Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 10/31/08

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.


This week’s Friday’s Featured Film post provided me with a choice. Do I take the Reformation Day route and review Luther, or do I go the Halloween route and review something a bit scarier? Since I’ve already done a Reformation-themed post, I’ll go the secondary route and take a look at Frailty – a small and largely unknown horror film from 2001. Despite being a Halloween rather than a Reformation Day-themed pick, the movie is not devoid of theological significance, and it’s one that Christians who are fans of the horror genre will likely find quite fascinating – as well as disturbing.

The movie begins with Fenton Meeks (Matthew McConaughey) walking into the office of FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe). Doyle has been hunting the notorious “God’s Hand” serial killer, and Fenton has come to confess that the killer is his brother, Adam. In response to Doyle’s questions, Fenton tells the story of his childhood, which is presented in extended flashback and comprises the bulk of the film. When Fenton (played by Matt O’Leary in his younger iteration) was entering his teenage years, he and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), who was about 10, were being raised by their dad (Bill Paxton, who also makes his directorial debut). Their father was a hard-working, loving, God-fearing, blue-collar single dad doing his best to raise the boys. One night, however, everything changed. The boys are awoken in the middle of the night by their father, who says that he has received a vision from God. God, he says, has informed him that the end of days is near, and he and the boys have been tasked with destroying demons. The horrifying catch is that these demons will appear to be people. An angel will give them the names of those who are to be killed, and he will provide the weapons (an old axe and a lead pipe) to be used. As the three kidnap their first “demon” for the slaughter, young Adam blindly follows his zealous father while the horrified Fenton suspects that his dad isn’t a holy executioner but a madman.

Without getting into spoilers, the film is basically the story of Fenton and Adam’s different reactions to their father’s actions, and what effects those reactions have on their lives. It is here that I found a very interesting theological issue arising – namely the importance of normative revelation (i.e. Scripture) to the life of faith. I can’t get into too many specifics without spoiling things, but I’d be interested to hear what others who saw the film have to say. If you’ve seen the movie, leave me a comment and we’ll discuss. If you haven’t seen the film, consider the comments section a spoiler zone. As a piece of entertainment, the movie is a fantastic success. Paxton’s rookie effort behind the camera is a great one, and his terrific portrayal of the elder Meeks lends some sympathy to what could have been a caricature of a character. The boys are pretty good for child actors, and their innocence only makes the film all the more disturbing as they watch their father slaughter his victims. The movie is about as dark as they come, thematically, and the cinematography conveys the sense of unease and dread palpably. Let me warn you – if you are turned off by horror films or graphic violence, best leave this one on the shelf. However, if you like a good thriller and are tired of the gratuitous, self-indulgent, cookie-cutter slashers that seem to hit the theaters on a weekly basis anymore, let Frailty give your nerves a jolt and your brain some questions to ponder. - **** (out of four)

Frailty is rated R for violence and some language.

Long Way to Go

Last night, my Charlotte Bobcats played their first game under new coach Larry Brown. Brown is a basketball mastermind, and his hiring has many Bobcats fans (all 17 of us) hoping that this will be the year the team finally puts the pieces together and pulls off a winning season. That may still happen, but last night's 96-79 loss to the Cavs showed that there's still a lot of work to be done. This team has a lot of young talent, but they've got a ways to go to put it together as a team. Here's hoping that they find a way to do it.

Any NBA fans out there? I'd love to hear your predictions and thoughts on the new season.

Post Tenebras, Lux

This morning, I had a bit of a quandary. Last night, I realized I was out of shirts to wear to work, so I threw a few in the wash before I went to bed. My in-laws are in town, and my mother-in-law offered to change the shirts over to the dryer before she went to bed. Sounded like a plan – I’d just quietly (the basement doubles as our guest room and laundry room, so my in-laws were sleeping down there) walk down to the basement in the morning and retrieve one. This morning, as I reached the bottom of the stairs, I realized an unforeseen difficulty. Our basement, at 6:30 AM with no lights on, is pitch black. Oops. I tiptoed over to the dryer, feeling my way along, knowing by daily routine where it was. However, after opening the dryer, I could see absolutely nothing inside. I felt around and pulled out what I thought might have been a work shirt. Wrong. This process repeated itself for a while until I eventually wound up with the right shirt.

The shirts were there - they’d been there the whole time. However, because I couldn’t see them, they were inaccessible to me, so they might as well have not been there at all. Welcome to the time before the Reformation. Spiritual darkness reigned over the church. The Bible was there, yes – but since it was only translated into Latin, and not the languages of the common people, it was completely inaccessible. One’s only hope of finding spiritual truth was a religious education or a rare honest priest. Today, we look back on the efforts of one such honest priest, Martin Luther, who 491 years ago today challenged the abuses of the church at the risk of his livelihood, and even his life. Luther, Calvin, Huss, Wycliffe, Zwingli, and the others whose efforts we celebrate didn’t invent our faith. It had been there the whole time. It had lain dormant in the pages of Scripture, obscured by a church more interested in lining its own pockets than guarding the souls of its people. These men simply had the courage to shine a light, and they reminded the world of the marvelous riches of the grace of God.

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve got a Bible on your shelf. Have you taken it for granted? Does this jewel sit neglected, with you secure in the knowledge that you can always look something up in it in a pinch? Or, perhaps you have become so familiar with the words of Scripture that they’ve lost much of their punch. You’ve taught so many Sunday School classes that his grace ceases to amaze you anymore. When we neglect the Word, either from familiarity or contempt (or as the old adage says, both), we cast a sad shadow on the men and women who worked, some giving their lives, to bring the truth of God before our eyes. They fumbled through the dryer, tirelessly looking for the right shirts. They turned the light on for us. They ironed and pressed the shirts, slipped a mint in the pocket, and went on their way. Yet, on many days, we just can’t work up the energy to walk to the basement. We go to work without a shirt on. But it’s okay, we realize as we sit at our desks. Nobody else has theirs on either.

For more Reformation reflections, head on over to Tim Challies’ blog for his Reformation Day Symposium.

"You say it is heresy to speak of the Holy Scriptures in English. You call me a heretic because I have translated the Bible into the common tongue of the people. Do you know whom you blaspheme? Did not the Holy Ghost give the Word of God at first in the mother-tongue of the nations to whom it was addressed? Why do you speak against the Holy Ghost? You say that the Church of God is in danger from this book. How can that be? Is it not from the Bible only that we learn that God has set up such a society as a Church on the earth? Is it not the Bible that gives all her authority to the Church? Is it not from the Bible that we learn who is the Builder and Sovereign of the Church, what are the laws by which she is to be governed, and the rights and privileges of her members? Without the Bible, what charter has the Church to show for all these? It is you who place the Church in jeopardy by hiding the Divine warrant, the missive royal of her King, for the authority she wields and the faith she enjoins." – John Wycliffe

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It Could Be a Crackhead

Quite possibly the funniest local news report in human history. "Who all seen the leprechaun say yeah!"

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - Happy Reformation Day!

Last night, we took a break from our John study and kicked back together to celebrate Reformation Day. Breaking from our usual retelling of the Luther story, we talked about John Wycliffe's efforts translating the Bible into English. It was a great time. Praise God for the brave men and women who he has used through the centuries to stand up for truth, and Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


My Hurricanes are off to a good start at 4-2-1, but if stuff like this concussion-inducing (though clean) hit on rookie Brandon Sutter keeps happening, we won't be able to put a team on the ice by January. Get well soon, Brandon.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 10/24/08

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.


Last week, Heather and I came across an old favorite of ours on TV. Chicago is probably responsible for reviving the modern movie musical. Musicals were all but dead until Chicago cleaned up at the Academy Awards in 2002, taking home the Oscar for Best Picture. No doubt many Christians saw the ads for the movie and dismissed it as Hollywood trash full of risqué cabaret dancers. And true – while the movie eschews any explicit sexuality - it is quite a risqué film. However, it’s also one of best pieces (if not the best) of cultural commentary of the decade. Plainly put, this movie is brilliant – and Heather and I had forgotten just how brilliant until we watched it for the first time in several years.

The movie is set in – you guessed it! – Chicago, in the 1920s. Times are good, sexy cabaret jazz is all the rage, and the people are fascinated with sensational tabloid journalism. That’s the world that young Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) aspires to enter. She seeks stardom, so she cheats on her boring-family-man husband (John C. Reilly) with a club owner who’s promised her a big break. When he goes back on his promise, she murders him in a rage, and is taken to prison to await her trial. There, she meets several other women who took care of their no-good lovers (“He had it comin’,” they say), the most famous of whom is Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a former star performer who’s now locked up for killing her husband. The two women compete for the services of star (and crooked) lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who has the legal chops to get them off the hook. Then, they can use their newfound tabloid stardom to achieve even bigger celebrity. Using theater as a metaphorical alternate-reality, we watch Roxie, Velma, and Billy work their song-and-dance magic on a public that eats it all up and clamors for more.

It’s here that Chicago shines. The clever juxtaposition of show and reality illustrates just how dangerously close those two are. We live in a culture that craves showmanship, personality, and entertainment, and cares very little about truth. Chicago illustrates that with damning accuracy and cleverness. The music’s great, the film is perfectly cast (supporting players include Queen Latifah, Christine Baranksi, Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu, and Colm Feore), the production design and cinematography are second-to-none, but they’re all applied in service of a film that gives us a wink as it holds a mirror in front of our eyes to the fickle nature of humanity. Watching it now during the endless parade of an election season, I think the film carried even more punch. As I said, the movie’s musical numbers are staged as cabaret acts and as such are more than a little risqué. If that bothers you, then by all means, stay away from this one. If not, then please give Chicago a shot. You’ll come away entertained, yes, but also sadly and cleverly reminded that in the world in which we live, everything’s a show – and a little razzle-dazzle goes a long way. And that’s a trap that not just cabaret dancers, but we Christians too, fall into all too easily. - **** (out of four)

Chicago is rated PG-13 for sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements.

The Last Lecture: Randy Pausch, The Beauty of Life, and Romans 8:28

Last week, a good friend lent me a copy of Randy Pausch’s best-selling book, The Last Lecture. Pausch (who died in July) was a computer science professor who in his mid-forties was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After the failure of all treatment options, Pausch was given only 3-6 months to live. He was invited by his university, Carnegie-Mellon, to give his “last lecture,” a tradition where outgoing profs expound on the wisdom gained in their lives and what they’d like to pass on. The father or three young children, Pausch saw this as an opportunity to leave a message and a legacy to them, and gave the lecture. His book is an expansion of the lecture, telling his life story and passing on what he learned through it. I had heard good things about the book, but I’ll admit that I was a little apprehensive about reading it. I had visions of an overly smarmy 200-page long Hallmark card. Those fears were shattered as I got into the book, and found myself tremendously moved by one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years.

One thing that instantly jumps out from the book is Pausch’s personality. Within the first few pages, I had the unshakeable thought, “I like this guy.” As I waded deeper into the book, that very quickly morphed into, “I want to be like this guy.” This was a man who understood what was important in life. This was a guy who loved his wife and kids, wasn’t afraid to follow his dreams, and lived every day with a joy and a purpose. From his reflections about his parents and his childhood to his recounting of his bachelor days to his beautiful discussions of being a husband and father, this is a man with a story to tell – terminal cancer or not. One anecdote sticks out to me that seemed to sum up his personality. He talks of his bachelor days, when he would be the “fun uncle” to his nephews. He had just bought a snazzy new convertible and was preparing to take them for a ride as his sister hounded the boys to be careful not to mess up Uncle Randy’s new car. Wanting to communicate that there are more important things in life than stuff, he cracked open a can of Coke and poured it all over the back seat as the boys watched in amazement. Pausch talks about how a few days later, one of the boys got sick and threw up in the back seat. Needless to say, he didn’t feel scared that Uncle Randy would be mad at him for ruining his new car.

Countless situations like that paint a picture of a man who didn’t waste his time worrying about what everybody thought of him. He lived his life, and he lived it well. I found myself reflecting on my own life, and how much I take for granted – my wife, my daughter, my family. Whether my life ends at 45 or 95, I want to be able to look back and know that I lived it well, that I truly focused on the things that are really important. This is a book I can recommend wholeheartedly to any and everyone. It’s a fantastic memoir from a man who truly has a story worth telling.

That brings me to one final reflection. One cannot read a story like this without asking the “why” question. Why would God take a man like that in the prime of life, with a wife and kids who need him? (Interestingly enough, though Pausch reflects briefly on his faith and his church, the “why” question never comes up) Adding to the irony is the fact that I spent time yesterday in a blog debate about how a loving God can be in sovereign control of a world filled with suffering. I had to ask the question – how can Romans 8:28 apply to Randy Pausch? Surely, his wife and kids grieve his loss with a sadness that I can’t even imagine. I don’t want to downplay that in the least. But consider this – I’ve repeatedly said that this is a man with a story worth telling. However, if it weren’t for his cancer, his story would never be told. After all, the man was a computer science professor at Carnegie-Mellon. Computer science professors at Carnegie-Mellon don’t write NYT best-selling memoirs. Randy Pausch, because of his suffering, was able to impact millions of lives, including mine, with his own. I am so thankful that God allowed me to see his life story, for there is much in it that I want to emulate. Does it take away the suffering? No – but it is a glimpse into the gracious and sovereign hand of God who works all things together for good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 10/22/08

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.

What is faith? We claim that it’s what saves us, that it’s central to our lives, but what is it? If you told somebody today that they should have faith in Jesus Christ and they asked what that means, what would you tell them? Last night, we sought to answer that question as we continued our study of the Gospel of John in John 20:19-31. As Jesus appears to his disciples for the first time after his resurrection, we see firsthand the effects that a true faith should have on us, and we have an object lesson on the nature of faith itself.

First up, we see the results of faith. The disciples are sitting in a locked house, confused about the day’s events (the empty tomb) and fearful of the religious leaders who had Jesus crucified little more than 48 hours earlier. Suddenly, Jesus appears in the room, showing them his hands, feet, and side – that he was more than just a ghost, but that he had been raised from the dead. At this point, all the disciples in the room believe in his resurrection as they see him standing before their very eyes. Let’s focus, though, on what Jesus has to say to them. What should their newfound faith cause to happen? First, he says, “Peace be with you.” He’s calming their fears. Why can we have peace in our lives? Because Christ is risen. Sin loses its power, death and suffering lose their sting. If we have placed our full confidence in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, then what have we to fear? Our future is secure. We like that, but immediately after Jesus says something more difficult. “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Our faith must produce work. It must cause us to actually do something. I can talk all I want about my faith in a certain chair to hold my weight, but if I won’t actually sit in it, I have no faith in it at all. Faith necessitates action. Jesus tells us that he is sending us out just like the Father sent him into the world. He expounds on that, saying that we have authority to forgive sins. His statement sounds strange. In what sense do we have the authority to forgive sins? We offer forgiveness when we offer the gospel. We are sent into the world not with an authority that is inherent to us, but with an authority derived from the Word of God.

However, one disciple is absent from this meeting, and it is through him that we get a glimpse into the nature of faith. Thomas is told of what has happened, and he doesn’t believe it. He promises that he will never believe it until he can see for himself. Now, at this point, we might half expect to hear God say, “Tough luck, Thomas. That’s not how this whole ‘faith’ thing works!” But what does Christ do? He appears to Thomas. He invites him to see for himself. Despite the constant accusations of the New Atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and their loyal cyberspace followers who repeat their arguments ad infinitum, faith is not blind. God has not left us to guess, but he presents to us evidence to understand. Our faith is not a blind mysticism but a faith grounded in a historical claim – that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. However, before we trade in our idea of faith for an encyclopedia, Jesus delivers a stinging rebuke to Thomas. He points out that the faith God calls us to is often one that requires belief without absolute material certainty. Faith is not blind, but it is also not proof. I can’t empirically prove that Christ was raised from the dead. Becoming a Christian is not about assembling the correct tidbits of knowledge to build the perfect case. It is about trust. It is, at the end of the day, faith. But this faith has its reasons, as Pascal said. That’s what John points to in verses 30 and 31. He says that he is writing these things down – things he himself has seen – so that we might believe. He is giving us the story of Christ, reasons to have faith in him, but he also calls us to believe. Faith can be a tricky thing. Perhaps you’re seeking to follow Christ, but feel like you’re constantly overcome with doubts about how it can all be true. Perhaps you’re on the flip side – you have all the intellectual answers, but find it difficult to put those ideas into action and live a life of faith. Either way, seek God in his word, and pray for a stronger faith. Ask for the advice of those who have walked the journey of faith before you. At the end of the day, our task can be incredibly complex, but it’s also painfully simple. Trust Christ.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Front-Door, Not Single-Issue

"I have used the term "front door issue voter." That is, there are issues that will keep me from voting for any candidate. However, just because a candidate gets through my front door does not necessarily mean I will vote for that person. You're in my house? Ok, we can talk." - Ryan Phelps

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I found this quite amazing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 10/17/08

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.

The Forbidden Kingdom

As you can tell if you’re a regular reader of Friday’s Featured Films (and thank you for your support, both of you), Heather and I are fans of the recent revival of Chinese wuxia films such as Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. We were somewhat intrigued, then, when we first saw trailers for The Forbidden Kingdom, a new fantasy adventure that brings together martial arts superstars Jackie Chan and Jet Li for the first time. Our interest rose further after the film opened to mostly positive reviews. A couple weeks ago, we finally got the chance to check the movie out on DVD. While we didn’t love it, it wasn’t totally devoid of charm, either, and for those of you who are fans of martial arts fantasy and are looking for an appropriate film to share with your kids, it might be worth a rental.

The movie tells the story of Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano), a teenager from a rough neighborhood in Boston who idolizes kung-fu stars. He spends much of his time hanging out in a store in Chinatown run by Hop (Chan in old-man guise) where he rents endless amounts of wuxia DVDs. Outside of this world, however, he is a loner, and frequently the target of a band of bullies in the neighborhood. Everything changes one night when a mistake and an ensuing tragedy has him running for his life after Hop gives him a mysterious staff that he tells Jason to take to its rightful owner. After a fall, Jason wakes up in another world resembling ancient China, where he is attacked by a group of warriors who see his staff. He is saved by a drunken traveler (Chan again), who tells him that the staff he holds is part of a legendary prophecy. It belongs to the Monkey King (Li), a fabled warrior cursed and imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou), who now rules the land with an iron fist. The traveler tells Jason that he must take the staff to Five Elements Mountain, defeat the Jade Warlord and free the Monkey King, restoring the land to peace.

As you can likely tell by the plot description – this is an American film, not a Chinese production like Hero or Crouching Tiger. Those who hate subtitles will be happy with the movie’s English dialogue and American audiences will find a story more tailored to their conventions. In fact, though Disney didn’t produce the film, it can perhaps best be described as a Disney-fied wuxia film. The fantasy and combat remain, but at the core is a story about a young man who takes a fantastical journey to discover who he truly is. While the film’s American nature will be a plus for some, I found it a bit of a negative. The emotion and visual beauty so characteristic of Chinese wuxia simply isn’t present here. The film’s story feels flat, and the characters seem very one-dimensional and predictable. The acting is uneven – Chan brings his tremendous charm to the film, but Li really feels out of place. The film does do some things well, though. Choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping (Crouching Tiger, Kill Bill, The Matrix) brings his trademark action to the film, and some of the fight scenes are incredible to watch. Any martial arts fan will surely get a kick out of watching Jackie Chan and Jet Li go toe-to-toe. This movie is pretty family-friendly, steering clear of any profanity or explicit sexuality. It’s hard these days to find an action/adventure film that the whole family can enjoy together, and so The Forbidden Kingdom deserves some credit for being one. The violence might be too intense for younger kids, but overall the movie is pretty tame. Though we really weren’t big fans, the movie is enjoyable enough that it might make for a good rental for action fans with families who would like a movie to watch that doesn’t require sending the kids to bed first. For the average moviegoer? Well, it’s not great, but it’s not bad either. - **1/2 (out of four)

The Forbidden Kingdom is rated PG-13 for sequences of martial arts action and some violence.

What is the Freedom of Choice Act?

As I said the other day, the only reason I really care about the upcoming election at this point is the issue of abortion. More than just the judicial future of Roe v. Wade is at stake. Obama has pledged that “the first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.” What is the Freedom of Choice Act? Justin Taylor has a great analysis.

And BTW - if you find me silly for really only caring about one issue, I don't even care anymore. Other issues matter, but they all pale in comparison to the legally sanctioned killing of innocent human life. Randy Alcorn summed it up well in a great recent blog...
"Please don't tell me abortion isn't the only issue. Of course it isn't. Treatment of the Jews wasn’t the only issue in 1940 Germany. Buying, selling and owning black people wasn’t the only issue in the United States of 1850. Nonetheless, both were the dominant moral issues of their day."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 10/15/08

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 concluded our study of Christ’s resurrection by looking at John 20:11-18. Whereas last week we focused on the empty tomb and the many stories offered to explain it away, this week we focused on the reality of the resurrection - what it accomplished, and what it means for us as Christians. We begun by pondering the question, “If Jesus’ life is our example and Jesus’ death bought our forgiveness, then why does the resurrection matter?” What does Jesus’ resurrection have to do with our faith? Is it just a tag-on happy ending to the more-important crucifixion? What we found is that there indeed is no more important reality in our faith than the resurrection, because without it our faith lacks any real power and our evangelism lacks any real authority.

First off, we looked at the resurrection as a demonstration of power. God, in raising Christ from the dead, did something that is impossible by human means. Christ’s power was seen here more clearly than ever before. Look at Mary Magdalene’s reaction to the empty tomb. The fact that Christ is alive has not even registered with her brain. She is distraught that his body has been stolen or moved, despite even seeing angels flanking the empty tomb. She doesn’t recognize Jesus when he appears to her. Plainly put, resurrection isn’t something that anyone plans to see. I fear, in a way, that we’ve all become so familiar with declaring that Jesus rose from the dead that we’ve lost the incredible nature of that claim. What happened in that moment was the ultimate display of divine power - the shattering of the force that we humans, for all our ingenuity, are powerless to overcome - death.

But why the display? Was God just showing off? Was this the divine equivalent of a rabbit out of a hat? By no means. To truly understand the purpose, we need to look at a parallel event from Jesus’ ministry in Luke 5:17-26. In that section, a paralyzed man is brought to Jesus for healing, and Jesus responds by pronouncing his sins forgiven. The Pharisees are outraged and essentially protest, “Who do you think you are? You can’t forgive sins! That’s God’s business.” Jesus fully anticipates what they’re getting at. Anyone can say, “Your sins are forgiven.” How can we know that it’s true? Christ responds by saying, “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins, get up and walk.” Christ performs a physical miracle as a demonstration of the power that he has over sin. The resurrection does the same thing. I could say that I’m going to throw myself in front of a bus and die for your sins, and I could indeed throw myself in front of a bus – but how can you believe that I’ve bought you cosmic forgiveness? What evidence would there be that I had delivered on my promise? The resurrection is the evidence that Christ has accomplished what he said he would do – seek and save that which is lost. He said as much himself in John 2:18-22.

But the resurrection is not only a demonstration of power, it’s also a declaration of authority. Notice Christ’s focus once he reveals himself to Mary. He speaks of ascending to the father repeatedly. Why the focus on his ascension? After all, the disciples don’t even know he’s alive yet! Philippians 2:8-11 fills us in about the significance of Christ’s exaltation – which began with his resurrection and continued with his ascension to the Father’s right hand – the ultimate position of authority. He stands now above all things, and all men must answer to him – all must one day bow. Christ’s resurrection and exaltation is what establishes him as not one religious leader among many, but as Lord of the universe.

And consider the tremendous effect that has on us as Christians – specifically, on our evangelism. Look at Paul’s exhortation to Titus in Titus 2:11-15. He encourages him to proclaim the gospel of salvation in Christ, and to do so “in all authority. Let no one disregard you.” He tells Titus that his preaching – his exhortations and rebukes – carry ultimate authority and he should preach accordingly. How can he say that? Who is Titus? How can I say to all people when I preach, “You must trust in Jesus Christ in order to have peace with God?” I have no authority. But I don’t proclaim my own authority, I proclaim Christ’s authority, which he has clearly demonstrated by rising from the dead. All people must answer to him. The exclusivity of the gospel would be arrogant (as the world often accuses) if I invented it. However, the authority of the gospel doesn’t rest in me, but in the risen Christ.

Presented with this picture, we all must decide what to do with the authority of Christ – the triumphant conquering king of Revelation 19. Will you reject and fight against it, as many do, or will you embrace it, and take refuge in him as your mighty fortress? There is no more important thing that you will ever consider in your life. Not because I say so, but because the one who died but is alive forevermore said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

Obama on Abortion - The Definitive Look

I know what you're thinking - "D.J., if you hate politics so much, then why are you still talking about it?" Point taken. However, with the election coming up soon, I think this needs to be shared. I've talked with a lot of people over the past few months who are Obama supporters and pro-life. I find this extremely odd. If you're an Obama supporter and pro-life, I implore you to take 20 minutes and carefully read this article. Dr. Robert P. George has written a level-headed, well-reasoned, fact-based look into Sen. Obama's record on abortion. This respected scholar of both law and theology comes to the conclusion that Obama is "the most pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress." Yes, he chooses the term "pro-abortion" purposefully and no, the article isn't filled with Fox-news style sensationalism. This article is the definitive summation of why my conscience will simply not allow me to pull the lever for Obama come November 4th. In our country, millions of human beings are killed each year with the full approval of our government. Not only does Obama see no problem with this, but - and this is a matter of his voting record - he thinks we need to go further.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Oh Yeah, That's Why I Hate Politics

Once upon a time, it was summer in America. The primaries were over, and our eyes looked toward the upcoming election, with two candidates who promised to stay away from politics as usual. Remember when quotes like this filled the airwaves?
"I've pledged to conduct a respectful campaign and I urge, time after time, various entities within the Republican party to also do that." - John McCain

"We don't need John McCain and I to be demonizing each other. You won't get that from my campaign." - Barack Obama

What a respectful, non-demonizing few months its been. Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? Candidates can shout all they want about mavericks and change, but as long as politicians are people then politics will be business as usual. After paying more attention to politics this year than I have have for a while, today I'm reminded why I'm so fed up with the whole mess. It's days like this that make me so grateful for truth like this...
"God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" - Numbers 23:19

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Reminder of What the Gospel Does

“You have been told that God is a loving, gracious, merciful, kind, compassionate, wonderful, and good sky fairy who runs a day care in the sky and has a bucket of suckers for everyone because we're all good people. That is a lie... God looks down and says 'I hate you, you are my enemy, and I will crush you,' and we say that is deserved, right and just, and then God says 'Because of Jesus I will love you and forgive you.' This is a miracle.” – Mark Driscoll

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 10/1/08

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, our study of the Gospel of John came to an event to which it’s been building for 50 lessons – our study of John 19 and its depiction of the crucifixion of Christ. Throughout the book, Jesus has been emphasizing to us the incredible importance of this moment, forecasting his own death repeatedly and telling his followers, “my hour has not yet come.” This “hour” he spoke of was the time when he would give his life for the redemption of humanity from sin. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the most important events in all of Christianity – and in human history. Thus, it is important that we take the time to carefully examine what they mean. Last night, we did exactly that with the cross – examining how it puts our sin on full display. After all, the suffering Christ endured is a direct result of our sin. We even changed the way we do things on Wednesday nights in order to snap our minds out of routine and force us to focus. We entered and exited our study time in silence and spent time meditating on songs that focus us on the cross (such as David Ward’s update of Albert Midlane’s “Look Unto Him”). My wife and another of our youth leaders read aloud Psalm 38 and Isaiah 53 before I said a word. Everything we did, we did to force ourselves to confront the brutal reality of the sin that dwells within each of us, in order that we can more fully appreciate the amazing grace we’ve been given.

We’re confronted first with the brutality of sin in verses 1-16. As John recounts Jesus’ beating and condemnation by Pilate, he focuses us on two things. First, the horrible brutality that Christ endured. His readers would have shuddered at the thought of a Roman flogging. John tells us that Christ is so badly beaten that Pilate, hoping the Pharisees’ bloodlust has been placated, simply stands Jesus before them and exclaims, “Behold the man!” – or as we might have put it, “Look at him! Is this not enough?” However, the Pharisees scream for more, for Christ to die. Yet, as John highlights Christ’s brutal suffering, the second thing that he highlights is that his suffering is for us. Repeatedly, Pilate’s belief that Jesus was guiltless is mentioned. Jesus himself tells Pilate that the only authority Pilate wields is that which the Father has given to him. Jesus is doing this all for a divine purpose, and that is to save his people from their sin.

Next, as Christ dies upon the cross in verses 17-30, we see the curse of sin. We see his physical suffering as he is nailed to the cross and breathes his last, yes, but the details mentioned are mentioned to take us to the reality that Christ was not just dying, but he was bearing the curse of God for sin on our behalf. First, the very mention of execution harkens back to the words of Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Then, there are the curious details mentioned – the soldiers’ gambling for Jesus’ clothes, his thirst, and the fact told to us in the other gospels that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These details are to remind us of prophecy written long before about the one who would deliver us from sin, in particular Psalm 22. Christ’s death took the curse, the wrath of God that we rightly deserve and bore it in full. When we look at the anguish of the cross, we see what our deeds have earned.

What our deeds have earned is death. In Christ’s death, we see the finality of sin, highlighted in verses 31-37. John relates to us that the Romans broke the legs of those crucified to hasten their death, but when they came to Jesus they found that he was already dead. In order to be sure, one of them pierces Christ’s side with his spear, causing a gushing of blood and water. This fact demonstrates that Jesus was in fact dead – his heart had likely ruptured resulting in the pooling of fluid in his chest cavity. John understood that this signified certain death, and he shows us by emphasizing the truth of what he’s reporting, attempting to cut off any who would suggest that Christ never actually died, but only passed out. As the truth of Christ’s death is hammered home, we are forced to reflect on the finality of sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death – a horrible and final judgment made all the more terrifying by Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 10:28. The end result of our sin is our being eternally cut off from the goodness of God. Hell is real (Jesus talked about it more than any other Biblical figure), and from it there’s no going back.

All of that takes us to our final realization – the hopelessness of sin. In verses 38-42 Jesus is put in the ground. Essentially, they have his funeral. To us, the crucifixion is always tinged with hope, because we know the rest of the story – we see the glory of the resurrection. However, put yourselves in the shoes of the disciples. What must that intervening Saturday have been like? Imagine the hopelessness of thinking that the one who promised peace with God was destroyed. That hopelessness, that despair, is where we find ourselves in our sin – powerless to do anything to make things right with God. Our only hope is the beautiful reality expressed in Ephesians 2:1-10 – that God has saved us by his grace because of Christ’s sacrifice. If you don’t know that hope, I implore you as earnestly as humanly possible to seek it at the cross. Christ stands ready to save. As Jonathan Edwards put it, he has “flung wide open the floodgates of mercy.” If you are walking in that hope, then I pray that you will look the horrible, monstrous reality of your sin squarely in the face, that you might realize the incomparable scope and power of the amazing grace of our Lord.

New Lecrae Album

It's official - I love me some Caedmon's Call and Derek Webb, but I can't deny that the best Christian music being produced today is coming from the hip-hop realm. There has been a steady stream of guys who have wedded solid and strong theology with well-produced music, and if you've missed it you need to turn off your local Christian station that plays the same 20 songs over and over and go pick up an album like the 116 Clique's 13 Letters. Lecrae is another such guy, and he's got a brand new album out. Check out this track, "Rebel," which includes some nice samples of Mark Driscoll's preaching.

HT: The Resurgence

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sound Familiar?

"In many ways, then, to look 2,000 years back into Corinth is in a sense to look into a mirror for many cities in our own United States...aesthetically magnificent, politically influential, spiritually confused, and morally bankrupt." - Alistair Begg

So True

HT: Justin Taylor