Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's My 100th Post!

Somebody buy me a cookie.

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 7/30/08

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 “You Asked For It” by taking a look at an issue that hits very close to home for many people. The question asked was “What Does the Bible say about divorce and remarriage?” Certainly, there are none of us who are completely untouched by the pain of a divorce. This makes the issue a difficult one to discuss, as emotions can often run very deep. However, my interest last night wasn’t in commenting on divorce as it pertains to the parents or family members of my students, but in ensuring that they understand what God intends marriage to be so that they may have strong, God-glorifying marriages themselves one day.

To understand the Bible’s teaching on divorce, we looked at Matthew 19:1-12, where Jesus tackles the topic head-on. The Pharisees approach him with a question, once again intending to trap him into a no-win situation so that he loses stock in the eyes of the massive crowds that followed him around. They bring up the question, “Is it okay for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” Since the Old Testament law made provisions for divorce (though not for “any cause” and certainly not commending it), if Jesus says no then it appears he is rejecting the Law of Moses. If he says yes, then his moral authority takes a big hit. However, Jesus approaches their question from a different angle, pointing out that they’re beginning in the wrong place entirely. Jesus points out that to ask questions about the permissibility of divorce is to miss the point of marriage entirely. In essence, he tells us not to plan for failure. Jesus takes them farther back, to Genesis 2:24, to discover God’s plan and purpose in marriage, which is for a man and a woman to become one in an inseparable union, forsaking all others. In marriage, God joins two people together on a level that we can’t fully understand, and so Jesus says that we have no business undoing what God has done. If we go into marriage looking for an exit strategy in case things go south, then we show that we don’t fully understand what marriage is to begin with. Marriage is an incredibly difficult commitment, and if you’re planning in any small way to fail, you probably will.

At this point, the Pharisees think they have Jesus cornered. Since he’s saying that divorce is not an option, they seize on the moment and point out the fact that Moses permits divorce in Deuteronomy 24. They fire this comment at Jesus with a bit of a “what then?!?” flair. However, Jesus here points out that we shouldn’t confuse “could” with “should.” Christ says that because of human sinfulness, divorce was accommodated. However, it is never commanded and it is never a positive. Christ says that divorce is a betrayal of what God intends marriage to be. He comes down strongly, saying that divorce and remarriage is adultery, allowing only one provision for cases of “sexual immorality.” Now, the common interpretation is that Jesus is allowing an out in cases of adultery. While this interpretation is common, I’m not entirely convinced by it. You see, there’s a perfectly good word in the Greek language for adultery, and Jesus doesn’t use it here – he uses a more vague term. Some believe (and I think a rather good case can be made) that he is here referring to immorality during the betrothal period - a time like modern-day engagements but much more substantial, to the point that a divorce was required to dissolve the betrothal. This is what I believe the text is saying here, but I’ll admit that I’m not 100% certain. At any rate, even if divorce is permissible in cases of adultery, that doesn’t mean it’s commendable. After all, we – as the bride of Christ – are unfaithful to him time and time again, and he never “divorces” us spiritually speaking. He always forgives and promises to never leave us or forsake us. My question is, as Christians, why would we think we are called to anything less in our marriages or any other part of our lives? If I’m truly committed to my wife, I shouldn’t be looking for unfaithfulness great or small as an opportunity to abandon my commitment.

Realizing the high calling he’s just issued, Jesus further pleads with us not to take marriage lightly. The disciples’ reaction to his teaching is to say that a person is better off not getting married at all! Notice that Jesus doesn’t attempt to take the edge off their sentiment in any way, but he affirms that this is a calling that not all will be able to handle. Marriage is not something we should ever enter into on a whim, but knowing that it is a matter of the greatest joy – and also the greatest responsibility. I hope and pray that God would make me a better husband to my wife and strengthen my love for and commitment to her, and I pray the same for you if you are married. If you’re divorced, know that God is a God of grace, and no sin is too great to be covered by the cross of Christ. And if you’re unmarried, may you take with great gravity the teaching of Christ about the seriousness of marriage vows – for only when we see the gravity and significance of marriage will we truly be ready to experience its deep joys and the profound mystery that points us to Christ.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Heck of a Knight

Well, Heather and I were thrilled last night to finally get a look at The Dark Knight, the long-awaited and much-hyped sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins. The original is an absolute favorite for both of us, so we were very excited when a couple friends of ours offered to watch our daughter so we could get to see the film. We went into the theater both pretty confident that we’d like the movie, but I was wondering if it would actually be able to live up to the mammoth hype that it has generated among fans and critics. Two-and-a-half hours later, I had my answer – yes. A very big yes. Batman Begins was easily the best comic-book film ever made, and this movie improves on its predecessor in just about every way imaginable. To call it the best comic-book movie ever doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the masterpiece of filmmaking that director Christopher Nolan has pulled off. This movie will go down in history as a cinema classic, and it’s worthy of consideration for the major awards as Oscar season rolls around this fall.

Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne, the favorite son of Gotham City who dons the persona of Batman to intimidate and take down the criminals who have overrun the city. As he crushes the mob’s vice grip on the city, in desperation they turn to a new ally – an anarchic, murderous psychopath known as the Joker (the late Heath Ledger). With no discernable agenda or motivation, the Joker baits Batman into a twisted ethical chess game with the citizens of Gotham as the pawns. Leaning on trusted allies such as noble cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), business partner Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman), childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhall, taking over the role from Katie Holmes), and butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Batman desperately tries to hold together a city on the edge of chaos while looking to the righteous and ambitious new district attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), to be the symbol of hope that the city desperately needs and that Wayne knows Batman can never be.

Foremost among the hype machine has been Ledger’s performance as the Joker, and deservedly so. The actor completely disappears into the character, taking on the cadence, voice, and mannerism of a character the likes of which the screen has not seen since Anthony Hopkins jived on eating a man’s liver in Silence of the Lambs. Ledger is that good, but like Hopkins he delivers a performance that’s never self-conscious or scene-grabbing. Ledger isn’t playing for an Oscar - his Joker blends seamlessly into the fabric of the film, every line he delivers feeling as grounded and real as it is macabre and twisted. It doesn’t hurt that everyone around him is just as good. Bale gives us a great window into Bruce Wayne’s soul despite, in the end, a much less prominent part in the film than last time. While Batman Begins was Wayne’s origin story, this film focuses sharply on the way that the other characters are impacted by Batman. We see Gordon’s quiet determination and love for his family, we see Fox’s struggle to hold Batman together (both his secret identity and his moral compass), we see Alfred’s fatherly concern that Wayne is being consumed by his creation, and we see Dent’s fearless public fa├žade crumbling under the weight of his all-too-real personal fears underneath. It seems strange to say, but The Dark Knight is a Batman movie in which the supporting cast receives just as much attention as Batman himself, and stranger still to say that this reality didn’t leave me feeling cheated in any way.

That speaks volumes about the storytelling talent of Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, with whom he co-wrote the screenplay. The film, from the cinematography to the production design to the score to the special effects (though there’s not much CGI, one character who I won’t reveal requires extensive CG late in the movie that is probably the most impressive sustained visual effect I’ve ever seen on film), sets an eerily realistic mood, which makes the film’s underlying ethical currents all the more piercing. As we look into the face of Ledger’s Joker, we see the very definition of a terrorist - a man who, as beautifully stated by Alfred “just wants to watch the world burn.” What price is worth paying to bring a man like that down, or to merely survive his insanity? As the film progresses to its end, the characters are forced to examine just how much of their humanity is expendable, from love and honor to freedom and life itself. The answers aren’t the least bit heavy-handed, if they’re present at all. The film is quite weighty for an action-adventure film, but not oppressively so to the point that the movie’s not an exhilarating thrill ride as well. Nolan has probably made the definitive and penultimate crime epic of our troubled times, and the fact that he’s done so in one of the most riveting and entertaining movies of the decade should cement his place as one of the greatest filmmakers alive today. See this movie. See it more than once. Here’s hoping that if the saga of the caped crusader continues (and at $300 million and counting I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it will) that Nolan will continue to take us on a journey to the heights of thrilling storytelling and into the deepest depths of the human soul. - **** (out of 4)

The Dark Knight is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and some menace.

Note: This is a pretty intense PG-13, and I wouln't recommend it for kids. Teens and adults will find this a tremendous film, but on a visual and emotional level it's probably much too rough for kids. Parents, consider yourself warned.

Stop the Madness

Well, it appears that Dunkin' Donuts is following the recent restaraunt trend of offering healthier menu options. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for eating healthy - but if you're concerned about the caloric content of what you're eating at Dunkin' Donuts, you probably need professional help.

Surprised by Hope

No, I'm not reviewing N.T. Wright's book. Last week I blogged about the raw deal a friend of mine was getting at the hands of Louisville's largest newspaper. Well, I'm happy to report that the paper's editors have made an attempt at making things right. I didn't expect to see a pleasant ending to this story, but that's to my shame - after all, I was praying for my friend's vindication in this case, so why should I be so surprised by my God? Just another instance where I feel so much like the the man from Mark 9:24. Praise be to God, and kudos to the C-J editors for their efforts.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Farewell, Ferrets

Well, last night was a sad night for Heather and I. Over the last 5 weeks since Jordan was born, we came to the realization that we simply didn't have the time and energy that we needed to care for our pet ferrets, Slinky and Linus. So, last night we gave them to a family that will provide them with an excellent home. We really enjoyed our furry friends (and God even used them to teach me a spiritual lesson from time to time) and we miss them already, but we're also confident we made the right decision. Praise God for the blessings he brings into our lives - both the inexpressible joy our daughter brings and the much smaller (though often frustrating!) joy that two crazy ferrets gave us.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bet You Didn't Know...

...that I'm a kickball star. If the prospect of an adult kickball tournament sounds absolutely ridiculous to you, let me assure you that it is ridiculous - ridiculously fun.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 7/25/08

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.

Be Kind Rewind

Chances are, unless you’re a movie buff, you haven’t heard the name Michel Gondry. Gondry made his first big splash on the movie scene in 2004 when he directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a fantastic offbeat comedy starring Jim Carrey as a man who has his memory erased in order to rid himself of the painful memories of a failed relationship. The movie was unconventional and at times downright bizarre, but it was also a tremendous film with a great story at its core. So, I was pretty excited to check out Gondry’s first film since then, Be Kind Rewind. The movie stars Mos Def and Jack Black and the trailers showed the same charming oddball vision that made Eternal Sunshine so captivating. After actually seeing the movie, however, all I can say is that it’s a big disappointment.

The movie tells the story of Be Kind Rewind, a hole-in-the-wall video rental shop in Passaic, New Jersey owned by old-timer Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). The shop is a staple in the community, with Mr. Fletcher telling countless stories about it being the birthplace of legendary jazz musician Fats Waller. Mr. Fletcher has hired Mike (Def), a young guy the community who looks up to him greatly, to run the store from day-to-day. Everything changes, though, when the city council informs Mr. Fletcher that they will be demolishing his building and moving his store elsewhere unless he can come up with the money for necessary renovations. Mr. Fletcher leaves on a trip to discover the secrets of the big rental chains (like, say, offering DVDs instead of VHS tapes?) and leaves Mike in charge while he’s gone. Mike’s honor turns to panic when his crazy friend Jerry (Black) is magnetized by an electrical accident and unwittingly erases every tape in the store. In a panic over what to do, Mike and Jerry decide to shoot new versions of the store’s movies themselves and pass them off to customers, which becomes a surprising hit and may well save the store.

The set-up is interesting enough and the film is certainly not without its charm. Def is an underrated talent, and he plays the straight man to Black’s zaniness really well. Gondry’s offbeat vision and sense of humor gives the duo’s “Sweded” re-creations (they explain to customers that the new movies are imported from Sweden, explaining the higher cost and longer wait times) a lot of charm and a clever wit, and honestly the movie could have used more of them. Where the film falters, though, is in-between the low-budget renditions of Ghostbusters and Driving Miss Daisy. Gondry seems to be attempting an ode to small towns and old times, but the smarmy dramatic scenes seem entirely out of place in this world that only vaguely resembles reality. A heartfelt truth can come from a quasi-fictional universe (Eternal Sunshine’s world was certainly colored with artistic touches), but this film just can’t seem to figure out what world it wants to inhabit. I think Gondry’s weakness here is his writing (this is his first venture not penned by possibly insane but undeniably brilliant screenwriter Charlie Kaufman) – he presents his material as skillfully as possible, but you can’t shake the feeling that he doesn’t have much to work with. Be Kind Rewind was a great concept, but the finished product still feels like a concept, not a fully fleshed-out movie. The performances range from quality (Def) to we’ve-seen-this-before (Black and Glover), to completely forced and throwaway (Sigourney Weaver as an FBI agent). Yet, at the end of the day, the quality of the craft doesn’t matter, as the raw materials weren’t up to par in the first place. Sad to say it, but leave this one on the shelf. - * (out of four)

Be Kind Rewind is rated PG-13 for some sexual references.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 07/23/08

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 “You Asked For It” by answering a few questions about our existence in eternity. Will we have bodies in the afterlife, or simply be disembodied spirits? Are heaven and hell physical realities, or spiritual symbolism? Admittedly, there aren’t as many answers to these questions as we would like. The Scriptures give us only brief glimpses into eternity, certainly not enough to satisfy our rampant curiosity. However, we looked at 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 for a description of the coming resurrection, some hints about what that existence will be like, and why all of it matters here and now.

In verses 35-41, Paul describes that though our resurrected bodies will be in some ways like our existence now, they will also be quite different. He uses the metaphor of seeds being planted and growing into plants. Though all the building blocks needed to grow the plant are present in the seed, the adult plant is much different than the seed – a much fuller and more vibrant organism. Paul also uses the light of the sun, moon, and stars as an illustration – all give off radiant glory, but in very different ways. Our eternal existence will be a physical existence like we enjoy now, but it will also be vastly different. Perhaps the best example we can look to is the one human being to walk the earth with a glorified body – Jesus Christ. After his resurrection, Christ still possessed physical form (which he deliberately demonstrated to his disciples), though he was also able to do things unlike any other human, like enter a locked room. At times, the disciples didn’t recognize him, and at times they recognized him instantly. His form was certainly physical, but it was also unlike anything this world has seen.

The text elaborates on this idea in verses 42-49, discussion how our existence will be the same, but better. While our earthly existence is marred by weakness and dishonor because of our sin, our glorified existence will be stripped of these hindrances, allowing us to enjoy perfect fellowship with God and with each other. Perhaps the most stunning and comforting thought comes at the end of the paragraph, when we are told that just as we bear the image of our forefather Adam, with all it’s frailties and imperfections, so we will bear the image of the “second Adam,” Christ. We will be raised and glorified with the Son of God, not because of any goodness in us, but because of his free grace showered upon us through the blood of Christ. What an encouragement it is to know that we will one day shed this mortal shell and experience life as we were created to experience it!

Verses 50-57 tell us that this grand experience will not be a temporal one, as our resurrected experience will be the same, but immortal. Paul, acknowledging himself the inherent mystery (there’s a strange comfort in knowing that even Paul didn’t have all this worked out in his head), says that in an instant at the final hour we shall all be changed, an immortal body standing where mortal flesh once stood. Death will be crushed, and we will be able to look forward to an eternity basking in the glory of God. Even those who are without Christ will be raised imperishable, but the resurrection they experience will not be cause for celebration, but the horror of judgment at the hands of a holy God. Yet for us who have been covered by Christ’s righteousness, we will realize the joyful triumph prophesied of in Hosea 13:14.

This brings us to the final question, why does any of this matter? We live in a world where doctrine is seen as unimportant, unable to meaningfully affect our lives here and now. However, Paul certainly doesn’t seem to think so in verse 58. He encourages us to be steadfast and immovable in our service to Christ because of the knowledge that our work will not be in vain. We are called to an unbreakable hope that we look to with eager expectation – and I know I don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about it. God encourages us to fix our eyes on the prize, to know that our efforts in this life will produce an eternity of joy. Earlier in the chapter, Paul concedes that if our hope in Christ is confined to this life only, then we are a sorry lot. We must be upward-focused Christians if we are to weather the trials life can and will bring. So, how much time have you spend thinking about the hope to which you’ve been called? This week, I pray that you’ll see that hope as reason to press on through whatever life has currently brought your way – and though I may never have met you, I look forward to the day when we’ll rejoice together around the throne of our perfect Father.

What is a Father?

This guy knows...

HT: Justin Taylor

Ancient Meets Modern

A cool development hits the web today for anyone interested in biblical scholarship. The Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete copy of the New Testament, is being released on the web for the world to see. Searchable photographs of each page of the document are being released, beginning today with the Gospel of Mark and the Psalms. The entire document is scheduled to be on the web by next summer. Head over and check it out.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Journalistic Integrity?

I never took a journalism class in college, but I did take a few ethics classes - and that's all I need to know that the company behind Louisville's largest newspaper isn't the most trustworthy. Our integrity is perhaps best measured by how we treat those with the least influence and power. Sadly, as a friend of mine has discovered, the Courier-Journal doesn't measure up.

HT: Louisville

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

To Every Tribe and Nation

This morning, our church sent out a team of seven individuals to spend a week ministering in Johannesburg, South Africa. I had the privledge of praying with them at the airport prior to their departure. The team is very excited about the opportunities for sharing the gospel that lie before them, both the ones they have planned and the ones that only God knows of. Please remember the team in prayer, asking that God would use them in a great way to his glory this week. Pray for me as well, as I will be preaching both services this Sunday while Eric is away on the trip.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 7/18/08

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.

Batman Begins

Unless you live under a rock (and even then it’s debatable), you’re probably aware that a new Batman movie opens today. The film is getting a lot of hype for its quality and for the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. The Dark Knight will continue the reinvention of the Batman franchise that began with 2005’s Batman Begins – and if the film recreates the excellence of the first, the hype is not unfounded. After watching the franchise descend into pulp-goth silliness in the late 90s, director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige) was brought on board to bring it back down to earth. Throwing out the previous films and starting from scratch, he created in Batman Begins easily the best comic-book adaptation of all time and a tremendous film by any criteria.

The film follows the life of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), the son of Gotham City’s most noted businessman and philanthropist. After seeing his parents murdered at a young age, Wayne sets out on a desperate quest for meaning and vengeance, eventually finding himself on the far side of the world, where a man named Ducard (Liam Neeson) finds him and gives him direction, training him to strike back against the criminal world and become an agent of justice. Returning home to find Gotham in disarray, Wayne takes on the persona of Batman, seeking to use fear against those who prey on the fearful. Aided by his loyal butler and father-figure Alfred (Michael Caine), friend and tech guru Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman), and rare-good cop Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), he sets out to shut down the organized crime that has a deathgrip on Gotham and the mysterious young psychologist (Cillian Murphy) who seems to be pulling the strings – while maintaining his humanity, most clearly seen in his relationship with childhood friend and current assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes).

As setup goes, it seems like standard comic-book fare. What elevates Batman Begins above the fray, however, is the way in which the material is handled by all involved. Nolan, who has a knack for exploring the darker side of the human psyche, gives each character deep and real motivations and presents the world of Gotham in an incredibly realistic fashion. As reviewers of the sequel have pointed out, the films feel much more like a deep crime drama than like something ripped from the pages of a comic book. That’s not to say that the film is at all dry and boring – the action sequences are intense and visually breathtaking and the film has a sharp wit about it. Yet the world of Batman Begins feels like the world in which we live, not a glossy, disconnected fantasy. The production design and art direction add to the realistic flavor while still giving the movie a great (and much subtler than its predecessors’) visual style. The film is perfectly cast – Bale gives a breakout performance that’s largely responsible for his recent mainstream success, seasoned vets such as Neeson, Caine, and Freeman provide supporting characters that are never thin or throwaway, Oldman shines in a rare good-guy role, and even Holmes turns in a solid performance that went largely unappreciated, especially in light of her decision not to reprise her role in the sequel. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s score fits what’s on screen perfectly, adding an audible dimension to the film’s palpable mood. As pictures of this genre go, Batman Begins is perfect, to the point that it actually transcends genre and deserves to be held up as a classic. This is one of mine and Heather’s all time favorite movies, and we’ll be heading out to see the sequel as soon as we can line up a babysitter. If you haven’t seen the original, go rent it ASAP, comic-book fan or not. If you have seen it, go see the sequel – and if you can’t make it to the theater this weekend, pop Batman Begins in your DVD player to get caught up like we will be doing tonight. - **** (out of 4)

Batman Begins is rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.

Benefits of the Deliberate Approach

While I was away last week, I was able to finish Mark Dever and Paul Alexander's The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel, a book I had been intending to finish up for some time. The time was very well spent. To those who are in church ministry of any kind, I can't recommend this book highly enough. Dever and Alexander lay out not only what a church based on the Scriptures should look like, but also some very practical steps on how to get there.

As the title suggests, the book is designed to suggest how a church can be deliberate in following the Bible's commands for how the church ought to function. We live in a day when, as Derek Webb put it, we don't really see a difference between what works and what's right when it comes to the church. Does it put people in the pews? Then it's great! Success is measured in terms of numbers - both membership and budget. Even those who may eschew these trends often do so not because of a biblical focus, but because of entrenched human tradition. The Deliberate Church does an excellent job of pointing us to examine what the Bible has to say about the church, nothing more, and then explores how to implement these truths.

The book covers the whole spectrum of church life, including membership, polity, prayer, music, structure, and the ordinances. The book's strength is its ability to cover a great many topics while providing great advice on how to get from where you're at to where you're going. Often times, studying a healthy church from a Biblical perspective can be an overwhelming endeavor, with my enthusiasm for moving forward severely dampened by the despair of a seemingly insurmountable task. I never got that feeling with this book. What I did get is a clearly presented view of what the Scriptures call us to as a local church, and the motivating desire that pursuing those goals is not only admirable but possible by God's grace. Well paced, biblically founded and accessibly presented, whether you're a pastor or layman you owe it to yourself and your church to pick this book up.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Further Proof That...

The Future Begins - And it Might Not Be Awful

I'll admit, I've been somewhat skeptical of next summer's fourth installment in the Terminator series, Terminator: Salvation, which will resume the franchise by taking it to the future war between man and machine only glimpsed in the other movies. Part of it is that I have trouble imagining a Terminator movie without Ahhnuld (a fear mostly allayed by the suprisingly engaging Terminator TV show, The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and part of it is that the movie's being directed by a guy who calls himself McG and directed one of the worst movies ever made. However, the first teaser trailer has just been released, it's got Christian Bale and killer robots, and it actually has got me interested to see the finished product. See for yourself...

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 7/16/08

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 “You Asked for It” summer series by examining a couple of very complex questions about the nature of sin. One of my students submitted two questions that we rolled into one study – Was sin already in the world before Adam and Eve’s actions at the fall (since they were already tempted and had thought about sinning), and did God create sin? To answer the questions, we spent the bulk of our time in James 1:12-15, but also moved around a bit to see the surprisingly complex answers to these questions.

In James’s passage, he makes some very plain statements (as he does so well!) about the nature of sin and temptation. In verse 12, we’re told that temptation is not purposeless. James says that there is blessing in remaining true under trial, and his follow up comments in verse 13 indicate that when he says “trial,” he at least partially has temptation in view (and of course, what are trials but opportunities for temptation? – temptation to doubt, to reject God, etc.). Yet James says that temptations are part of the process that builds us into the image of Christ, preparing to receive the crown of life. Many times when I’m facing temptations of various kinds, I wonder to God why he can’t just remove the desires altogether and make life easier. However, his words to Paul keep ringing in my ears – “my grace is sufficient for you.” God does things in and through us during times of trial and temptation that simply wouldn’t be the same in ease and comfort.

After establishing that God uses temptation to build and strengthen us, he makes certain to clarify explicitly that temptation doesn’t come from God, but from us. Did God create sin? The short answer is an emphatic and conclusive no. When we feel tempted to turn away into sin, we’ve got no one to throw the blame at but ourselves. James says we are tempted when we are dragged away by our own desires. We already have everything we need to be the worst sinner imaginable inside of us. As one of my favorite college professors, Dr. Charles Draper, said, “There is nothing that you are not capable of given the right circumstances.” My students agreed with me that James really couldn’t have been clearer in verses 13 and 14. God is in no way tainted by or responsible for sin and temptation. Thus the short answer to “did God create sin?” The long answer was more complex, and we’ll return to it shortly.

In verse 15, James gives us a look at the process of sin’s generation, allowing us to see that temptation itself is not sin. Basically, temptation is when we come to the fork in the road and see multiple paths before us, one of which we know to be wrong. Seeing that path isn’t sin. Seeing its temporal appeal isn’t even necessarily sin. Sin happens when we make the decision to walk down that path and reject God’s truth. I say “make the decision” because Scripture is very clear that it’s entirely possible to sin with no outward actions whatsoever (see Matthew 5:21-30). I don’t have to actually act on sinful desires to sin, I just have to dwell on them. This helps us to understand the first question asked, “Where does sin begin?” Sin begins in between temptation and action when we seek that which is wrong.

Finishing here, we’ve gotten at least basic answers to both of the questions. However, to say emphatically that God didn’t create sin requires some more careful thought. After all, if we say (as we often do at Sola5) that God is in total sovereign control of all things (even human actions), and sin is a part of the world, isn’t he somehow responsible? To understand why we can say no, we looked at three different relevant Biblical examples – Genesis 50:15-21, Isaiah 10:5-19, and Acts 2:22-23. In each of these examples, we’re told that God has ordained the ultimately evil actions of people (selling of Joseph into slavery, Assyria’s destruction of Israel, the crucifixion of Christ), but that the responsibility for these evil actions is fully and totally upon the ones who willingly committed them (Joseph’s brothers, the Assyrian king, the “lawless men”). It was God’s plan from before the world began that Christ would be killed to save his people from their sins. This is not plan B, and God’s not thinking on the fly. However, the people who mocked, beat, and executed Christ were acting wickedly, and they alone are responsible for their actions.

Now, do I understand how these two realities (God’s sovereign plan and true human responsibility) can both be true simultaneously? Nope. I don’t understand the fullness of who God is or how he operates, and I never fully will. Think of it this way. Do you have a dog? Guess what – your dog will never fully understand what it’s like to be you. Doesn’t matter how carefully you explain it to him, he’ll never fully understand. Why? Because you’re an exponentially more complex being than he is. Now, of course he can understand some things about you – that you care for him, enjoy his company, and will provide for his needs. How does he know these things? Because you’ve revealed them to him in a way he can understand (you feed him, play with him, etc.) Now, if you’re an exponentially more complex being than your dog, God is an infinitely more complex being than you. There are some things about him that you will never fully understand – but what he does reveal to us we should believe and celebrate. Thus, my willingness to accept as true realities I can’t necessarily reconcile in my mind.

Perhaps after such a deep doctrinal exploration, you’re wondering why this stuff even matters at all. You’ll never fully figure out God, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we love him like we say, we should want to know all that we can about him and celebrate that deepening relationship. Why dwell on sin? Because the cross of Christ is about sin, and if we have a cheap and shallow view of our own sin than we’ll have a cheap and shallow view of the cross. If your sin is small, your savior will be small. Don’t be afraid this week to look your own sin in the face and rejoice in the grace that God has given to finite, fallen creatures such as us by his great love.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Great Time to Be a Gamer

If you're into videogames, you'll probably agree that this generation of games has seen some truly great innovations. Not only have graphics entered the HD era, but more importantly game developers have made countless strides in making gameplay feel rich, immersive, and truly realistic. This week is the game industry's biggest trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo - more commonly known as E3. A ton of title's I'm really looking forward to have been shown, including Fable 2, Fallout 3, and Halo Wars. However, one I didn't expect caught my eye this morning in the form of a trailer. The game is called Mirror's Edge and is developed by DICE, the same company that birthed the great Battlefield 1942 and it's subsequent iterations. Mirror's Edge is a first-person game, but don't dare call it a shooter. In fact, the focus of the game is running. That's right, running. Sounds boring, right? Well, imagine the opening chase scene of the movie Casino Royale, then imagine yourself in that scene. That's the vibe this game gives. If the developers can pull it off, it promises to be one of the more unique experiences you'll have on your Xbox 360 or PS3 this winter. Check this out...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Frivolous Betrayal of "Good Luck"

I’m a bit of a vocabulary nerd. Learning new words was always my favorite part of high school English. I get a thrill from having exactly the right word to use in a given situation. As a preacher, words are my trade, and communicating with clarity and power is extremely important. So, I found it incredibly strange and sad that I often use the phrase “good luck.” See, if I’ve ever wished you good luck, I was lying to you, since I don’t believe in luck or chance or any such thing. I believe in a wise and good God who has ordained all things, down to the smallest details, according to his sovereign and gracious will. Nothing is left to chance.

This got me thinking last week - why do I still use that phrase? I think I have because it’s an easy and cheap way to express the sentiment I want to convey. “Good luck” is the verbal equivalent of a Hallmark card – sentimental and appreciated, but in reality devoid of any real meaning. I may wish you good luck because it’s common and easy, but when I do so I sadly betray the fact that I’m not really focused on your endeavor, since my response indicates that all the feeling I can muster is to wish you something that I don’t even believe exists. “Good luck” requires little thought and effort, and thus is by definition cheap.

This begs the question – what would be a better substitute? After much thought, I think I’m going to adopt “Godspeed.” The expression is somewhat dated and uncommon, and it may require explanation at times when I use it – but is that really a bad thing? If I genuinely wish you well in your endeavors, shouldn’t I be willing to take the extra 10 seconds to accurately tell you how I feel? What better wish could I offer someone than that the sovereign King of the universe speed them on their way and guide their every move? So much of our communication is driven by pleasantry and convenience with no real feeling behind it (do you ever really care how someone’s doing when you ask “How’s it going?”). I’m determined not to let “good luck” become another instance of that sad reality. So, as you journey through the rest of your day, let me be the first to wish you Godspeed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Home Again

It's good to be back in the 'Ville. My youth and I had a great week at M-Fuge Camp in Philadelphia this past week, getting to share the gospel with those in great need and be further changed by it ourselves. Our Sola5 students were involved in ministry to inner-city kids, nursing home shut-ins, and some believers in rough places trying to be a light in their neighborhoods. From playing with kids at the nation's oldest Boys and Girls Club to doing renovation work for a local thrift store owner who cares for kids whose parents leave them to shoot up across the street, our team saw a great variety of ways to live out the gospel message while proclaiming it, a truly humbling experience. Our dependence on God was all the more focused as one of our students spent the week away from his grandmother who was in hospice care and not expected to survive the week. Our group was taught some powerful lessons about the importance of bearing one another's burdens and lifting up one another in prayer, and we saw God's amazing faithfulness as he sustained our student's grandmother (after her doctors said at midweek she had only hours left) until Saturday night so he was able to see her one last time. All in all, God blessed us tremendously in both joy and sorrow and did some amazing things in, among, and through our students. Pray that God would continue to be gracious to us as we seek to bring our calling home to Louisville and spread the gospel through our own community.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

M-Fuge Bound

Things will be pretty quiet around here for the next week. Tomorrow afternoon, I'm taking my youth group to Mission Fuge Philadelphia 2008. The team from Sola5 will spend a week doing hands-on missions projects in the city, ranging from putting on Vacation Bible Schools for inner-city children to doing construction projects for needy families to working at food banks and more. This will be combined with some great times of Bible study and fellowship together as a group. M-Fuge is always a great time of focus and refreshment for our group, so pray that God would continue to build us up in Christ. Pray also that I don't go crazy while spending a week away from my two-week old daughter. This week is certainly a jumble of mixed emotions for me, but I look forward to it with eager expectation and hope.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 7/4/08

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.

Curse of the Golden Flower

About a month ago, I reviewed Hero, a masterpiece of a martial arts epic starring Jet Li and directed by Zhang Yimou. Since we loved the movie so much, Heather and I have been excited to see Yimou's two most recent efforts. We were mildly disappointed last year when we rented House of Flying Daggers, which, while not a bad film, was nowhere near as engrossing as Hero. We were hoping Yimou would rebound with 2006's Curse of the Golden Flower when we rented it a couple weeks ago. Sadly, despite breathtaking visuals and some of the best action choreography ever put of film, the movie proved to be even more disappointing.

Curse of the Golden Flower is a tale of turbulent drama tearing apart the imperial family. Set in the 10th century, the movie focuses on Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat) and Empress Liang (Gong Li). The two's marriage is nothing more than a political alliance, and it is beginning to break down, catching their sons and the entire kingdom in a tangled web of greed and betrayal. As their secret plots against one another come to light, those around them must choose sides as the nation's future hangs in the balance.

The film's dysfunctional family dynamic plays as equal parts Greek tragedy and soap opera. Everyone has their personal motivations and ambitions, and what begins as quiet desperation quickly snowballs into national crisis. Modern day tragedy can make for an engrossing film (as Clint Eastwood has demonstrated over the last several years with his masterful Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby), but it requires us to be deeply invested in the characters at the center of the action - a requirement that Curse of the Golden Flower never lives up to, leaving us with an ultimately empty experience. That's not to say that there's nothing to admire and enjoy here. The action choreography is quite possibly the coolest I've ever seen in an action film. Several sequences involving assassins twirling scimitars on the end of ropes while flying through the air on grappling hooks will send your jaw to the floor. The film is visually stunning, with every costume (the film was nominated for an Oscar for costume design) and set exploding with color. Though you're likely to grow bored over the course of the movie, your eyes will stay engaged to the very end. Yimou has a cinematic sense for beauty like few others. However, Curse of the Golden Flower fails to undergird that visual beauty with a compelling narrative, which means it ultimately falls flat, especially in comparison to Hero. If you haven't seen Hero, then what are you waiting for? If you have seen Hero, then go watch it again and, unless you're a die hard wuxia fan, leave this one on the shelf. - *1/2 (out of 4).

Curse of the Golden Flower is rated R for violence.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tom Clancy Would Be Proud

Check out this great story out of Columbia about a perfectly executed hostage rescue mission. Kudos to the Columbian agents for their fantastic job and God's blessings to those who were rescued and are being reunited with family and friends after as much as 5 years in captivity.

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 7/2/08

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 “You Asked For It” with a very important question. The question submitted was, “What do you do when you feel like everyone is against you – even in the church?” Obviously, feelings of rejection and disconnection can be difficult to deal with, but these feelings are all the more tragic when even the body of Christ is failing to function properly. Rather than dealing with the surface problem and talking about how to cope with those feelings, we spent the majority of our time last night trying to get to the root by asking the question, “How do we foster a deeper sense of unity among our church and our youth group? To answer that question, we turned to Philippians 2:1-11. In this passage, Paul appeals for unity among the Christians at Philippi, and then proceeds to show them how this is practically worked out.

Paul begins in verse 1 by emphasizing the reason for unity. Plainly put, why does it matter? Is unity among believers just the “icing on the cake” of the Christian experience? After rejoicing extensively in chapter 1 over the Philippians fervent newfound faith and their partnership in the gospel, Paul tells them of the urgency of that faith producing unity. In fact, Paul says that if the Philippians’ faith does anything for them, then it should produce unity. Paul sees this as a foundational truth for any group of Christians to grasp. Unity is not superficial, and it’s not an option.

In verse two, Paul shows us the appearance of unity. What does it look like? We see that the first thing that characterizes Christian unity is having the same goals. Paul admonishes the Philippians to be of the same mind with one another. What do we mean when we say that two people are “of the same mind?” We mean that they think alike, that they’re going in the same direction mentally. Thus Paul is telling the people to get on the same page in their thought process and strive toward the same thing – the glory of God. One we’re united in mind, Paul says to have the same love. We should all be seeking to imitate the love of Christ – a love that is selfless, forgiving, and redemptive. The love Scripture calls us to all share isn’t a love that we can switch off when it’s convenient. People in the church, myself included, will wrong one another – it’s the sad reality of the sinful nature that is within each of us. However, a case can be made that our Christian love can be most clearly be seen in how we respond in exactly those situations. We need to have the love of Christ for one another, no matter what someone might have done to us.

In verses 3-4, Paul talks about the attitude of unity. What attitudes do we need to cultivate in ourselves to bring this unity about? The first is humility, seen clearly in Paul’s command to “consider others more significant than yourselves.” This is a hard thing to do. Think about it – think about all the people in your church, especially those who rub you the wrong way from time to time. Can you honestly say about them in the depths of your heart, “I am more concerned with your happiness than I am with my own.” This is our calling. This humility is put into action through the second part of an attitude of unity – service. Service takes the idea, “I am more concerned with your happiness than I am with my own,” and it adds, “And I’m willing to work to make it happen.” Service seeks to build others up (and by implication, to avoid at all costs tearing others down) even when it’s difficult and there’s no conceivable reward awaiting us at the end. These two attitudes are inseparable, and they must be present in order to produce the unity God calls us to.

Finally, in verses 5-11, Paul shows us the attitude of unity demonstrated in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ was humbled by definition. The eternal second person of the Godhead, the creator of heaven and earth, enshrined in glory from eternity past, took on humanity, became a human fetus and was born a man. By laying aside his exalted existence and entering into his own creation, Christ humbled himself in a deeper sense that we can even begin to imagine. And having been humbled in his humanity, Christ humbled himself in practice. If God was going to become a man, surely he’d at least make the most of it and arrive as an exalted king, worshipped and adored by millions, right? Not hardly. Jesus lived for 30 years as a carpenter’s apprentice for his stepdad, spent 3 and a half years as a homeless traveling preacher, and spent his final days being beaten to a pulp, mocked incessantly, and nailed to a post to die. Though he had no obligation to anyone, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” After all this, Christ was exalted by God, enjoying the reward to which he had been called. Are we willing to follow? Are we willing to humble ourselves by definition – claiming nothing as our own and letting go of our own glory? Are we willing to humble ourselves in practice, becoming servants even to those who at best are indifferent and at worst react violently to us? And are we willing to find our exaltation and reward as joint heirs of Christ rather than in temporal glory on earth? Only when we’re living in this way can we enjoy the unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ that God intended.

This Sunday, our group leaves for M-Fuge mission camp in Philadelphia. Pray for us, that we might all strive for this spirit of unity as a youth group both while we’re gone and when we return. Pray that we’ll extend that effort not just to our youth group, but to all of our church. And pray for God’s grace as you strive for unity with your brothers and sisters in your own little corner of Christendom. And as you undertake this difficult, gritty task, keep 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 in mind.

Free Derek Webb!

No, he's not in prison. My favorite recording artist, Derek Webb, has released his most recent CD The Ringing Bell for free on All you've got to do is tell 3 friends, or you can pay whatever amount you choose. Derek is a fantastic Christian recording artist (and sadly, those can be quite rare) who writes beautiful, cutting lyrics and memorable melodies. Formerly of the band Caedmon's Call, The Ringing Bell is Derek's 4th solo CD, and in keeping with his penchant for changing up his style it features a retro-rock feel. This is the second time that he's released a CD for free about a year after its release. I'd encourage you to enjoy his music and to support a guy who feels that the music industry should be about more than just money.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Sad Cost of Improvement

Well, my Caroina Hurricanes took a major step in shoring up their shaky defense yesterday, but it came with a big price tag. The Canes acquired talented young defenseman Joni Pitkanen from Edmonton yesterday in exchange for popular star forward Erik Cole. The deal makes sense - Carolina was overloaded with a glut of talented forwards but in dire need of help along the blue line following the retirements of Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican from what was an already thin corps. Pitkanen brings youth (24 years old), size (6'3", 210), and scoring potential (averaging 36 points per season over his career) to the Canes, but Cole will be dearly missed. He came into his own in the Canes' run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002, developing an eye for the net and a reputation as a tough team player. He approached local legend status when he played in the final two games of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals after suffering a broken neck earlier in the season. He's the consummate pro - a great guy on the ice, in the locker room, and in the community - and he'll be dearly missed. As a going-away tribute, here's a video of one of my favorite Cole moments. Last year against Minnesota, Canes star center Eric Staal was the victim of a cheap shot that plowed him head first into the boards. Who comes flying off the bench to stick up for his injured teammate? #26.

What Are They Thinking?

Ever noticed how CNN always seems to pick the worst possible pictures of presidential candidates to use on their website? I figured we could have some fun with it. I'd like to see your best caption for what Barack Obama and John McCain are thinking about in this picture.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

And Then There Were 3

Well, it's been a whirlwind couple of weeks since my daughter was born. She's gotten to meet a lot of her family as everybody's been in town to celebrate with Heather and I. We've had a fantastic time and our family has been a lot of help as we've adjusted to parenthood. Tonight, though, everybody's gone - and I'm a little excited about our first evening at home together as a family - just the three of us. "The three of us" - those words are enough to bring me to my knees before God. I'm honestly not sure which is more amazing and staggering - that nearly three years ago two became one or that nearly two weeks ago two became three. Romans 11:33-36 seeems very appropriate...

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.