Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 6/27/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

Seraphim Falls

In the final weekend before our daughter’s birth, Heather and I tried to relax at home as much as possible. We ended up renting a couple of movies that we had wanted to see for quite some time. One of them turned out rather well, and one of them, well, not so much. Though I’ll review them both, I figured I’d begin with the good news as it were by pointing you to a great little gem of a western that came and went with little fanfare in 2007, Seraphim Falls. This movie won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but I found it to be a riveting and moving character drama set against the cold, harsh realities of the years following the Civil War.

The film wastes little time with introductions and very literally cuts right to the chase. At the outset, we’re introduced to Gideon (Pierce Brosnan), a man camping on his own in the mountains who is suddenly shot at and pursued by a man named Carver (Liam Neeson), apparently because of some longstanding grudge Carver holds against him. The movie provides no more exposition than that at the outset, and so neither will I. The reasons driving the chase are explained throughout the film in flashback as Carver pursues Gideon across breathtaking and desolate landscapes and among several interesting characters – among them a hard nosed railroader (Xander Berkely), a kind and joyful minister (Tom Noonan), a wise old Indian (Wes Studi) and a mysterious gypsy (Anjelica Huston).

The way the movie handles exposition is actually one of its strongest suits. Everyone’s motivations are eventually laid bare for the audience and these characters are well portrayed and developed by the two actors, but we spend a great deal of the movie wondering which of the two men, if either, is the villain. We begin to sympathize with them both and see the sins of both as well, making it all the more interesting when the nature of the conflict is revealed near the picture’s end. This setup wouldn’t work if the two lead actors were anything short of excellent, and Neeson and especially Brosnan turn in some of the finest work of their careers. To anyone who has mentally typecast Brosnan as nothing more than the suave, witty characters he portrayed in the James Bond films, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Tailor of Panama, it’s time to re-evaluate your opinion. Brosnan plays a grizzled, broken man (both physically and emotionally) and gives Gideon a simultaneous hard edge and sympathetic humanity. Neeson, though not quite as good as Brosnan, is similarly solid. The two-man focus of the film reminded me somewhat of 2002’s The Hunted, a great gem of a chase film that while different in pace and style closely mirrors Seraphim Falls’ focus and spirit. John Toll’s cinematography is beautiful in its desolation, and while rookie director David Von Ancken’s oversight could have been a little more polished and tight, he still turns in a very good effort for a director who’s most prestigious previous credit is five episodes of CSI: New York. By the time all the cards are laid on the table, we are treated to a profound look at the lives of two broken men forever linked by a moment in time. The ending, with its almost mythical overtones, may feel out of place to some, but for me it seemed strangely fitting, if not entirely inevitable. This may not be one for the masses (in the interest of full disclosure, Heather found it ploddingly paced and too long), but if you’re a fan of westerns, chase movies, character dramas, or Neeson and Brosnan, you’d do well to check this one out. - **** (out of 4)

Seraphim Falls is rated R for violence and brief language.

Bobcats Add a Few Pieces

While one could argue that a team that finished 32-50 last year has a whole lot of needs, my Charlotte Bobcats really had two big ones: a point guard to compete with Raymond Felton and a big presence down low to complement Emeka Okafor. Time will ultimately be the judge, but at least on paper the ‘Cats addressed both needs in last night’s NBA Draft.

With the ninth pick, team president Michael Jordan and new coach Larry Brown made the difficult decision to pass on Stanford 7-footer Brook Lopez (who unexpectedly was still available) and pulled the trigger on Texas PG D.J. Augustin. Augustin is small (6-foot even), but he’s a great passer and floor-leader who will provide stiff competition to Felton, who is more of a scorer at the point. Coach Brown is notoriously tough on his point guards, and he apparently couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take the guy widely considered to be the second-best PG in the draft behind #1 overall pick Derrick Rose. The Bobcats followed that pick by using next year’s first-rounder to trade back into the bottom of the first round (a bit of a trend among Charlotte pro teams this year) and select 7-foot French center Alexis Ajinca. Ajinca is lean and very raw, but Brown and Jordan were very impressed by his workout earlier this month and decided that he was worth the investment. Having not really seen Ajinca in action here in the U.S., I don’t really know what to think of the pick, but I trust that a championship-winning coach like Brown knows what he’s doing.

The ‘Cats added a tough defender in Washington State guard Kyle Weaver in the second round to round out an encouraging, but not blockbuster, night at the draft. At least Gerald Wallace is still on the roster. Jordan confirmed that a trade of Wallace for Toronto PG T.J. Ford was being considered at the start of the night, but eventually fell through and saw Ford instead dealt to Indiana. Ford’s a good player, but I’ll take Augustin and Wallace together over him any day. Perhaps this is the year the Bobcats finally crack the playoffs for the first time. Any other NBA fans out there? What do you think of your team’s draft last night?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Details Declare the Glory of God

When we think about God's glory being declared by his creation, we usually think of supernovas, the Grand Canyon, or the beauty of an ocean sunrise - big, spectacular things. However, watch the following video and consider how beauty is present in even the most mundane of things and actions. Even in the laws of physics that we dismiss as boring or forget entirely, God has woven his beauty and splendor.

HT: The Blazing Center

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

No Sola5

This week is Vacation Bible School week at church, which means our youth group will not be meeting this evening, though most of the students will be helping out with VBS. Thus, there will be no Sola5 recap this week. After a terrific and busy week, I'm looking forward to getting back in the swing of things next Wednesday!

The Don't Song

For all you husbands out there, here's a great video to help you increase your marital peace - with just the right amount of early-90's flare.

HT: Denny Burk

Sunday, June 22, 2008

God is Good

I hope you all can forgive me for not posting a Friday's Featured Film this week. I was a little busy... :) Welcome to the world, Jordan River Williams.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 6/18/08

This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.

Last night was a different night, a challenging night, and a very rewarding night at Sola5. During our first hour (which is normally our game and fellowship hour) we packed up the van and headed a couple blocks down the road to Iroquois Homes, a large government housing project in our neighborhood. Our students spent an hour hanging out with the 30 or so kids who came out to see what was going on - painting their faces, blowing bubbles, and playing a spirited game of kickball. At the end of the hour, we gave out snacks and one of our students, Jeff, taught the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead to whatever kids would sit and listen. Many of the kids we interacted with were Somali immigrants, so some of them didn’t speak any English and many more were disallowed by their Muslim parents from listening to any Bible stories. Nonetheless, a few kids listened, with one boy asking many questions of Jeff about Jesus and why we believe in him. All-in-all, the night was a great chance for our teens to get out into our community and experience the missions opportunities available to them. In our neighborhood, the world is quite literally at our doorstep. Pray for the kids we interacted with, and pray for those who heard about Christ for the first time last night. May God take our feeble efforts and draw people to himself.

When we arrived back at Hazelwood, we continued our summer Q&A series “You Asked For It” by taking a brief look at the question, “What do we do when our faith upsets those in legitimate authority over us?” We know we’ve been called by Christ to take the gospel to all the world, but how do we respond when our families or government tell us to stop? To answer the question, we looked at Acts 4:1-22, an instance in Scripture where Peter and John faced exactly this dilemma.

In the passage, Peter and John will reject the authority that the governing counsel tries to exert over them. So, after talking about the biblically mandated authorities (parents, government, elders in the church), in the first four verses we sought to answer the question, “Why?” What was at stake that caused these men to rebel against the authorities? The answer is the gospel. They were preaching the good news about Jesus, and the people were believing and following in large numbers. This greatly angered the Jewish religious and political authorities, sparking a standoff. It’s important to establish right from the start why this happened and what was worth rejecting earthly authority for – the gospel of Jesus.

We then began to examine the response that Peter and John gave to the questions of the counsel, who essentially ask them in verse 7, “By whose authority do you challenge ours?” It is here that the disciples give voice to their rejection of the council’s authority, but perhaps the most important thing for us to take note of here is not that they rebelled, but how they did so. The first thing we see is them giving respect to the authorities. They address them formally, acknowledging the rightful positions of authority that they held. They don’t respond angrily or hurl insults, but they respond with reasonable discourse. We took a side trek to Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Timothy 2:1-2 to see the high calling that we have as Christians to respect and pray for our governing authorities, even those we don’t like (as the Roman Empire was hardly friendly to the early church). Yet notice that while the disciples address the authorities with respect, they also do so with boldness. They pull no punches. At every opportunity they have to soften their message to their hearers’ sensibilities, they take the other road – reminding the council of their condemnation of Jesus, of the prophecy of the psalmist of the cornerstone being rejected by the builders, and stating the exclusivity of the gospel while closing every foreseeable loophole. They realize that they do their hearers no favors by altering their message, since, in the words of James Montgomery Boice, “what you win them with is what you win them to.” A soft, palatable gospel is useless to us – the hope of Christ must first show us the ugly reality of our sin before it can display the hope of the cross. The disciples knew that, and they gave us a strong example of how to proclaim the truth in love.

Finally, we looked at why we should rebel. What reasoning do the disciples give for their rejection of the council’s commands? They respond that they answer to a higher authority, that they must obey God rather than men. They also point out that they are deeply compelled to talk about Christ – they can do nothing else. These were men who had been so completely changed and captivated by Christ that silence was not an option. That is the only type of faith that will have the courage and conviction to stand in the face of fierce opposition. The question to ask is whether we’re displaying that type of faith now. If we don’t have that love for God when times are easy, we won’t be able to conjure it out of thin air when persecution comes. Dig into God’s Word this week with ferocity and pray fervently for a deeper love for him and passion for his glory. If we are leading lives like that, then when opposition comes to our faith we’ll have the courage to reject all authority save the one who is with us always, even to the end of the age.

Great Picture

...from Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty.

Like a Child

Take a look at this great post from Zach Nielsen about a lesson in forgiveness from his 5-year-old son. As one about to become a father for the first time, this one hit me very hard.

HT: Vitamin Z

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Take Advantage of Your Calvinism

Good wisdom from my friend Josh Nelson - we were talking the other day about worrying. Josh made the point that if we believe in the absolute, unflinching sovereignty of God (which we do), then worry and anxiety become absolutely ridiculous. Yet, we so often fall into those traps. So, if you're going to be a Calvinist, you might as well take advantage of the solace that those truths bring. To ruminate on theological theory without it ever affecting our daily lives is an exercise in foolishness and futility. This has all hit close to home for me today as Heather and I enter the second day after our daughter's due date. I'm constantly fretting over when she's going to be born. I've made the comment several times that "she's late." However, the more I reflect on God today, the more I realize that whenever my baby girl shows up, she'll be right on time. Everything always is.

The Anti-T.O., Part 2

Last month, I posted about a great story of sportsmanship from an obscure Pacific Northwest division II college softball game. Here's an ESPN segment on the event...

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Real Original Office

Many of you probably know that the hit TV show The Office is based on the British version of the show. What you probably didn't know is that the British version is actually based on the real original version of The Office - the Japanese version.

The Waiting Game

Well, my wife's due date has finally arrived - which basically means I'm spending every waking moment wondering when our daughter is finally going to decide to show up. A strange cocktail of excitement and nervousness is the order of the day. Pray for my sanity.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 6/13/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.


Today, director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) releases his latest thriller, The Happening. Shyamalan has been called by many the heir to Hitchcock’s throne, and he is one of my favorite directors around today. While the horror genre is being swallowed up by movies that trade characters and suspense for mindless gore, Shyamalan is making movies that are truly terrifying and yet tinged with hope. His movies are quiet, introspective, deliberately paced, and renowned for their twist endings – and along the way the audience is seldom bored and never cheated. His masterpiece, in my opinion, is 2002’s Signs, an alien-invasion movie unlike any you’ve ever seen that paints a beautiful picture of the providence of God. If I were to compile a list of my 10 favorite films of all time (a near impossible task), Signs would certainly be on it.

The movie focuses on Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a former minister who has abandoned his faith after a horrible tragedy. He now lives a quiet life on a Pennsylvania farm with his children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (the adorable Abigail Breslin in her debut performance), and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). The Hesses’ quiet life is interrupted, however, when a mysterious crop circle appears in their cornfield. As Graham and his family seek answers about their mysterious sign, a series of strange events begins to unfold, plunging this family into a struggle for their very survival but also into a discovery of long-lost hope.

Shyamalan delivers a film that is terrifying in its subtlety. We see no hulking monsters, just shadows in the dark. We hear no pounding music, just James Newton Howard’s simple, haunting, and yet beautiful theme. We see no blockbuster shots of buildings exploding or spaceships streaking across the sky, just a focus on one family’s plight amidst a world in turmoil. The acting is likewise moving in its understatement. Gibson delivers one of the best performances of his career. In a scene in which he is forced to confront long-repressed memories of his past, he communicates immeasurable grief with but a few seconds of facial expression. Shyamalan repeats his uncanny ability to get child actors to make you forget that they’re child actors and finds another breakout talent in Breslin. In his trademark nod to Hitchcock, he even shows up onscreen himself in a key role. This film will leave you physically shaken, but it is also moving on a deep and unexpected level. I can’t go into detail without ruining the film, but let me simply say that those of you with a deep trust in a sovereign and loving God will find much to celebrate in this movie. Signs is a cinematic suspense masterpiece, but what truly sticks with me is its simple spiritual truth that can sadly be so easy to forget. If it’s as dreary and rainy where you are as it is here in Louisville tonight, go give this one a spin through your DVD player and savor a film that will stay with you for quite a while. - **** (out of 4)

Signs is rated PG-13 for some frightening moments.

So THAT'S Where Those Mismatched Socks Keep Going...

Ever wonder how stuff seems to just disappear from your house? Maybe you should check your closet.

HT: Joshua Harris

Unpimp Ze Auto

One of the best series of commmercials of the decade - for your Friday viewing pleasure.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Step in the Right Direction

Encouraging news out of this week's annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention - a resolution has passed on the importance of regenerate church membership in SBC churches. Dr. Tom Ascol over at the Founders' Blog has been submitting resolutions on this topic for several years, but each one has been voted down in committee and prevented from even coming to the floor of the convention for a vote. The resolution calls for our churches to give new focus to many areas where we have betrayed our Baptist convictions as well as the teaching of Scripture including the process of membership, the maintaining of rolls, and church discipline. I celebrate this resolution and pray that it is a sign of changing attitudes within our convention. I would encourage you to read Dr. Ascol's thoughts on the resolution.

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 6/11/08

This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.

Last night, we continued our summer Q&A series by answering the question, “What does it mean to fear God?” We began by looking at two extreme views that we’re often tempted to take of the fear of God. The first is what we called “Angry Grandpa God.” This is the view that often tends to caricature God as an angry old man who is out to get sinners. As one of our students pointed out, this is the picture of God as a kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass glibly roasting the creatures below. People with this view love to talk about the fear of God as it relates to his anger over sin. The prime extreme example of this view in today’s society is “Pastor” Fred Phelps’ “church” in Kansas that pickets the funerals of homosexuals with signs declaring “God hates fags.” This view is an affront and an insult to the gospel of Christ. All in all, the “Angry Grandpa God” is the result of seeing God’s holiness but not his love. On the other extreme is the view we called “Buddy Christ.” This is the view that is summed up by the “Jesus is My Homeboy” t-shirts. This view sees God as a kind and loving friend but not as one who should be approached with reverence and awe. By focusing too much on God’s love at the expense of his holiness, the “Buddy Christ” view results in a small God who often receives admiration but not respect. Both of these extremes can be easy to slip into (especially the “Buddy Christ” extreme in the relaxed culture of generation Y) and both are destructive to our spiritual life, since they neuter one attribute of God in an attempt to emphasize another. The better picture that brings us a more balanced view is C.S. Lewis’ depiction of Aslan the Lion in The Chronicles of Narnia. The following interchange, between Lucy and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, highlights Lewis’ depiction of Aslan as a loving friend, but also a great and mighty king whom it was appropriate to fear…

"Is Aslan quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver. "If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or just plain silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
To understand this nuanced view of the fear of God, we turned to Exodus 20:18-21. The Israelites have just received the Ten Commandments. They’ve seen God’s presence descend on Mt. Sinai as a cloud, with streaking lightning and a roaring voice. They are terrified, and they plead with Moses to act as a go-between for them and God so that they will not have to be in his presence again. Moses responds with these curious words, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” He tells the people not to be afraid, but that these things have happened so that they would fear God. At first, it seems Moses is contradicting himself – should they fear God or not? However, this points to the reality – illustrated elsewhere in Scripture – that there are two types of “fear of God.” One is appropriate for Christians, the other is not.

The type of fear that we don’t need is characterized by terror and despair. These were the feelings expressed by the Israelites that prompted Moses to respond, “Do not be afraid.” Realizing their sinfulness in the presence of God’s holiness, the Israelites feared for their lives. Moses said that this wasn’t necessary, since God by his mercy had received them as his covenant people. This kind of fear certainly is appropriate because of our sin, but because of the forgiveness we have received in Christ, we need fear God in this way no longer. As Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Thus, we can see that the terror and despair of judgment (also seen expressed in James 2:19, Revelation 6:12-17, and Hebrews 10:26-27) is the kind of fear that Moses is telling God’s people not to have.

So, what is the fear of him that Moses says should be before us? This is a fear marked by reverence and trust. This is the amazing realization that though we should rightly be terrified under God’s judgment, he has instead accepted and loved us as his own for no good reason to be found in us. This should cause us to be amazed at our God’s love. His love is not the casual admiration of a buddy, but the deep and abiding love that is fixed on us in spite of ourselves. We need to recapture this wonder at our salvation. We need to allow our jaws to hit the floor as we contemplate our God. This fear, this reverence that forgiveness brings is mentioned in Psalm 130:1-4. We need that wonder in our Christian lives. Yet this reverence also must be joined with trust. Look at God’s admonition to Isaiah in Isaiah 8:11-15. He tells the prophet that when we quit worrying about what the world worries about and put our focus on our amazing God, we find that the fear and reverence that this provokes is a sanctuary for us. The very stone that many will be broken upon as they fight against it is the stone of refuge for us. An appropriate fear of God must be coupled with trust for a Christian, as we look at his greatness, our sinfulness, and realize with joy, “I’m glad he’s on our side.”

Which caricature of God are you more prone to worship? Do you lose his love in the midst of his holy and righteous judgment, or do you see him as simply “the man upstairs” – a neutered, friendly deity who you approach in the same fashion as your next-door neighbor? I’ll admit the latter is usually my temptation. Yet, whichever side you struggle with, I pray that you will see a view of God’s holiness and his love that is balanced, and that causes you to fall into the awesome embrace of the one who is never safe, but always good.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid

Tonight, I'll continue "You Asked For It," my summer series with my students tackling their submitted questions about Christianity. Tonight's question is, "What does it mean to fear God?" I'll post my reflections tomorrow as usual, but since this seems a strange concept to many, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. How has 'the fear of God' been a part of your Christian faith? Would you be comfortable with the label "God-fearing person?"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

John McCain Hates Beer

Looks like somebody forgot to tell him that he's running for the presidency of the USA, not the SBC.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ever Had a Habakkuk Moment?

I must confess, I’ve been having one this morning. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Habakkuk was a prophet in the final days of the kingdom of Judah before its destruction in 586 BC. His book is simultaneously devastating and immensely encouraging to me. Habakkuk saw his country collapsing into evil. He watched God’s name profaned and despised. He watched the wicked swindle and cheat the righteous out of their livelihood. And amidst it all he cried out to God for justice and salvation. Yet he saw no response from on high. This prompted him to write the following words…

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,and
justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted. – Habakkuk 1:1-4

Habakkuk came to that point that we all seem to come to at one time or another – the time when we can’t help but look to the heavens and yell “why?” The justice that our hearts seem hard-wired to crave doesn’t exist. Terrible tragedy befalls people for seemingly no reason. All the while, we can’t fathom how an all-powerful and good God can stand by and do nothing.

Yesterday, my pastor preached a great sermon on the opening verses of Daniel about God’s sovereign hand being very much present even when the bottom seems to fall out of life. He read that opening passage from Habakkuk, which has it at the forefront of my mind today as I’ve waded through several instances of heart-wrenching news. A friend from church broke both elbows in a horrible accident Saturday afternoon and is faced with months of rehab. Denny Burk blogged last Friday about the horrible atrocities of African warlord Joseph Kony, who makes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad look like a compassionate leader. Then, this morning, I read an absolutely heartbreaking article on about late-term abortion. I’m staunchly anti-abortion, and I view it as the defining social injustice of our generation – but let me say that any conservative pro-lifer who heartlessly demonizes every woman who has an abortion needs to read this article (However, I wish greatly that I hadn’t read the article while my wife is in the final week of her pregnancy. This article was hard enough to read as it is, and given my current frame of mind it’s been absolutely crippling to my emotions this morning. If you’re in a similar situation, consider this fair warning…). The decisions faced by the couples in this article are absolutely unfathomable to me. I still wouldn’t condone partial-birth abortion as the answer, but the situations themselves have no good answer and left me feeling very much like Habakkuk.

Yet notice that I said earlier that Habakkuk is not only devastating but encouraging. One reason for that is that it demonstrates that not even the great prophets of old were immune to the pain that so often permeates our existence. We tend to view Biblical figures as unassailable ivory towers of faith, but Habakkuk was a man at the end of his rope. Watching an author of Scripture cry out to God in desperation gives hope that the same God who heard Habakkuk hears me as well. The greater reason for hope, though, is how God answers Habakkuk. What he reveals is that he is very much aware of the state of his creation, and that he is not asleep at the wheel. He is preparing to come in judgment of his people (which eventually prompts more questions from Habakkuk), but he patiently waits in his great mercy. He tells Habakkuk that he will accomplish his perfect plan, and his wisdom is present in all his decrees, even when we cannot understand why. The end result for Habakkuk? Much like Job, he doesn’t get exactly the answers he wants, but he comes out the other side with a much deeper trust in the God who does all things well. He closes with these words…
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places. – Habakkuk 3:17-19
I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t understand a lot of what’s happening now. I’m prone to worry, anxiety, and bewilderment. But I know the God who is over it all, and that is enough. I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 6/6/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.


I enjoy movies for a myriad of different reasons. How else could you explain the presence of both A Beautiful Mind and Pirates of the Caribbean (the first one, not the sequels) on my DVD shelf? Sometimes I want to see something profound and meaningful, sometimes I want to see pretty colors flash across the screen at a high rate of speed. Rare is the film that can satisfy both desires simultaneously. So, when I say that Hero is perhaps the most beautiful movie I have ever seen on both a visual and emotional level, I hope you catch the level of admiration I have for this film. Last year, Heather and I went on a wuxia film binge, catching up on several of the Chinese films that became popular in America following the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Of them all, Hero stood out as a true masterpiece – an exhilarating and moving tribute to the true nature of a hero.

Set against the unification wars which ultimately led to the Chinese dynasties, the film focuses on a man known simply as Nameless (Jet Li), a humble warrior who has just slain three notorious assassins – Broken Sword (Tony Leung), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Sky (Donnie Yen) - who were plotting the death of the King of Quin (Chen Daoming). In his quest to unify China, the king has made many enemies, and after barely surviving a previous assassination attempt he lives a reclusive life – removing all decorum from his royal halls to leave nowhere to hide, wearing body armor 24-7, and allowing no one within 100 paces of the throne. After defeating the king’s enemies, Nameless is summoned to appear before the king to receive his reward and recount the tale of his heroic victory. As the tale is told, we watch in flashback the story of Nameless’ journey and the motivation that has defined his heroic acts.

I'm going to have to fight hard to keep from overusing the word "beautiful" in this review, because I truly think that if I had to sum up the experience of Hero in one word that would be it. On a visual level, the film is simply stunning. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle uses color to tell the story in and of itself, with the palette of each scene subtly communicating its mood and emotion. The action choreography resembles dance more than swordplay, and the actors’ expressiveness ensures that the subtitles (the DVD does include English dubbing, but I highly recommend watching it in Chinese) don’t act as a barrier to keep the audience from connecting emotionally with the characters. The script is expertly constructed – nobody’s a cardboard cut-out, but each character has a depth of motivation that is revealed over the course of the film. Tan Dun’s score is gorgeously haunting – this was the rare movie where Heather and I sat quietly on the couch as the credits rolled and the theme played, a great testament to the enchanting impact of not only the score but the film as a whole. The themes of honor and the true measure of a warrior resonate deeply in our troubled times. Director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) weaves all these elements together with a presence that is noticeable but never overbearing. The film carries you along, taking you on a journey that is often unexpected but never contrived, often emotional but never melodramatic, and arriving at a conclusion far more profound than you expect from the outset. Just talking about the movie has me wanting to experience it again, so I may well watch my own Friday’s Featured Film this evening. If you’ve got an aversion to foreign-language films, martial arts films, or period pieces, throw it out the window and experience a film you will not soon forget. - **** (out of 4)

Hero is rated PG-13 for stylized martial arts violence and a scene of sensuality.

You Know You've Thought the Same Thing...

Hilarious quote from ESPN columnist Bill Simmons (if you're not an NBA fan and don't get it, click on the included link)...
"By the way, we're going to have our hands full with lump-in-the-throat ABC halftime pieces during the Finals, between Fisher's daughter bravely battling cancer, Doc Rivers losing his father a few months ago, Bill Russell remembering the late Red Auerbach, P.J. Brown helping a post-Katrina New Orleans, and the 25th anniversary of Sam Cassell's spaceship landing on Earth."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 6/4/08

This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.

Last night, we began our “You Asked For It” summer series by tackling the question, “Do You Have to Be Baptized to Be Saved?” We began the evening by introducing the three views of baptism that are common in protestant circles…

Believer’s Baptism (or credobaptism) – The belief that baptism is an outward symbolic demonstration of faith in Christ. Thus, only those who have expressed faith in Christ should be baptized. View held by Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and yours truly.

Infant Baptism (or paedobaptism) – The belief that baptism is a continuation of circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant blessings. Thus, just as children in the OT were circumcised and became part of the covenant community, so Christian parents today should have their infants baptized as a sign that they are part of the church, the NT covenant community. They do not, however, believe that this baptism is in any way a guarantee of salvation. This view is held mainly by Presbyterians, with variations in the Episcopal Church as well (Catholic infant baptism is something completely different, and outside the scope of our discussion)

Baptismal Regeneration – Much like believer’s baptism, except with the belief that baptism is necessary for salvation, that it actually plays a part in our justification. This view is held by the Church of Christ.

While a discussion of infant baptism could be good, we focused on our belief in believer’s baptism and how to answer one who would say that it is a necessary part of salvation. In fact, this issue cuts right to the core of our faith, since one of our foundational beliefs at Sola5 is that salvation comes sola fide – through faith alone. If baptism is a necessary part of receiving salvation, than sola fide, frankly, is a lie. This means that this issue demands our careful attention and consideration.

To discuss why we don’t believe that baptism saves a person, we actually went straight to one of the passages of Scripture often trumpeted to prove baptismal regeneration, 1 Peter 3:18-22. After all, verse 21 does say, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, it does until you examine the verse in context, which is necessary when the passage as read seems to contradict some very plain assertions of Scripture, such as that of Romans 3:28. So, what is 1 Peter 3 really saying?

First off, Peter begins by reminding us of the grounds of our salvation. He says that our grounds are on Christ’s sufferings. Speaking of us passing from spiritual death to life, he reminds us that Christ suffered once for sins to bring us to God. Also notice that the emphasis here is not on our actions. In fact, every verb in verse 18 has God and Christ as active and us as passive – we have been brought to God just as a dead man cannot move himself but must be picked up and taken anywhere he goes. After reading verse 18, it’s very clear that Peter is going to great lengths to stress that our salvation is absolutely dependant on Christ and not at all on us. This seems to indicate that verse 21 may not actually mean what baptismal regeneration proponents say it means. So what does it mean?

I think the answer becomes clearer when we see verses 19-21 as pictures of salvation. Peter gives us two illustrations of our salvation – Noah’s flood and our baptism. Notice that he links them together in his explanation - “Baptism, which corresponds to this…” Peter is telling us that baptism is a picture of our salvation just like the flood was. Now, Noah wasn’t saved by the flood – he was saved (Hebrews 11 tells us explicitly) by his faith in God – a fact that was expressed both by his obedience and by God subsequently bringing him through the flood. Just as surely, we are not saved by baptism, but it is a sign of the faith that God has given us in our hearts – an outward expression of an inward reality. It’s almost as if Peter anticipated misunderstanding, because he immediately qualifies his statement – “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter says that the physical act of baptism isn’t what saves, it’s the inward reality that baptism reflects – the appeal to God for a good conscience, a pure heart, new life – which can only come from faith given by God. Just to make himself clear, Peter concludes in verse 22 by focusing our security in salvation not on baptism, but on Christ, who rules at the Father’s right hand having all authority in heaven and on earth.

So, is baptism necessary for salvation? I can answer an emphatic no – we find peace with God by grace through faith in Christ alone, and not due to any accomplishments on our part. However, does that mean that baptism is insignificant? Of course not! Are good works required for salvation? Are we justified in any way by our works? No! Does that mean that good works are insignificant? No – a life that follows Christ’s commands is the outward sign that we have true faith in him. As James said, “Faith without works is dead.” It is much the same with baptism – it is not the basis of our standing with God, but it is a public expression of our faith (and one that is commanded by Christ, no less). It doesn’t save us, but to treat it as mere option is a disservice as well. We ended with some good discussion last night, and actually went about 10 minutes over. If there are any Sola5 members dropping by (or anyone, for that matter) and you want to discuss this question more, feel free to drop me a comment. I’m excited about the weeks to come and pray that God would use these questions to give us a fuller understanding of his glory and grace.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You Asked For It

I'm pretty excited - tonight I'll start a summer series with my youth called, "You Asked For It," a Q&A driven series of topical studies based on questions they've submitted. We did this a couple years ago and it generated several good discussions. It's a good change-of-pace from our usual expository book studies, and it challenges me to biblically explain some tough questions in understandable ways. Nothing helps you understand a view like having to articulate it. Tonight, we open with "Do you have to be baptized to be saved?" I'll post the usual recap tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

One For the Ages

If you missed last night's game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, then you missed over 100 minutes of fantastic hockey. Up 3-1 in the series and trying to clinch, Detroit put on a ferocious third period push to take the lead and start the countdown to their coronation. Looking panicky and done, Pittsburgh found new life when Max Talbot jammed home a rebound with 30 seconds left, forcing sudden-death overtime. It took 3 overtimes, but the Penguins finally prevailed on Peter Sykora's power play goal and pushed the series to 3-2. The Penguins were as gritty a team as I've ever seen - goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was truly phenomenal, defenseman Sergei Gonchar picked up an assist on the game winning goal after missing the third period and the first two overtimes due to crashing head-first into the boards late in the second period, and winger Ryan Malone played to the end with a battered visage after taking a slap shot to the face (already having suffered a broken nose just a week prior) in the second period. Detroit was the better team last night, but the Penguins refused to go down, which made for thrilling and riveting viewing. Do yourself a favor and catch game 6 Wednesday night.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The One and Only Reason that I'd Ever Wish My Xbox 360 Was a PlayStation 3

IGN Countdown Promo
IGN countdown to the latest video games.
Metal Gear Solid 4 at IGN

Boredom, Sarcasm, and a Pathetic Need for Affirmation

In a nutshell, those three things explain the fact that I've made the top 10 of the Crummy Church Signs caption contest for the second time. You'd think that since I've already won the book I'd be above shameless pandering for votes. You'd be wrong.

And really - after seeing the sign in question, tell me with a straight face that they didn't have it coming.

How's Your Spiritual Portfolio?

Yesterday, I had the honor of sitting on an ordination council for Jake Pratt, a friend at my church who is preparing to begin PhD studies. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process, the council is made up of the ordained men of the church, both ministers and deacons, who question the candidate to confirm their calling and competence for ministry. I was ordained a little over two years ago, but this is the first time I’ve had opportunity to be a part of the council for someone else. In reality, my presence was really mildly ridiculous – I’ve not even hit 25 yet and here I sit on a council with a seminary professor and several men who have been humbly serving the Lord twice as long as I’ve been alive, questioning a guy who’s far wiser than me and more than 10 years my senior. Though I did ask one question of Jake, I feel like I came away from the council having taken in far more wisdom than I brought to the table.

One piece of wisdom that has particularly stuck with me was from Jake himself. When asked a question about how he feels discipleship should take place in the local church, Jake responded by talking about the importance of mentorship. The most effective form of discipleship seems clearly to be when a wiser, more mature believer (or family of believers) takes a younger person or family under their wing. Jake talked about the importance of recovering that largely lost art. As we split our churches into age-divided classes ad-infinitum, we shoot ourselves in the foot in a way by making it much more difficult for mentor-mentoree relationships to develop. Jake spoke of the importance of community and of investing our faith in others. Ideally, every believer ought to have a mentor in their life, and also one whom they themselves are mentoring. This process communicates wisdom from generation to generation, and guards against our propensity to build our theology and church practice around merely our own preferences. As you look at your journey of faith, who can you point to as a mentor in your life? Take the time to thank them this week, and also ask yourself, “Who am I investing in?” If your portfolio looks empty, perhaps it’s time to, like the servants of Luke 19:11-27, quit holding in the deposit of faith entrusted to us and look for ways to invest in those around you for the glory and the growth of the kingdom of God.