Friday, August 29, 2008

A Classy Move

Check out this ad that aired last night on TV after Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, demonstrating John McCain to be a very classy individual.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Sorry for the recent silence. Our pastor at Hazelwood resigned Sunday morning, so I've been quite busy these past few days and not really in the right frame of mind to post. Please pray for our pastor and his family as they move on and for peace and direction for our fellowship during this difficult time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Shame of Selfishness

Mark Altrogge over at The Blazing Center has a great post about the blinding nature of selfishness. I've been in his shoes far too often. Also, I've added The Blazing Center to my great blogs sidebar - a distinction that's long overdue. If you haven't checked the blog out before, it's run by father-and-son duo Mark and Stephen Altrogge and features a lot of great devotional insights into the Christian life as well as a sharp sense of humor. Give it a visit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 8/20/08

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” Q&A series with another question about the trustworthiness of the Christian message. After examining the truthfulness of the Bible last week, we now looked at the question “Can we trust that the resurrection is true?” Without a doubt, there is no more foundational belief for Christians than the belief that Christ has been bodily raised from the dead. Paul makes this very clear in 1 Corinthians 15, which we read as our call to worship to open last night’s Sola5 study. If Christ has not been raised, then we have no hope that our sins are forgiven or that we will live again also when this life is over. Plainly put, if Jesus is still dead, then we are a sorry bunch of fools. However, many have alleged that the four gospel accounts contain inconsistencies and cannot be trusted to be anything more than inspirational fiction. Do we see hopelessly contradictory accounts, or four individuals each giving their own take on the same events, highlighting different details that stuck out in their own minds? We tackled some of the biggest “problems” head on and examined why we should believe that Jesus of Nazareth returned to life after being dead and buried.

After reading the four accounts of the resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, and John 20:1-10), we looked at some of the most frequent criticisms of the text. First up, did the events described occur before or after sunrise? Mark indicates that that sun had risen while John says that it was still dark. The most obvious answer is that these two descriptions are not mutually exclusive. The sun does not flip on like a lightswitch, but anyone who is up for the sunrise (as, unfortunately, I often am) knows full well that the sun can be rising and it can also be quite dark outside, especially without the aid of electrical lights. That aside, the journey that the women take on foot from Jerusalem to the tomb would have likely taken half-an-hour at the very least – enough time for the lighting to change substantially, as reflected by Matthew’s description that it was toward dawn when the events took place. The next question – how many women and angels were at the tomb? The number of women named varies from 1 to 3, while the number of angels differs from one to two. However, the fact that certain women or angels were not mentioned doesn’t necessarily indicate that they weren’t there. For example, if you were to ask me what Heather and I did a week ago, I would tell you that we saw Brooks & Dunn and ZZ Top in concert. However, if you consulted the newspaper, you would find that we actually saw Brooks & Dunn, ZZ Top, and a guy named Rodney Atkins in concert. Was I lying when I left Atkins' name off my description? No, I was just leaving out a detail I didn’t find personally important to my telling of the story. We all do this all the time. The gospel writers aren’t seeking to give exhaustive details, but to tell the story as they remember it (or in the case of Mark and Luke, as it was told to them).

The last alleged contradiction we looked at was the one requiring the most thought – if Mary Magdalene had already seen the angels and the risen Jesus as described in Matthew 28, why does she seem worried and confused about the body being taken in John 20? The answer requires that we carefully examine what each writer is (and isn’t) saying. Matthew reports the women who went to the tomb, then simply refers to them as a group when they enter the tomb and see the angels and Jesus. However, John – who mentions only Mary Magdalene – points out that she fled the tomb immediately after seeing that the stone was gone, heading back to find Peter and John. This has a great effect on how we view the timeline of events. Matthew Perman and Justin Taylor have put together a detailed description here, but I’ll summarize: while the women see the angels and then Jesus, Mary tells Peter and John and the three of them set out for the tomb. While the rest of the women are looking for the rest of the disciples back in Jerusalem, Peter, John and Mary arrive at the tomb, and after Peter and John leave Mary has her famous encounter with Christ where she mistakes him for the gardener.

A careful look shows that the so-called contradictions in the gospel accounts actually have quite plausible explanations. When one considers the validity of the resurrection, one should also consider the wide scholarly acceptance of the empty tomb (Rome and the Jewish leaders wanted badly to extinguish Christianity – if the tomb wasn’t empty all they had to do was produce the body - game over) and the fact that 10 of the 11 disciples died violent deaths for their unwavering testimony to Christ’s resurrection and the 11th, John, didn’t get off for a lack of effort (he was tortured repeatedly and eventually banished to a remote island). People don’t often die for that which they know to be a lie, especially so many without exception. However, at the end of the day, no one will ever be intellectually argued into the Kingdom of Christ. Why? Because lack of information isn’t our problem – sin is. Christ himself said that we could not have faith in him apart from the work of the Spirit of God. Faith can only result from God’s free gift, and all the mental evidence and theory in the world means nothing until the heart of stone is exchanged for the heart of flesh. Thus, while it is important that we think carefully and critically about the Scriptures, we must always remember that our trust is in Christ because of the change he’s made in us. We can’t miss the forest for the trees. As my good friend Josh Nelson put it last night, thought many people alledge inconsistencies in the gospel accounts, the four accounts undoubtedly agree on one pretty important point – Jesus did rise from the dead.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Great Quote

Wow - this is a great reminder about how we should live our lives. I must admit, this area of readiness is often a great failing for me.

"Budget and plan for an ordinary span of years, but in spirit be packed up and ready to leave at any time. This should be part of our daily devotional discipline. When the Lord comes, he should find his people praying for revival and planning world evangelism - but packed up and ready to leave nonetheless. If Boy Scouts can learn to live realistically in terms of the motto "Be prepared" for any ordinary thing that might happen, why are Christians so slow to learn the same lesson in relation to the momentous event of Christ's return?"

- J.I. Packer, Growing In Christ, p. 69

HT: Vitamin Z

'Framing' the Problem of Evil

Ok, ok, so that title is 360 degrees of bad, and I have no excuse, but I couldn't resist. Over at Between Two Worlds, guest blogger Andy Naselli has interviewed philosopher and theologian John Frame on the problem of evil. Frame's insights are biblical, well thought-out, honest, and undoubtedly helpful to anyone wrestling with this big question. We spent a recent Wednesday night at Sola5 studying this very topic, so I would recommend Frame's remarks to anyone who wants to better understand what is often called the biggest philosophical dilemma for Christians.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Abortion and Intellectual Cowardice

I'm not a fan of Barack Obama's views on abortion, but I haven't really posted on the topic here - mainly because other bloggers have already flooded the blogosphere with information. However, after watching Obama at the Saddleback Forum, I have to post his cowardly dodge of Warren's tough question about human rights. I have little respect for one who will support the killing of the unborn yet intellectually runs from any tough questions about the issue. Over at Between Two Worlds, guest poster James Grant passes along this ironic collection of quotes from First Things...

"Dr. Hymie Gordon (Mayo Clinic): “By all criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.”

Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth (Harvard University Medical School): “It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception.”

Dr. Alfred Bongioanni (University of Pennsylvania): “I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception.”

Dr. Jerome LeJeune, “the Father of Modern Genetics” (University of Descartes, Paris): “To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion . . . it is plain experimental evidence.”

Rick Warren: At what point does a baby get human rights in your view?
Sen. Barack Obama: Well, I think that whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.

Sheep are Stupid

This sheds a little light on why the Bible uses sheep as a metaphor for people...

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Dangers of Losing Discernment

Charisma magazine editor J. Lee Grady has written a fantastic piece reflecting on the fallout from the sad debacle in Lakeland, Florida over the recent months, which has just come to an end with news that revival leader and faith healer Todd Bentley is separating from his wife. An excerpt...
"But among those who jumped on the Lakeland bandwagon, discernment was discouraged. They were expected to swallow and follow. The message was clear: “This is God. Don’t question.” So before we could all say, “Sheeka Boomba” (as Bentley often prayed from his pulpit), many people went home, prayed for people and shoved them to the floor with reckless abandon, Bentley-style...

...Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs and wonders than have a quiet Bible study. Yet we are faced today with the sad reality that our untempered zeal is a sign of immaturity. Our adolescent craving for the wild and crazy makes us do stupid things. It’s way past time for us to grow up."

I have a whole host of concerns with the charismatic/pentacostal movement, but I applaud Grady here for putting a finger on a problem that's crippling the American church, and not just the pentacostals - the danger of zeal unpaired with careful discernment. From the start of the "Lakeland Revival," the Scriptures were abandoned and cheapened in the name of "the work of the Spirit." When a man seriously contends that God told him to heal an elderly woman by kicking her in the face, that should probably send up a couple red flags. If we truly want to know God, then we need to be carefully searching the revelation he's given us through his Word rather than following the fanciful constructions of our own minds.

HT: Desiring God

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 8/13/08

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, while we continued our summer Q&A series, "You Asked For It," we did things a little differently because of the nature of the question we examined. One of my students asked, "How can we trust the Bible to be completely true if it's been copied over thousands of years?" This is an incredibly important question for us, since the truth and trustworthiness of the Bible is a fundamental presupposition to everything we do at Sola5. So, rather than our usual expository lesson from the Scriptures, we examined the Bible itself, and why we can trust the process that takes truth from God's mouth to our ears.

We spent the first half of the lesson talking about the inspiration of Scripture by examining what the Bible claims about itself. The answer? The Scriptures claim God as their ultimate author, claim to be sufficient for us to know and worship God, and claim to be completely and totally true and trustworthy. We continued by looking at the process of transmission, and why we can trust that the inerrant original documents of the Bible have been faithfully preserved all the way down to us today. Obviously, the lesson was quite a bit more technical than a lot of our normal Wednesday night study. Rather than reproducing it in great detail, I'm going to direct you to a fantastic resource that I relied on heavily in preparing the lesson last night - a paper by Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll. The paper was written by Driscoll to his church explaining his decision to preach from the English Standard Version (ESV), but it also contains some great explanatory material on the process of inspiration and transmission as well. It's a much better summary of our study last night then I could ever hope to write, so I commend it to you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Power of the Gospel

Check out this amazing interview with Mosab Hassan Yousef. The son of a Hamas leader, Yousef has embraced the gospel of Christ and discusses his amazing journey with Fox News.

Why People Think Christians are Jerks

I'm pro-life, not in favor of gay marriage, and will not be voting for Barack Obama this November. However, I also think there's no place for smug, pretentious Phariseeism - joking or not - in the Kingdom of Christ, which is why I'm growing very weary of Focus on the Family. Take a look at this video, then pray that the church in America will spend more time spreading the gospel of Christ and less time reveling at the thought of humiliating political enemies.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Take That, Steve Spurrier

For the past couple decades, Steve Spurrier's "Fun and Gun" offense was the epitome of no-holds-barred offensive abandon in football. Today, ESPN ran a story about a new offense that makes Spurrier's look downright boring. They call it the A-11, and the best description I can offer is that it looks like the spread offense on steroids. It uses two quarterbacks on the field at the same time (yes, you read that right), eligible receivers out the wazoo, a ton of motion, and it's making waves at a California high school. Time will tell if this is a gimmick or a genuine offensive innovation, but it's sure interesting to see on the field. Check out the ESPN article for a more detailed description, and check out this video of the A-11 in action.

Barack Obama Dance Party

HT: Vitamin Z

Monday, August 11, 2008


After years of hearing parents say that their kids grow up too fast, I’ve seen that reality firsthand lately. My daughter is nearly two-months old, and the time has flown by. I’ve thought a lot about time lately, and I’ve thought about it even more since yesterday. After church yesterday morning, I helped one of the guys from my youth group move into the dorms at my alma mater, Boyce College. As we hauled his stuff up the stairs and into a cramped room, I was reminded of when I moved in to the same building just 7 years ago.

I’m amazed at how much has changed in just 7 years. My high school girlfriend of 9 months who I had left behind in North Carolina is now my wife of 3 years. I left home feeling a great deal like a kid myself, now I have a daughter of my own. Many of the theological truths I now hold dear I was at best ignorant of and at worst rebelled against. Then, a youth pastor was the epitome of Christian cool, now that I am one that sentiment just seems patently ridiculous. Even 9/11 was just a meaningless number back in August of 2001. In just a few short years, I’ve changed so much that I wonder if I’d even recognize the me of 7 years ago – and if I did, would the old me irritate the crap out of the current me?

More than ever before, I see the bittersweet truthfulness of Psalm 103:15-16…
"As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more."
At times, focusing on the brevity of life can be emotionally overwhelming. I’ll never forget driving home after Jordan was born to make preparations at the house for bringing her home. Alone in the car, I cried at the prospect of our hospital stay ending because it was all happening too fast. I wanted nothing more than to go back to the moment of her birth and experience it all over again. Yet, even as the brevity of live stings, Psalm 103:17-18 shrouds verses 15-16 with inexpressible hope…

"But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments."

The fleeting nature of life reminds me that God’s love is anything but, that his goodness lasts forever. I taste his goodness in this life in passing doses with family and friends, as but an appetizer to the joys that will come with forever basking in his infinite glory and reveling in his greatness. So, whether you’re at the beginning of your life’s race or nearing the end, savor each temporal moment God gives as an incredible glimpse into the eternal joy that we have been promised in Christ. Life is a gift, to be sure, but it is a gift like a telescope is a gift, directing us to the object truly worth our wonder and amazement, the true gift – God himself.

The Funniest Show on TV... back September 25th.

HT: Vitamin Z

Friday, August 8, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 8/8/08

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.


With the breakaway success of the Batman megahit The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan is finally getting the name recognition he deserves. Nolan has garnered respect over the past decade for his critically acclaimed work on movies such as Memento, The Prestige, and, of course, Batman Begins. However, Nolan also directed a gem of a psychological thriller in 2002 that went largely unnoticed – Insomnia, a brilliantly woven masterpiece about a morally conflicted detective set against the harsh backdrop of Alaska’s midnight sun. If you’ve enjoyed Nolan’s other work but missed Insomnia, now might be a great time to check it out.

Al Pacino stars as Will Dormer, a top-tier L.A. detective who heads to the tiny coastal town of Nightmute, Alaska to consult with the local police about the murder of a teenage girl that has paralyzed the small town. Dormer and his longtime L.A. partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are paired with local rookie detective Elle Burr (Hilary Swank) with the task of catching the killer. Dormer comes up with a clever ploy to lure the killer (Robin Williams) back to the scene of the crime, but the bust goes bad when the man spots the cops, leading them on a chase into a fog bank where events transpire that turn the characters’ lives upside down.

I’m going to intentionally avoid giving away too much plot, since much of the movie’s strength lies in the story being much deeper than originally anticipated. What begins as a simple cop-vs.-killer story quickly evolves into a portrait of a man tortured by his conscience with no answers in sight. Nolan has a knack unlike any other modern director for exploring the darker side of humanity in a way that’s never exploitative but grounded in simple, relatable realities. This is a fantastic character drama, and the cast is a big reason why. Nolan is a pro at getting the most from his actors, and he certainly does here. Robin Williams is fantastic in his debut turn to the dark side (delivering a performance on par with 2002’s One Hour Photo but in a far superior film), portraying a quiet menace close enough to normal to be entirely unsettling. Swank does well as the film’s moral compass and solid supporting jobs are turned in by Maura Tierney and Paul Dooley, but ultimately this is Pacino’s film. He plays a man on the edge (if not over it) with his usual panache without falling prey to the overeager caricature of himself that has shown up from time to time. His Will Dormer is a man in extreme circumstances, but a man of relatable character, connecting to the audience with ease.

The setting is almost a character in its own right. Cinematographer Wally Pfister does a fantastic job of capturing the pressure brought on by a land where the sun never sets, giving us a torturous picture of the psychological realities on display in the movie. Nolan has an incredible talent for making movies with great moral weight without ever making the audience feel like he’s beating us over the head. This film’s no different, as the implications of the characters’ choices will leave you thinking long after the credits finish rolling. But much like The Dark Knight, the ethical questions are explored in the context of an incredibly engrossing narrative that cements Christopher Nolan as one of the premier filmmakers of this generation. - **** (out of 4)

Insomnia is rated R for language, some violence and brief nudity.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 8/6/08

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 Q&A series “You Asked For It” by taking a look at the question, “How do I know my faith is real?” One of our students submitted a question wondering how we can tell if our love for Christ is genuine and real or if we’re just self-deceived. Surely, feelings of doubt and uncertainty in our faith is something that all Christians deal with at some point in their lives. The good news is that this isn’t a dilemma that’s foreign to Scripture. The apostle Paul encouraged believers to examine themselves to see if they were really in the faith, and in 1 John, John spends a great deal of time responding to a wave of false teaching by showing believers how to identify a real Christian from a fake one – an examination that needs to be performed on ourselves on a regular basis. In 1 John 4:13-21, John gives us three things to check so that we may have confidence and assurance that we are in Christ.

First, and perhaps strangely to many of us, John tells us in verses 13-15 to check our doctrine. In our modern culture, doctrine is often seen as an unimportant negative that only serves to divide. However, John saw it as absolutely foundational to our faith. He puts great importance on proclaiming Christ as the Son of God who came to be the savior of the world – a belief that was under attack in the churches he wrote to. Many were teaching that though Jesus was a great teacher and a special man, he wasn’t divine. John understands that Christ’s divinity is essential for understanding the salvation from sin he offers. So, before moving on to talk about the other important signs of a true faith, he wants us to make sure we’ve got a firm foundation. What exactly is the faith we claim to have, anyway? If it’s not informed by the Scripture, then no matter how passionately we may believe, our faith is the product of our own imagination and is useless.

Secondly, in verses 16-18, John says to check our trust. Since he’s dealt with the mental foundation of our faith, now he says that it must sink into our hearts. It’s not enough to know the promises of Christ, we have to believe them – which involves trust. John says that God’s love working in us should give us confidence rather than fear. If we believe that he has paid for our sins on his cross then we should approach God with boldness rather than with uncertainty, not relying on our spiritual performance for our confidence. Don’t be afraid when you fall, but seek forgiveness from God with the expectation that he will certainly give it, since truly he already has in Christ. Consider the advice of Martin Luther…

“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter, are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.”
Luther isn’t here saying that we should seek to sin. He’s saying that we shouldn’t place our confidence in our own goodness but in God’s grace. Don’t struggle with the doubts that come when we feel we have to be good enough for God, but look honestly at your sin with the confidence that God’s grace truly is bigger.

The final command that John gives comes in verses 19-21 – check your love. John is very blunt with his words here. How we treat other people is a very objective test – it’s not internal like the first two. Our actions are out there for those around us to see, and John says that if we claim to have faith but don’t show love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we are liars. Period. The Scriptures teach that love for others is a natural outworking of true faith to the extent that James even wrote, “Faith without works is dead.” John uses a very powerful argument, asking how we can ever hope to love a God we’ve never seen when we can’t love the people right in front of our faces. This test doesn’t demand perfection (as John made clear earlier in the letter), but it does demand that if we claim to have faith we must show it by the way we live. Can you point to areas where God is growing you to look more like the image of Christ? Can you see the evidences of God’s grace showing up in your interactions with those around you? If the answer is no, then the question about the reality of your faith is one you probably need to be asking. Pray that God would give you a faith that is real – rooted in the truth of Scripture, anchored in a strong trust, and evidenced by a radical love. If you pass the test, then rejoice at God’s grace in your life and remember the promise of Philippians 1:6.

Christ on Display in Canton

A big thanks to my uncle Chris Cowan for passing along C.J. Mahaney's post on Redskins WR Art Monk's recent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Monk's induction speech should be an encouragement to every Christian to remember the true measure of a man. An excerpt...

"...even now as a Hall of Famer, the one thing I want to make very clear is that my identity and my security is found in the Lord. And what defines me and my validation comes in having accepted his son Jesus Christ as my personal savior. And what defines me is the Word of God, and it’s the Word of God that will continue to shape and mold me into the person that I know he’s called me to be.

So I’ve learned a long time ago never to put my faith or trust in man, for man will always fail you. Man will always disappoint you. But the Word of God says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. And He will never fail you.

And that is what I live by and what I stand on. Being included into this fraternity is a pretty humbling experience for me. I always grew up seeing these guys as giants and legends who make significant contributions to the game of football. And it’s pretty hard for me to believe that I’ve now been included as part of them. Growing up I was never voted the most likely to succeed. And there was never anything about me that would have given anyone the impression that I would have played in the NFL, let alone to be standing here.

There’s a scripture that I think about almost every day and I’ve come to personalize it to my life. It says: “Lord, who am I that you are mindful of me?” [Psalm 8:4]. And the Apostle Paul says, “Think of what you were when you were called. Not many were wise by human standards. Not many were influential. Not many were born of noble birth” [1 Corinthians 1:26]. And when I look at my life and how I grew up, I certainly had none of those qualities or benefits.

But I understand and I know that I’m here not by, in, and of my own strength—but it’s by the grace and the power of God upon my life, who I know gave me favor along the way, and who provided opportunity and room for me to use my gifts.

So I am very grateful to receive this honor, and I can stand here before you and say, “Hey, look at me, look at what I did.” But if I’m going to boast, I’m going to boast today in the Lord, for it’s because of him that I’m here and I give him thanks and glory and honor for all that he has done for me."
Be sure to check C.J.'s post, and the full transcript of Monk's speech.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lost in Translation

This picture was taken by my good friend Corey Reynolds of a Chinese buffet near his home in Illinois. Word order matters so very much.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

You Write the Caption

Can You See the Stars?

"When the prosperous man on a dark but starlit night drives comfortably in his carriage and has the lanterns lighted, aye, then he is safe, he fears no difficulty, he carries his light with him, and it is not dark close around him. But precisely because he has the lanterns lighted, and has a strong light close to him, precisely for this reason, he cannot see the stars. For his lights obscure the stars, which the poor peasant, driving without lights, can see gloriously in the dark but starry night. So those deceived ones live in the temporal existence: either, occupied with the necessities of life, they are too busy to avail themselves of the view, or in their prosperity and good days they have, as it were, lanterns lighted, and close about them everything is so satisfactory, so pleasant, so comfortable—but the view is lacking, the prospect, the view of the stars."

- Søren Kierkegaard, The Gospel of Suffering

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, August 4, 2008

Repentance and Forgiveness: NFL Style

If you're a football fan, chances are you've seen the ugly headlines out of the Panthers' training camp from over the weekend. Star WR Steve Smith has been suspended two games for punching CB Ken Lucas during Friday's practice. Many people will certainly form an instant opinion that Smith is an example of al that's wrong with pro sports. That would be a shame, since Smith has followed his bad example Friday with a truly great one today.

Smith has always had temper issues. In 2002, he was suspended for a game after a similar incident with teammate Anthony Bright. In 2003, he cost the team a game against the Houston Texans when his 15-yard penalty for kicking an opponent negated a first down and ended what was shaping up to be a game-winning drive. However, since then, something has happened to Smith. He professed faith in Christ. He didn't become an instant golden boy, but he has grown tremendously. His temper has been kept largely in check over the last 5 years. Last year against Atlanta, it was Smith who kept his cool while baiting DeAngelo Hall's temper into 67 yards of penalties on Carolina's game-winning drive. Ever wonder why you don't see anymore of the entertaining touchdown celebrations Smith became famous for in 2005? As Smith says, it's because he needed to be "more about God and less about me."

So, as a fan and as a brother in Christ, watching Friday's events hurt. However, my admiration for Smith went up a hundredfold today with his first public comments about the incident. What he did is something almost unheard of in our modern culture - he accepted full responsibility for his actions and expressed humble repentance. Here's an excerpt...

"I will not put myself in position where I have to defend myself or state my side of the story. There's only one side, which is a lack of judgment on my part. I have no excuse...I'm going to take this opportunity to let God break me, humble me, and continually let me move forward in being the person I can truly be - and that's a God-fearing man, no matter what people may think or what they may say. It's an opportunity for me to stand tall and take my punishment, but take it with God on my side and not me standing up trying to be something that I'm not. I'm a fallen man. I'm a man who made a mistake. I intend to mend the bridges I have burned and help rebuild a bridge if I need to all by myself, but not do it in a spiteful way. But to do it with the labor and the sound mind that God gives me, which is to do what I'm supposed to do. I'm not going to get into who's right, who's wrong. I'm completely wrong. (It was) an asinine decision."

Of course, repentance is defined by actions, not just words - but the way that Smith has taken responsibility gives me great encouragement about his future. He's a work in progress, sure, but so are you and I - being ever more closely conformed to the image of Christ. Pray for Steve Smith this week, that God would grow him in grace and truth, removing the sinful remains of the old man. Also, take a look at Lucas' response - itself a lesson in Christian forgiveness.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 8/1/08

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.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

The first National Treasure, released in 2004, functioned as a poor man’s Indiana Jones – a lighthearted, fun romp that treats reality as a rubber band to be stretched whenever convenient. The movie was impossible to take seriously, but it worked well as a family-friendly action-adventure – something of a disappearing thing in modern cinema. Heather and I both enjoyed it, so we were excited to check out the sequel on DVD last week. While National Treasure: Book of Secrets exceeds even its predecessor on the implausibility scale and fails to deliver quite the same level of entertainment, fans of the first will still find this a fun piece of filmmaking.

Nicolas Cage returns as Benjamin Franklin Gates, now a famous historian and treasure hunter thanks to his escapades in the first film. He and his father (Jon Voight) are stunned to see mysterious evidence presented implicating their ancestor in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Confident that Thomas Gates (Joel Gretsch in flashback) was an American hero rather than a traitor and suspicious of the motivations of the evidence’s presenter (Ed Harris), the two reunite with Ben’s now-ex girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger) and techie friend Riley (Justin Bartha) and set off on a globe-trotting search that will lead them deep into the secrets of our country’s past.

To say that the movie makes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull look like a documentary isn’t really an indictment on the film. After all, the first National Treasure’s premise involved a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, so I suppose anything’s fair game. If you’re criticizing the plausibility of the plot, then this movie wasn’t intended for you. More troubling, however, is the artificial nature of the film’s characters. The degree to which Ben and Abigail get along in any given scene seems to be driven far more by a screenplay then anything resembling actual feelings or motivation, and the same thing can be said about the relationship between Ben’s father Patrick and his estranged wife Emily (Helen Mirren, whose presence here seems about as fitting as seeing Kenneth Branagh in an Adam Sandler movie). Harris’ villainous Mitch Wilkinson’s motivations are kept mysterious for most of the film, but when they’re finally revealed at the end his character is more of a plot device than an actual character. Of course, these movies are nothing but a collection of plot devices strung together just tightly enough to form an entertaining movie, and director Jon Turteltaub injects just enough wit and charm to keep the audience interested and mildly entertained. The cast is mostly decent, with only Bartha really given the chance by the script to show any kind of engaging persona. Diane Kruger’s German accent is present to a small enough degree to indicate she’s trying to hide it but a large enough degree to indicate she’s doing a really crappy job of it. Her character ultimately seems disposable, but the movie has to have a female banter-partner for Cage, so back she comes. I realize this review probably sounds more negative than my star rating would seem to indicate, but ultimately this is a movie that ends up being more than the sum of its parts. It’s a pleasant ride, though to a lesser degree than its predecessor. Still, if you’re looking for a light but entertaining adventure that you can enjoy alongside the kids rather than after they go to bed, you’ll likely feel like you got your money’s worth out of the rental. - **1/2 (out of 4)

National Treasure: Book of Secrets is rated PG for some violence and action.