente pier on the Pacific Ocean. We will talk about the vocation of film making and how this craft is related to the kingdom of God. The event will be very lightly structured so that we can spend time in conversation and prayer. Besides my teaching during these two days I have invited author and film-maker Brian Godawa, the person who has most helped me think about film and theology, to teach us this afternoon. So at 3 p.m. PST, we will begin our little film seminar in Chris Bonga's condo in San Clemente (see photo below from the window of the condo). Michael Craven, the chairman of our ACT 3 board, will also be there to share and inspire the group as well. (Michael's son, Tyler, is graduating from Marine school at Camp Pendleton on Wednesday!)
What do I hope to accomplish this week? Priority one is to spend time with my friends and to fellowship in Christ around our common interest in film making and the kingdom of God. We will talk about films, about the craft of making them and about what kind of films we would like to see made and how they could be made. We will dream a lot and envision how we could make a difference in this area of American culture in the years ahead. We will encourage one another by sharing time over good food and drink. We will also ask, "Lord, how can you use us to impact the world around us, using film, for the glory of your Son Jesus Christ?"
On Thursday Johnny and Dave will film me doing a number of interviews about Your Church Is Too Small. We plan to post these short clips on You Tube and on our new Web site throughout this year. This should be a fun "working" day that will be likely be both draining and exciting. I travel home on Friday.
Would you pray today and tomorrow for our little seminar? Will you pray for my filming on Thursday? Would you pray that God refreshes us and gives us a vision of what we can do, and how we can do it, to extend his grace and glory through the modern medium of film? Would you pray that I can express the message of missional-ecumenism on film in the clearest way possible?
I enjoy having the freedom to serve Christ and his kingdom in this somewhat unique way. I could not do this kind of work unless friends like some of you invested in me and my kingdom vision of unity in Christ's mission. Thanks to all of you who help make this kind of event possible by supporting me and ACT 3. This is all done on a very small budget, without frills, so your partnership is vital to me. I still believe that kingdom changing venues are often quite small in number and unimpressive as the world thinks of it so I am excited to be in San Clemente today doing something I believe to be very important.
O yes, the temperature is supposed to reach into 70s with lots of sunshine. That beats Chicago in February for sure. For my friends at home, "Someone has to do this work so it might as well be me!
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