Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Random Tuesday Question - 3/31/09

Tuesday is a day without an identity. It's not reviled like Monday, gleefully anticipated like Friday, or celebrated like Saturday. It doesn't have a cool name like Wednesday's "humpday," or Sunday's spiritual identity. Let's help Tuesday find itself. Lately, I've been having fun with Blogger's random question feature. So, every Tuesday, I'll take a new question, post my answer here, and ask for yours in the comments. Come on. Tuesday needs you.

Whoops! Your tongue is now a magnet. Whatever will you use for silverware?

I'll never eat. I'll be too busy writhing on the floor in pain after my tongue rips the fillings out of my teeth.

Welcome To the Blogosphere, Montano

I've just added another new blog to my great blogs list - Reformed Kenny. Since he's been blogging for a grand total of about 18 hours now, you may think the label "great blog" is a bit premature, but trust me, Kenny's stuff will be well worth reading. Kenny Montano was my roommate and best friend from college, and he now serves as pastor of Roy Bible Church in Roy, Utah. Go check out his recaps of his current sermon series in Colossians, and keep an eye out for his promised Tuesday DVD recommendations. They'll be like my Friday's Featured Films, only better, since Kenny has more movie knowledge in his little finger than I do in my whole brain.

Blog on, Montano, and welcome.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 3/25/09

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.

In last night’s study of the book of Ecclesiastes, we picked up the same theme that we explored last week, namely, the marks of a life being lived wisely with God as its focus. We looked at Ecclesiastes 7:14-29, examining three truths from the text, sought to understand them, and then discussed how they affect our lives, right here and right now.

First, in verses 14-19, we looked at the first truth – appearance isn’t everything. Solomon discusses the fact that a wise man realizes that the same God has created both the day of prosperity and the day of disaster. He talks about the things he has seen in his life that make little sense to us – often, it seems, the bad guys win and the good guys lose. The world’s reaction to this is reflected to us by Solomon in these verses – don’t be overly righteous (and end up a martyr or a doormat) or overly evil (and end up in trouble and misery), but just live life and look out for yourself. However, how should the Christian react? Solomon tells us that the same God is in control of both the good and bad things that befall us, a God who is perfectly wise and good. The implication, then, is that there is design and a reason behind all things, even when we can’t or don’t see it. Appearances aren’t everything, for our sovereign creator is always at work, weaving the story of human history for his glory and our good. Thus, our reaction should be a trust in him that runs deeper than circumstances. We can lean on him, depend on him, find joy in him – even when times are difficult – a lesson powerfully demonstrated in the life of the prophet Habakkuk.

In verses 20-24, we examined the fact that true wisdom causes humility. Solomon asserts that we all are fallen and tainted by sin. We cannot be too quick to harshly judge others when they wrong us, because we know that we’ve done the same thing to others ourselves. He even admits that though he dedicated his life to the pursuit of wisdom, there is still much about the world that he cannot figure out. True wisdom brings with it a right view of ourselves. We see sins and shortcomings, and we see that we’re not nearly as significant and important as we’d imagined. Thus, true wisdom directs itself outward, building others up rather than calling attention to ourselves. This same lesson is one that Paul taught to the Christians at Corinth, rebuking them for allowing their spiritual knowledge to destroy those around them.

Finally, in verses 25-29, Solomon drives home the truth (which he had come to realize all too well) that marriage is serious business. He talks about a fate worse than death – a woman who serves as a spiritual trap for a man. This could easily be true with the genders flipped – the point is that romantic relationships can easily be a snare rather than the blessing God intended. Solomon learned this lesson the hard way, with his many wives leading him away from God for much of his life. For the teens in my group, marriage seems like a distant prospect. However, this truth has major implications for them as they navigate the minefield that is our modern concept of dating. Consider how strongly Solomon warns against giving ourselves emotionally to the wrong person – he calls it a fate worse than death. There is no person who will have a greater influence on you than the person you marry. This raises the stakes when it comes to looking for that person. Thus, I asked my students, “What are you looking for?” What is it that you are drawn to in the people you’re attracted to? What sort of influence would they have on your spiritual life? Are they someone who will build you up in your love for Christ? If not, then what on earth are you chasing? Romance and marriage are among the most amazing gifts God has given us (for proof, you need go no further than the next book in the Bible, The Song of Solomon). However, it can also be among the most deadly of traps if we’re not seeing it as an avenue for glorifying God, just like everything else Ecclesiastes has discussed. Ultimately, our reaction to difficult times, our level of humility, and our approach to dating and marriage will say a lot about whether we’re living our lives unto God or living the wasted, vain, worldly lives that Solomon warns against. Take stock of these things, and look inward. What do they tell you about yourself?

Unity as Christ-centeredness

"Has it ever occured to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship." - A.W. Tozer

The Humble Star

Any NBA fans, or even sports fans in general, ought to check out this great post from The Blazing Center's Stephen Altrogge on a picture of humility from L.A. Lakers star Lamar Odom.

Set Your DVRs

Tonight at 11:30 on ABC, Nightline will air a panel debate on the existence of Satan that was taped at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mark Driscoll joined a panel along with Deepak Chopra, Bishop Carton Pearson, and Annie Lobert to discuss whether or not the devil is real. Should make for an interesting discussion. You can tune in tonight, or you can now watch the whole thing online, and be sure to check out Mars Hill's preview write-up as well.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From the Heisman to The Least of These

Last night, a guy from my youth group and I attended a benefit dinner for Desire Street Ministries, an urban outreach project started in New Orleans. The evening's speaker was the ministry's executive director, former University of Florida and NFL Quarterback Danny Wuerffel. He spoke on the great importance Jesus put on helping the poor and hopeless, and talked about how that's prompted Desire Street to work for spiritual, physical, and emotional change in several urban communities - and New Orleans in particular, where the ministry began and where it is now leading recovery efforts. From church planting to opening schools to medical clinics, Desire Street seeks to transform communities from the inside out.

The group's approach to ministry was very cool, focusing on an incarnational model where the leaders move into and live in the communities they're trying to reach - echoing Jesus, who came to the earth and lived among us. As Derek Webb put it, "Like the three-in-one, know you must become what you want to save." Wuerffel really reflected and personified this philosophy. He was very much a down-to-earth guy. If you didn't know any better, you'd think you were in the presence of just another ministry leader, not a millionaire who was a superstar in the sports world. I was particularly impacted by an ESPN video that was played focusing on the New Orleans recovery efforts. Wuerffel and his family lost their home in the disaster, and as the video showed him touring the damage, I was struck by just how unremarkable the home was. It looked more like your average middle-class city home than the abode of an NFL quarterback. Many athletes talk a big game when it comes to faith, but in just an hour watching Danny Wuerffel it was quite clear that this was a guy who deeply understood Jesus' message and mission, and sought to follow in his steps. Praise God for his work, and I'd encourage you to seriously think about supporting the work at Desire Street.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hazelwood Stories, #1

This past week, we started a new project at church that we're calling "Hazelwood Stories." Inspired by I Am Second, we're setting out to videotape as many members as are willing telling their personal story of faith in Jesus Christ. The videos are played to open our Sunday morning services once every few weeks, and we're hopeful that they will be an encouragement to our congregation and promote unity among the body. We've opened a Vimeo page to host the videos, and I'll be sharing them here on the blog as well. Here's the first. Scott's a good friend, and I've added his blog, Digital Awe, to the "Great Blogs" sidebar as well - it's full of thoughtful and helpful meditations.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 3/20/09

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.


So, I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for epics. There's just something about a big, sweeping, dramatic film that instantly appeals to me. Movies with an epic feel rank among my all time favorites, from the historically significant (Saving Private Ryan) to the highly entertaining (Star Wars) to the deeply moving (The Last Samurai) and the all-of-the-above (The Lord of the Rings). That fact goes a long way to explaining my desire to see Australia - not the continent, but the dramatic epic set against the backdrop of the WWII-era northern outback. Heather and I, with her parents in town, rented it this week, and while it's not up there with the films I just mentioned, I still found it a very good movie.

Nicole Kidman stars as Lady Sarah Ashley, a wealthy British aristocrat who travels to Australia to get her husband to sell and close down his failing cattle ranch, Faraway Downs. She's met in Darwin by the rough-and-tumble outback cowboy Drover (Hugh Jackman), who has been hired by Mr. Ashley to bring his wife across the wilderness and to the ranch. Upon arriving, they find Mr. Ashley murdered, with an old Aboriginal shaman as the chief suspect. With the greedy cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown) threatening to snuff out his competition and treacherous ranchhand Neil Fletcher running Faraway Downs into the ground, Sarah suddenly finds herself wanting to save the ranch, it's people, and her livelihood by driving the cattle across the outback to market in the hopes of a rich army contract. With the help of Drover and the others - including a half-Aboriginal boy (Brandon Walters) Sarah takes under her wing - Sarah heads for Darwin with the prospect of a new start on the horizon and the danger of World War II looming.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the vibe of Australia is to call it the Australian Gone With the Wind. Director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) set out to make it as such, and he largely succeeded. The film as a whole feels like a throwback to the filmmaking of a bygone era. The characters are strong archetypes and the plot dips unapolagetically into melodrama. There are times when it all feels a bit predictable, but it still feels right, because though the movie feels a bit like one you've seen before, it's still an enjoyable ride. Even the special effects serve the throwback vision. In the movie's first hour, I was a bit concerned that the effects, even something a simple as green-screen work, looked a bit off. Over time, though, it becomes clear that this look is intentional, echoing the days when a background was a matte painting, everyone knew it, and that was that. Rather than distracting from the visual mood of the film, the effects serve it beautifully. There's a lot to look at here, and watching it on Blu-ray the color all but leaped off the screen. It's a long ride (clocking in at about 2 hours, 40 minutes), but an enjoyable one. Look, I'm not going to pretend Australia's a great film. In fact, my above-stated biases probably made me like it more than most will. However, if you share my love for sweeping epics, this is more than worth a rental. - ***1/2 (out of 4)

Australia is rated PG-13 for some violence, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language.

A Primer on the New Atheism

Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Sam Harris. Daniel Dennett. You may or may not know the names, but chances are if you've had a discussion about God with an atheist in the last few years you know their ideas. Their bold and confident pronouncements against theistic belief - and largely Christian belief in particular - have topped bestseller lists and influenced countless people. Their ideas have become so pervasive among atheists that I can almost see them coming before a conversation begins. Their movement, often referred to as the "new atheism," is a cultural reality that any serious Christian needs to pay mind to. I recently finished a book that would be a good tool for someone who wants to do just that, Al Mohler's Atheism Remix.

The book is a short and quick read (I knocked it out in two sessions of about a half-hour each), and not spectacularly deep in its analysis, but it does an excellent job of introducing the reader to these men and their ideas. I'm pretty confident that a person who didn't know The God Delusion from War and Peace could read Mohler's book and emerge with a good foundational understanding at the ideas that the new atheists are advancing. One of Mohler's many talents is his ability to shape his communication to fit his audience (as anyone who's heard him preach at both a seminary convocation and a local church knows full well), and he presents his material here in a way that's not dumbed down but that also doesn't require a collegiate course in theology and philosophy. The book's accessibility makes it perfectly suited for the curious layman.

However, its accessibility is a limitation as well as a strength. For those who are already familiar with the new atheists, there's not a whole not of new material here. Mohler summarizes who they are and what they believe, then lays out the cultural consequences of their ideas (another great talent of his) and provides some basic responses from across the theological spectrum. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the brief treatment of McGrath and Plantinga's responses, I would have liked to see more in depth analysis from Mohler himself. However, that's just simply not the aim of the book. I don't think he's trying to teach a graduate course on the matter, but to offer an introduction to a challenge that will have a huge impact on a generation of believers. If you'd like to understand and begin to think about the new atheism, Mohler's book would be a great place to start. If Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like are old-hat to you, then you'll probably want to take a pass here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 3/18/09

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.

As we moved into our tenth week studying Ecclesiastes last night, the general theme of the book has become very clear. Solomon makes the case that all of life is meaningless and vain unless viewed through the lens of God and lived for his glory. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about why that is and breaking down Solomon’s points, but last night we looked at verses 1-13 of chapter 7 and talked about exactly what a life focused on God looks like. Once we’ve established that only God can give life meaning and we desire to live for his glory, how should we do it? What does such a life look like? We examined the answers, which are reflected in a series of proverbs that open the chapter.

The first thing we need to live lives of Godly wisdom in the right mindset. In verses 1-6, Solomon contrasts the wise man and the fool – a common theme in his proverbs. What is surprising, however, is the mindset that he says characterizes each. Solomon paints the fool as in a state of revelry and happiness, but says that the wise are marked by mourning and sadness. This seems strange to us. Is happiness a bad thing? Are we to be some kind of spiritual masochists, seeking out pain and eschewing pleasure? I don’t think that’s what the text is saying at all. What it is saying is that we need to have a sober mindset when it comes to this life. We need to be people who take serious things seriously, and think deeply about what this life is all about. What are the times in life that tend to cause us to think deeply about what’s really important? It’s usually the painful times. Think of how our nation’s culture changed, albeit briefly, in the wake of 9/11. Suddenly, there was a deeper sense of community among people, church attendance rose, and most people started to think more about what really matters. Sadness and pain tend to have this effect on us, while good times tend to lull us into coasting along without a thought. Solomon says that it a wise person, a Godly person, will think deeply about life and have a sober and focused outlook.

In verses 7-13, we see that once we have the right mindset in place, we need to have the right heart. What sort of things highlight the person who is living a life of Godly wisdom? We examined five characteristics from these verses. The first is integrity, which is seen in verse 7. Solomon says that the corrupting influence of sin can drive mad the wisest man. We need to be people of character who do what is right regardless of whether or not someone is watching. As James 1:26-27 points out, true faith in God is demonstrated by actions. Second, we need to be people of patience in both our actions and our attitudes. In verses 8-9, we see Solomon teaching that it is better to see something whole from the end than to make rash judgments at its beginning, and he warns of the danger of letting anger easily take up residence in our hearts. James warns about this as well in his famous admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Third, we need to have a spirit of contentment. Unlike the man Solomon describes in verse 10 who longs for the good ol’ days, we need to be people who rejoice in whatever circumstances God places us in and seek to learn from and glorify him in the midst of those circumstances. Like Paul in Philippians 4:11-13, we will likely face times in our lives when we have much and times when we have little. We need to have the same attitude of contentment in each. Fourth, we need to display wise judgment. Verses 11-12 talk about how wisdom is a guard, helping us to use what God has given us wisely. Coming at the heels of our thoughts on contentment, no matter our circumstances we should strive to use what God has given us to his glory – including our possessions, yes, but also our time, talents, energy, relationships, and every other aspect of our lives. As Jesus parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 shows, God has blessed all of us for a purpose, and he calls us to use our gifts in his service. Finally, we need to be people of obedience. Verse 13 tells us that fighting against God is futile. If we truly want to live wise lives that are not wasted, we will bring ourselves into conformity to God and his word rather than seeking to live by our own rules.

So, how does your life stack up to this calling? Do you have the right mindset, seeing this life with sobriety and a focus on what is truly important? Does your heart reflect the virtues that God says come from wisdom? No doubt, we can all see failings in our lives in these various areas. Thankfully, God promises to give wisdom to all who ask for it. Draw near to the throne of grace, seeking wisdom for a life that’s not wasted, and thanking God for the cross of Christ, which ultimately triumphs over our failures and brings us to the Lord.

Let the Madness Begin!

Today, the annual spectacle that is the NCAA Basketball Tournament kicks off. Though I'm pulling for Louisville to go the distance, I've got a "too-good-to-be-true" feeling about their sudden ascent to prominence. You can see where I've got them making their exit, as well as the rest of my picks, above (click on the picture for a better view). Sound off on your own picks in the comments.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Random Tuesday Question - 3/17/09

Tuesday is a day without an identity. It's not reviled like Monday, gleefully anticipated like Friday, or celebrated like Saturday. It doesn't have a cool name like Wednesday's "humpday," or Sunday's spiritual identity. Let's help Tuesday find itself. Lately, I've been having fun with Blogger's random question feature. So, every Tuesday, I'll take a new question, post my answer here, and ask for yours in the comments. Come on. Tuesday needs you.

You're wearing a sweater that stretches down to your feet. What color belt do you put on?

Belt? If my sweater goes to my feet, I'm not even wearing pants!

Monday, March 16, 2009


What do you get when you take a bunch of unrelated YouTube music clips and put them in the hands of somebody with a good editing program and an incredible creative vision?


HT: The Blazing Center

Are You a Respectable Sinner?

Over the weekend, I finished up Jerry Bridges' book Respectable Sins. Though the title may seem a bit odd (it was a great conversation starter with some of my co-workers), the premise of the book is much needed and incredibly useful. As the church today fails to miss a beat in condemning the grievous sins of society, Bridges challenges Christians to take a hard look at the less-obvious, but all-too-serious sins we tolerate in our own lives - our own "respectable" sins. Anger. Bitterness. Envy. Pride. Judgmentalism. You won't hear fiery polemics on these topics like you will about abortion, sexual immorality, or Godlessness, but they are alive and well in our lives, made all the more dangerous by their insidious nature. By treating them as "respectable," we often are blind to their devastating effects on our spiritual walks.

After introducing his premise in the opening chapters, Bridges examines several of these sins in detail chapter-by-chapter, examining how they often pop up in our lives and what we can do to battle against them. The book is incredibly disarming, showing self-styled "good people" like us just how much we still struggle with sin - and how easily we even give up the struggle and accept some sins as normal. This could be an incredibly depressing topic to explore if not for the pastoral heart that Bridges writes with. His lifetime of wisdom and gentle demeanor overflow out of every page. What could be a shattering condemnation instead has a hopeful tone, as Bridges constantly exhorts us to put our trust in the grace of Christ - both for our salvation and our sanctification. He is honest about his own failings, and offers extremely practical advice for overcoming the stumbling blocks of sin.

I can't recommend this one highly enough. It's a fairly quick and easy read that is well-suited to careful and prolonged study. One could easily read through the book in an afternoon, but I found I benefited greatly by spreading it out over a few weeks, deliberately meditating on each chapter. I think this book would be especially useful as part of a small-group study (in fact, the back of the book contains information about ordering study guides). There's not one person among us or in our churches that couldn't benefit from this challenging, yet ultimately encouraging book. Give it a read.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I Believe This Would Classify as a "Choke"

This is from a game in 2007, but I just stumbled upon it today. Wow.

Friday's Featured Film - 3/13/09

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.

Matchstick Men

I was having a conversation the other day with a friend about Ridley Scott's 2003 film Matchstick Men that reminded me 1) just how great a film it is, and 2) that I really need to sit down and watch in again. The movie landed at #2 on my top 10 of 2003 (behind only The Return of the King) and is one of my all-time favorites. It's funny, charming, smart, and has some great things to say about what's important in life. I don't know when I'll get around to giving it another spin through my DVD player, but I recommend it to you wholeheartedly.

The movie tells the story of two con-men, Roy (Nicolas Cage) and Frank (Sam Rockwell). Roy is the crafty veteran, though hampered by a laundry list of phobias, ticks, and a nasty case of OCD. Frank is his partner and protege who, concerned for Roy's well being, suggests he sees a therapist. Over the course of therapy, Roy decides to confront his failed marriage a decade earlier. When reaching out to his ex-wife, Roy discovers he has a 14-year old daugher (Alison Lohman) he's never met. He seeks to reach out to her and enter her life as he and Frank plan their most ambitious con yet.

I'm a huge Nicolas Cage fan (though yes, he occasionally makes some really dumb career choices), and this movie features him at his absolute best. Roy is a character who is strange, likeable, sympathetic and distant all at the same time. I was really surprised his performance (and the film in general) wasn't more widely recognized. The rest of the cast is superb as well, especially Lohman, who injects Angela with just the right combination of rebelliousness and innocence. The writing is magnificent, and Scott pulls it all together into a seamless and riveting story (as he seemingly always does). What starts as a simple cat and mouse con game takes on an entirely new scope as Roy begins to see his daughter taking after him - and suddenly what was perfectly acceptable in his life seems problematic, if not downright dangerous. Matchstick Men is the type of film that starts off quick, witty, and light but pulls on your heart by the end - all without ever feeling plastic or contrived. No matter what your taste in movies, this is a film that I think has something to offer everyone. Give it a shot. - **** (out of 4)

Matchstick Men is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now

Time Magazine puts together the list for their new cover story. #3? "The new Calvinism." Cool writeup.

HT: Justin Taylor

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 03/11/09

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.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your life? This was the question that opened our Bible study last night as we took a look at Ecclesiastes 6. Everybody seeks satisfaction in life – we all want happiness, fulfillment, and contentment. People seek satisfaction in many different ways with varying degrees of success. In our passage, Solomon looks at the many things that people chase after while examining the fact that they do not necessarily bring satisfaction. Why do these things fail? What then, is the answer?

First, in verses 1-9, we examined several things that are failed attempts at satisfaction for people in our world. The first is obvious, and it’s a topic that has come up several times already in our Ecclesiastes study – wealth. Solomon, in speaking of a man who has much but no enjoyment (satisfaction) of what he has, mentions first great wealth and possessions. We lumped those two together for our discussion last night. All around us – made even more clear in light of our current economic conditions – people spend their lives chasing after money and all it can buy, thinking that prosperity will equal a happy life. Yet, as our current economy also shows, money is fleeting, and many who have it still are left with a great emptiness. The next item after those is honor. People seek satisfaction in how others think of them. This can range from a desire for fame to simply wanting to be impressive to those in our social circle. I mentioned last night how these first two pursuits betray themselves on a show like American Idol (I admit, yes, I’m a fan). Many of the contestants from rough backgrounds talk about how the show is a chance to have a happier life. They say this because the show offers the promise of fame and fortune. Now, is there anything wrong in wanting to be a famous singer? Not necessarily. However, seeking satisfaction in honor and wealth will never deliver. Want proof? Pick up a copy of any entertainment or celebrity magazine and look the lives that are in shambles, all while having everything under the sun.

The next failed source of satisfaction may surprise – it’s people. Our secular culture, when it’s trying to be noble, will say that money doesn’t matter, it’s people and relationships that are most important. While there’s truth in that, no human relationship can ever truly offer satisfaction. Solomon says that a man can father a hundred children and still never find fulfillment. There are few greater gifts that God has given than human relationships. The Bible puts an incredible premium on our family relationships, and on how we relate to fellow believers in the church. However, people are no perfect source of satisfaction. They die and are gone, and they can make mistakes and inflict unbelievable pain. As a source of satisfaction, they ultimately fall short. Next, we looked at life itself as a source of satisfaction. Solomon asserts that a man could live a thousand years twice over and still not find peace. Plug in here all the things in this world that we seek to fill our lives with in order to have joy and meaning. All of them, without exception, come up short. Take any endeavor, any field of greatness, and you will find some who had it all and still yearned for more. Finally, as Solomon speaks about the wandering the appetite, we looked at the way that many people seek satisfaction in the search itself. Questions are more important than answers, they say. The journey is more important than the destination. People embark on a never-ending quest for knowledge, and can wind up even more unfulfilled then when they started.

So what can fulfill? What can really bring satisfaction? In verses 10-12, Solomon shifts his focus, beginning to talk about “one greater than [man]” before asking the question, “Who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life?” While he doesn’t supply an explicit answer here, his answer is clear to anyone who knows the theme of the book, or indeed, the overarching theme of the Bible – God. God alone can ultimately bring satisfaction. He has created us to enjoy his glory forever, and thus anything else that we try to plug in his place will never satisfy as we crave it to. We are wired for God, and nothing else can take his place. All those things we talked about – wealth, honor, people, life, searching – will never give the satisfaction and fulfillment that a life shrouded in God’s grace, basking in his glory, and submitted to his wisdom will bring. As I said, those things are not necessarily bad. The vital aspect is seeing those things as gifts from God. When we have that approach, we will see those things as subservient in our hearts to God, and channels for worship to God. Instead of looking at our possessions and saying, “These are mine and they bring me happiness,” we will say, “Thank you God for blessing me with these things. Help me to enjoy them in a way that reminds my heart of your goodness.”

So, on that 1 to 10 scale, how satisfied are you with your life? If the answer is low, or even just lower than you’d like, what is it you lack that causes you to be dissatisfied? If you find yourself seeking satisfaction in something other than Christ, I pray that you’ll see the radiance of his glory, which, as Psalm 63 says, is able to quench our deepest longings.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Random Tuesday Question - 3/10/09

Tuesday is a day without an identity. It's not reviled like Monday, gleefully anticipated like Friday, or celebrated like Saturday. It doesn't have a cool name like Wednesday's "humpday," or Sunday's spiritual identity. Let's help Tuesday find itself. Lately, I've been having fun with Blogger's random question feature. So, every Tuesday, I'll take a new question, post my answer here, and ask for yours in the comments. Come on. Tuesday needs you.

You have to dig a hole to China. Where do you start?

Mongolia - about two feet from the Chinese border. Path of least resistance, people.

Can an Elder Be Divorced?

Greek scholar Bill Mounce posts some excellent thoughts on the topic as it pertains to 1 Timothy 3:2. This is a passage we've discussed recently at my church, and I found Mounce's thoughts incredibly helpful for framing the discussion.

HT: Tim Challies

Monday, March 9, 2009

Americans vs. Jesus on Entering Heaven

If you're a news junkie, chances are you've already seen the recently-released survey on religion in America that indicates that Americans are leaving organized religion, especially Christianity, behind. The survey has some interesting things to say, but I was even more intrigued by an article re-posted on USA Today about a similar survey taken last fall. In this one, 54% of respondents said that over half of "average Americans" will make it into heaven. The question is asked again of several different religions (or non-religious) groups with varying results, but it's the underlying assumption that interests me. Since the majority of our country self-identifies as Christian, I found it interesting to hear their idea on heaven as contrasted with Jesus.

The survey seems to suggest that people think that your average Joe is good-to-go. What did Jesus have to say in Matthew 5, though? In a chapter where he gives an impossibly lofty moral standard, he begins with the assertion that "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The scribes and the Pharisees were the "super-religious" of the day, the people who followed God's commands with zeal and fervor, and even invented their own commands to fill in the gaps. Jesus said that their righteousness is not sufficent to enter heaven. He then concludes the chapter with the even more stunning proclamation - "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Jesus holds up perfection as the standard we must meet for acceptance into God's kingdom.

This sentiment is further expressed in Jesus' famous declaration to the rich young man in Luke 18, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” All these sayings serve to build up an incredible standard, such that the disciples eventually asked, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus repiles, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." Notice his implication - it is impossible for men to gain access to heaven. This can only be accomplished by God's free grace, a grace that Scripture makes explicitly clear is given through faith in Jesus.

It's pretty clear that though we're a nation where a lot of people say they follow Jesus, precious few have actually looked to see what he has to say. This should cause us all to take a closer look at the gospel we proclaim. Are you communicating the Gospel of grace, or an easy, average Joe, be-a-good-person folk religion? Pastors, how would the people in your church answer this survey? We all need to be careful to examine the faith we proclaim, lest we contribute to the generation that has seemingly adopted a Christianity with very little Christ.

Preach the Gospel With Your Tip

As one who spent four years working in a restaurant, I can attest to the truth of what Driscoll says here. Listen closely.

HT: Vitamin Z

Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 3/6/09

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 new film The Watchmen is getting a lot of publicity this week. I’d never heard of the graphic novel until the trailers started showing up, and to be honest I’ve not really been hooked by what I’ve seen so far. However, I’m impressed by the stylish look of the clips I’ve seen, no doubt due in large part to director Zach Snyder. Snyder directed another film from a couple years ago with style to spare, the similarly-graphic-novel based action romp 300. For those who aren’t put off by some of the content, the movie is a beautifully crafted action film that’s certainly worth a look.

300 is a stylized retelling of the ancient battle of Thermopylae. Based on a graphic novel by the acclaimed Frank Miller (Sin City, The Spirit), the movie follows Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his band of 300 elite warriors as they defend Greece from the onslaught of the Persian army, millions-strong and led by self-styled god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). As his wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Heady, who fans of FOX’s Terminator TV show will instantly recognize), seeks diplomatic support for her husband and his men back home, the brave 300 seek to hold a narrow past against impossible odds.

Careful history, this is not. The movie is ultra-stylized, from the exaggerated and fantastic creatures to the beautiful CG landscapes to the amazing combat cinematography that splatters a generous amount of blood in every direction. On that front, let me point out straight away that this is not a film for the squeamish. The violence is graphic – stylized, but graphic. It’s not the brutal realism of Saving Private Ryan or Braveheart, but the slo-mo hacking of limbs and heads will simply be too much for some viewers. Between that reality and the film’s brief sexual scenes, the content may make this one a non-starter for some viewers. If not, this is a masterfully constructed, tightly-wound, and surprisingly artistic action film. When we first saw it, Heather and I both walked out of the theater buzzing about the film’s breathtaking visual sense. Color is used with purpose and precision, and the movie takes the style and cinematic tone of Sin City (which, for all it’s cinematographic wonder, was ultimately quite shallow) and pairs it with a far more engaging story. Butler is captivating as Leonidas, and he gets good work from a supporting cast that includes Lord of the Rings alum David Wenham and Shakespearean actor Vincent Regan (who fans of the movie Troy will recognize). All-in-all, this recommendation carries a strong warning for content, but if your interest is piqued by The Watchmen’s visual flair but you don’t want to shell out 10 bucks to see if the film delivers, head down to your local video store and check out a copy of 300 instead. - ***1/2 (out of 4)

300 is rated R for graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity.

So I Had a Bad Day

Note: The song of the above video should be listened to while reading this post. It really sets the tone, and it will be stuck in your head for the remainder of the day. You're welcome. Also, I am not responsible for any flashbacks to season 5 of American Idol that you may experience while listening to this song. Some things are better left in the past, I know. Ace Young is one of them.

Tuesday was a really crappy day. Everything, it seemed, was stacked against me and conspiring to drive me crazy. I won't get into the details. They're really not all that important. What is important is what I learned about myself in the process. In the event that it's helpful, here you go. File these away for your next bad day.

1) My "niceness" is frail. I tend to be a pretty laid-back, easygoing person. I am often complemented for being "nice." However, it took a surprisingly short time on Tuesday for me to turn into a total jerk. I carried an attitude for most of the evening that necessitated several apologies to my wife on Wednesday morning. Looking at how little had to go wrong to make me feel like I had license to act however I wanted with no regard for others was a humbling window to just how much selfishness I have in me.

2) My focus is often misplaced. The scary part is that this can happen without me noticing it. Never in a million years would I have told you that I was too attached to my barbecue grill, but - as I noted yesterday - when it wasn't working right, I became incredibly stressed and upset. It was a strong reminder to just how easily I fall into the trap of buying into what this world deems important - namely, stuff.

3) Grace is enough. Though we say we're dependant on grace, I think far too often we, perhaps even subconsciously, tend to think that our goodness has something to do with our standing before God. When we're doing well spiritually, he accepts us, and when we're doing poorly spiritually, he pushes us away. This is a lie. The reason that we have a right standing before God is because he chooses to look past our sins and look upon the free gift of righteousness we have because of Jesus. Our acceptance is not merit based, or we'd all be screwed. I realized this as I apologized to Heather on Wednesday, and her forgiveness was quick and complete. I didn't deserve it, but there it was, a little microcosm of the forgiveness that the Father has bestowed on us by grace through faith in Christ.

In the sports world, they say that sometimes you learn more in defeat than you do in victory. God used my bad day to teach me some powerful lessons about grace and sanctification in my life. Even my sin served to give him glory. Shall I go on sinning that grace may abound? Of course not! But I hope and pray that the next time the camera don't lie and you're ready to sing a sad song just to turn it around, you'll realize that though we all are great sinners, Christ is a greater savior.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 3/4/09

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 study of Ecclesiastes (with no computer problems) by looking at the topic of money. There are several different views within modern Christianity about money and how it should be approached – from the health-wealth crowd that looks at it as a major part of God’s blessing, to people who lift up Jesus as demonstrating that poverty is a more admirable lifestyle. So how should we view money? Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or somewhere in between?

Looking at the second half of chapter 5, we broke the text down and looked at three different pictures of wealth that Solomon paints for us. The first, in verses 8-12, is a look at money as an evil master. Solomon points out that oppression of the poor and weak in the name of profit is so commonplace that it is to be expected, and yet the one who loves wealth will never be satisfied by it. Yet, he points out, the one who does not chase money but has peace is blessed whether he has a little or a lot. The thrust of the passage is that money will destroy those who are consumed by it. The old adage goes, “Money is a good servant but an evil master.” It’s quite true. Money can be used for many good ends, and material possessions can be enjoyable and good (if you disagree, then it would seem odd that you’re reading this on a computer that likely cost you a pretty penny). However, when money becomes something that we strive after, something that consumes us, we will never have enough and we will always be chasing after something new, rather than resting in the God who gives all good gifts.

The next picture, in verses 13-17, is that of an empty promise. Money is not as secure and sure as it seems – a truth that our nation is facing in full force. Solomon tells of a man who was wealthy, and was greedy over his wealth (“kept them to his hurt”), but then lost it all in a bad decision. Suddenly, this man had nothing to his name, nothing to pass to his son, nothing to give him security – he would end his days as naked as he came into the world. So many people measure their security in their bank account. We all are easily tempted into this feeling. When our account is running short, our stress level goes up, and we seem to think that if we could just pad things a little, then it all would be alright. Yet money is no solid rock. Only God can fill that role. Look around at the giants of our economy, billion-dollar companies, that are now bankrupt or out of business entirely. Three years ago Heather and I bought a new TV from Circuit City. By this summer, Circuit City will no longer exist. Anyone who looks to their money or their possessions for their stability is trusting in an empty promise.

Finally, in verses 18-20, we see money presented as a dangerous gift. In this passage, Solomon says that it is a blessing from God to benefit from your work – and to have the ability to enjoy those benefits. He says that money and possessions are a gift from God, if one is able to enjoy them properly. This is what makes them a dangerous gift, because we are so apt to be consumed with possessions, rather than enjoying them to the glory of God. The blurring of this line can be subtle – in fact, I didn’t realize it was cropping up in a way in my life until this week, when I became very irritated at the fact that my barbeque grill wasn’t working right. When I started complaining to Heather that I really hoped it wasn’t broken, she answered with, “So what if it is? It’s just a grill!” It was an instant reminder to me that I can become quickly consumed with my stuff. It’s not a bad thing to have stuff and to enjoy stuff. I’m not telling you that you need to sell everything you have and go live in a cave to be more holy. What I am saying is that we all need to check ourselves regularly to see how we’re handling God’s dangerous gift. Do you own your money, or does your money own you? Do you see everything you have as a gift from God, to be enjoyed to his glory but also to be expendable for his kingdom’s sake? Is the focus of your life, both on a big-picture level and a day-to-day practical level, the fleeting things this world chases after or the solid rock of Christ? Examine your heart and see where your attitudes and actions need to shift. After all, it’s just a grill.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Is Smoking Sinful? Part II - A Response to R.A. Torrey

Last month, I commented on Tim Challies' reflections on whether or not smoking is sinful (he, and I, conclude it is not necessarily). Today, Challies linked to an article on The Scriptorium by R.A. Torrey that takes the opposing view, and I feel it does so with poor arguments. Torrey offers a clear, well-presented 5-point outline of his case, so I'd like to respond on a point-by-point basis.
First. Tobacco costs money and does the one who uses it no good and the money that belongs to God is squandered. Many professedly Christian men spend as much money every year on tobacco as would support several native workers in China or India or Africa.
Yes, tobacco costs money that could be used for other purposes. So does a piece of cheesecake, a ticket to a football game, a nice pen, and the bow tie Torrey wears in his (very cool) sketch picture. Like tobacco, none of those things produce any good, save for personal enjoyment. Yet, nobody is railing against the inherent evils of desserts, attending football games, collecting fountain pens and wearing ties. Unless one is going to advocate a strict asceticism (which seems to be contrary to a well-balanced view of Scripture, especially considering my recent study of Ecclesiastes), then this argument doesn't seem to hold up, as it's not applied with consistency across the spectrum of the Christian life.
Second. Tobacco is physically injurious to at least the overwhelming majority of those who use it. Some it hurts more than it does others. Many a minister’s life has been shortened by the use of tobacco. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost and we have no right to do anything that impairs their health or strength.
Replace tobacco with cheesecake or cheeseburgers and that statement holds equally true. I would wager good money that more ministers have their lives cut short from the effects of cholesterol and heart disease than lung or throat cancer. Yet no one is saying that a man with a fondness for Sara Lee or Hardee's isn't "going all-out" for God.

Third. The use of tobacco is a filthy habit. It cannot be made anything but filthy. Some are not so filthy as others in their use of tobacco but every tobacco user sooner or later becomes more or less a filthy person, and we are specifically commanded in the Word of God to “Cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh.”
This one makes little sense to me. Define filthy. Is Torrey talking here about the smell of cigarette smoke (which I dislike as well)? What is his criteria for saying that "every tobacco user sooner or later becomes more or less a filthy person?" When Paul said to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh," I don't think that's quite what he had in mind.

Fourth. No person can use tobacco without infringing on the rights of other people. A man who smokes pollutes the air about him for at least 20 feet in every direction and forces others to breathe this polluted air. The man who chews, disgustingly defiles walks and floors and streets with his tobacco juice. Many a husband poisons his wife and his children with the fumes of his tobacco. The head of an institution for the care of sickly children in a British city told me that the overwhelming majority of the children that came to them for care came there because they had been poisoned by the fumes of the tobacco with which their fathers had polluted the air in the rooms in which they slept. The use of tobacco is one of the most selfish of all habits. The tobacco user, even the most careful, seems to become more or less oblivious to the rights and feelings of others.
I can sympathize with his points here, having worked for four years of my life in a restaurant before Louisville's smoking ban. I've never smoked a cigarette in my life, but I'm sure that I smoked countless packs secondhand while waiting tables. However, one isn't necessarily infringing on the rights of others when one smokes. I enjoy one or two cigars a year. I smoke them outside, on my porch, in the company of friends who are also smoking them. Sure, many smokers show no consideration to others - but that is a fault of the smoker, and not a necessary consequence of smoking.

Fifth. No man in our day can use tobacco with out losing his influence with somebody. We could give specific instances of men who in many respects are men of extraordinary power who have lost their influence, and who have done positive harm to the cause of Christ, by their use of tobacco. Every out and out Christian desires his life to count to the uttermost for God and will not do anything, no matter how innocent in itself, which he has reason to think will rob him of an ounce of influence for God with anybody. If one will stop to candidly think of it, he must know that the use of tobacco will rob him of the influence with some whom he might and ought to reach and help.
To this, I give two points in response. First, I believe that Torrey grossly exaggerates this concern. I know many Christian men who smoke (in moderation), and I can say emphatically that none of them have lost their gospel influence because of it. If anything, I've found that lost people are more apt to listen to a man who calls sin what Scripture calls sin and nothing more than a man who harps on a pet list of sins that are foriegn to God's Word. Secondly, who are we going to lose influence with? The most likely group would be Christians who believe that smoking is a sin. Does their disapproval necessarily mean that we should stop what they disapprove of? Many professing Christians would tune me out because I don't use the King James Bible or may not wear a suit and tie on Sunday morning. Should I change my convictions to placate them and avoid losing my influence? Does their disapproval make my behavior sinful?

In all, I think that Torrey's argument falls flat on every point. Scripture nowhere condemns smoking as sinful. If you feel that it is unwise to smoke, then that is a perfectly commendable personal conviction - but it is a personal conviction, not a Biblical mandate. Do you have concerns with Torrey's thoughts? With mine? Join the discussion in the comments.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Another Hidden Gem

Alright, if you still haven't visited NoiseTrade.com, then seriously, what are you waiting for? Go check the site out now. Right now. Stop reading my silly blog and go. Well, I suppose you could go after you finish reading this post. And maybe a couple others.

Derek Webb's brainchild is a fantastic way to discover indie artists of all shades, all for free. You can download any music from the site for free in exchange for emailing 5 friends, or if you'd rather you can pay whatever you think is fair for the music. It's a fantastic tool, both for artists and for fans. I blogged a while back about finding Rick Hopkins' excellent Where We Are and Where We Long to Be through the site, and last week I found another comparable jewel - Matt Papa's Your Kingdom Come.

After listening through the CD, Heather and I decided that Papa sounds like what you'd get if you threw U2, Queen, David Crowder Band, and strong theology (he has a doctrinal statement on his website, and a darn good one at that) in a blender. The music is an edgy pop-rock that for the most part maintains a fresh feel throughout, though there are a couple tracks that were a tad derivative for my taste. Some of the more subdued songs pack the biggest lyrical punch, including the beautiful "Hymn in C," the closing "I Will Trust in You My God," and the brutally prophetic "Woe to You" (which reminded me a lot of Derek Webb's early solo stuff). Papa is a treat vocally, evoking (strange as it seems) echoes of the late, great Freddie Mercury at times. Your Kingdom Come would be a great pickup if you bought it in a store, much more so thanks to the no-lose nature of NoiseTrade. Go take a look. Seriously, now you can go. Thanks for finishing the post.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Now That's a Wardrobe Malfunction

Note to weathermen everywhere - when you're doing green-screen work, don't wear your green tie.

The Change of Seasons and the Risen Christ

Douglas Wilson offers some great reflections on the connection between the two. As one who just this morning talked of how ready I am for winter to be over, this resonated deeply with me. I've also added Wilson's blog, Blog and Mablog, to my sidebar. It's frequently filled with well-written theological reflections - and it's got the greatest title in the history of bloggerdom.

Watch Yourself, Because Your Kids Are

Zach Neilsen posted this quote from Douglas Wilson on parenting...
“The story of child rearing is almost wholly about imitation. We do good or ill, and the young ones follow in lock step, no matter how much we talk and point elsewhere. They are designed that way…

This inescapable imitation should be listed as a means of growing in grace. Parents often jest about their children being ‘means of sanctification,’ suggesting that child rearing is often a trial. But the situation is much more serious than a passing trial. Given the way children have to imitate parents (or whoever fills that role), one cannot just coast passively, selfishly, like we often do through tough times. Our tiniest daily responses in front of the kids constantly mold and chip away at their persons. Children are a means of sanctification because they are daily adopting their parents’ characters, virtues and vices and all. This is a blessing when we are faithful, but it’s a frightening mirror when we see our own sins growing in them. With kids around, we can’t just move slowly on our own growth. We have to grow in grace for the sake of the kids. If we don’t, then we can become a curse to them and their children.” - Douglas Wilson