Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 5/29/09

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 DaVinci Code

About two years ago, everyone was talking about this little book called The DaVinci Code. It seemed like everyone you met was either hailing it as the greatest book ever or railing against it as the tome of antichrist himself. So, with a movie based on the book about to come out, I decided that if I was going to have an opinion about it, I probably ought to read it and see what all the fuss was about. It was a great novel, an engaging read full of twists and turns that kept me gripped until I’d finished it in just a few days. As for the controversy, well, let’s just say that as good as the book was from a narrative standpoint, it was just as bad from a historical standpoint. In the end, though, it left my wife and I interested in seeing the film, especially with Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen, and director Ron Howard attached. Our interest waned when the movie opened to surprisingly subpar reviews, but with the prequel/sequel film Angels & Demons opening this month, we finally decided to give DaVinci a whirl last night. What we found was a movie that, while not ultimately a bad film, just didn’t capture everything that worked about the book.

Tom Hanks stars as Dr. Robert Langdon, a professor of religious symbology at Harvard. While in Paris giving a speech, Langdon is approached by the police. The curator at The Louvre, an acquaintance whom he was supposed to meet for lunch that afternoon, had turned up mysteriously murdered in the museum itself. As Langdon arrives at the scene, he quickly realizes, thanks to the curator’s granddaughter, officer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), that he is not being called in as a consultant, but as a suspect. Believing that her grandfather gave her his name to help crack the puzzle and find his killer, Sophie helps Langdon escape custody and the two begin a quest that will eventually lead them on a hunt for the fabled Holy Grail. However, (and I’m going to assume here that the cat’s out of the bag for just about everyone, so spoiler warning) after a conversation with one of Langdon’s old colleagues (Ian McKellen), they discover a shocking secret – the grail is not a cup, but the body of Mary Magdalene, who was actually Jesus’ wife and bore his daughter, starting a royal bloodline that continues to this day, protected by a secret society called the Priory of Sion and hunted ruthlessly by the Vatican.

Obviously, one can understand why that plotline would irk those of us who have placed our faith and trust in the Jesus of Scripture. Let me assure you, you’ve got nothing to fear here. The history cobbled together to form this conspiracy theory is at times laughable, a mishmash of exposed fraud, half-truth, fantastical interpretation of classical art, and just plain false details of church history. For one who claims a very factual backdrop for his novel, Brown is seriously lacking credibility as a historian. So really, the novel and the movie work on the fantasy-quest level of something like an Indiana Jones or National Treasure film, though unfortunately it doesn’t seem its own creator fully realizes that. So, taking it for the work of fiction that it is, it’s a well-crafted story, full of interesting characters, a solid pace, and a host of twists that will keep you guessing to the end. The problem with the film is that the story just isn’t as engaging visually as it is on the page. This isn’t an action-driven tale, but one where most of the “action” takes place in conversation and conspiracy, and it just doesn’t entirely work here. Though the adaptation is thus limited in its potential, Howard does a pretty good job at getting what he can out of it. I was never bored over the film’s nearly 2 ½ hour running time, a decent accomplishment considering that I already knew everything that was going to happen (and as best as I can recall, the film stuck to the book pretty faithfully). The story is well staged and paced, and it’s a testament to Brown’s narrative that his story remains engaging even in a medium it’s not entirely suited for. There are problems aplenty, though, none of them are too major. While McKellen turns in a great performance, Hanks just doesn’t really work in the title role. This is one of the first times I can ever recall him as coming off as wooden and stiff, but he does, and some key moments suffer for it. Some of the conversations that are heavy on the exposition side (I’m thinking in particular about the revelation at Teabing’s ch√Ęteau of the big conspiracy) feel a bit forced and stilted, and they don’t flow quite as naturally as they did on the page. However, the story’s big plot twist in its final third is handled very well, and when the final credits rolled the film’s merits slightly outweighed its many problems for me. Its riding the strength of Brown’s narrative, but in the end that’s enough for a mildly compelling film. If you’re interested in checking out what the DaVinci fuss is all about, or want a pre-Angels & Demons primer, I’d suggest the book first – but if you’d rather spend a couple hours than a few days, the movie is serviceable and worth a rental. - *** (out of 4)

The DaVinci Code is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 5/27/09

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 kicked off our summer question and answer series by tackling the question, “Can a Christian really fall away?” To answer the question, we took a hard look at one of the passages most often used to make the case that the loss of one’s salvation is possible – Hebrews 6. We especially zeroed in on verses 1-9, which on the surface can easily provoke that question. After all, the passage seems to discuss the topic of the difficulty of restoring to repentance one who has fallen away from the faith. However, this would seem to go against the overwhelming witness of Scripture that indicates that salvation is a work of God, eternal in nature, for God always finishes what he starts (as seen from such passages as Philippians 1:6, John 6:38-40, Romans 8:28-30, Galatians 3:1-6, Jude 24-25, 1 Peter 1:3-5, Hebrews 7:25 and 10:14). So what do we do? How do we reconcile these passages? Last night, I sought to not only help my students answer that question, but also to show them how to go about answering the question, so that they will be better equipped to handle Scripture well in the future.

So how do we reconcile these passages? The first step is to have a firm trust in Scripture. If we believe that the Bible is the very word of God, and God is trustworthy and true, then we will approach such difficult passages not seeing contradictions, but seeing passages that we are misunderstanding, and thus prompting further study and meditation. Once we have that foundation in place, the next step is to begin to examine the passage in context, both on the book level and the chapter level. So, we must ask the question – what is Hebrews about? In short, it’s a book written to a group of Jews who had been exposed to the gospel and now sat on the fence, tempted to simply go back to the comforts of Judaism. The author thus writes a letter which has as it’s basic premise the idea that Jesus and his new covenant is superior to Moses and his Old Covenant. He argues that the OT finds its fulfillment and true meaning in Jesus. Take a quick glance at the progression of the letter – chapter 1 begins by declaring the supremacy of Christ, chapter 3 speaks of him as superior to Moses, chapter 4 lauds him as our great high priest. The point of the author’s writing becomes abundantly clear. Secondly, we need to zero in on the immediate context of the passage, in this case examining chapters 5 and 6 together, since they constitute one unified argument. In chapter 5, the author says that he wants to draw a further comparison between Jesus and Melchizedek, but his audience is not ready for it, for thought they have heard the message of Christ enough to be teachers of it, they are still ignorant themselves. That reality sets the table for the warning that begins in chapter six.

Now, having seen the passage in its proper light, we are better ready to examine it in detail. In the first three verses, we see the author outlining the situation that the people faced. He tells them that it is time to leave the basics of the doctrine about Christ, not relaying their foundation. Why on earth would he talk like this, speaking so dismissively about the basics of the faith? This seems strange. If we examine his exhortation in the context of the book, though, the meaning becomes clearer. What are the “elementary doctrines” he’s talking about? They are the Old Testament law, which he’s just spent five chapters demonstrating points to and reveals Christ. He’s telling them to leave Judaism and their fascination with the law and move on to maturity by following Christ.

It’s here, then, that the meaning of the passage hangs. The author is not addressing Christians here, but Jews who have been exposed to the gospel message, have understood it, have been around Christians and witnessed the Spirit’s power firsthand, and still cling to the old covenant rather than embracing Jesus by faith. This gives the warning of verses 4-6 an entirely different thrust. Notice that in the descriptions given in verses 4-5 the author never uses terminology that is used of salvation (born again, filled with the spirit [he uses “partakers” instead, which in the Greek carries the connotation of an association with, not an indwelling], justified, redeemed, etc.). He is calling out to those who are on the fence, who are toeing the line, to believe in Jesus, for if they reject what they have been given it is impossible for them to be saved (note as well, that though many people will say that this passage teaches the possibility of losing salvation, almost none will say that it is impossible for the apostate to repent and return – a key inconsistency). Why? Because there is nothing left to see! If hearing and understanding the Gospel and witnessing the Spirit’s work is not enough to call them to faith, what else is left? This is why the author makes reference to them crucifying Christ. They are identifying with the mob that condemned him – a group of people that had listened to Jesus’ teaching and witnessed the miracles and power, but still rejected him.

This interpretation is further strengthened by the illustration used in verses 7-8, speaking of how the rain (which is a representation of the Gospel) falls on the ground, but while it produces good crops in one place in others it may produce only thorns and briars that are gathered up and burned. These people had soaked in the rain, but they were producing no fruit, because they had not been born again. In verse 9, the author expresses hope for better things for them – things that accompany salvation.

In summary, what we have here is a very real and very sobering warning that applies to professing Christian and rank pagan alike. God is warning us of the danger of being an “almost-believer.” We are treading on dangerous ground if we see the Gospel in the fullness of its power and remain unmoved to faith. This is especially dangerous for those of us who have spent our whole lives in the church and know all the answers and all the rules, but may never have put our trust fully in Jesus. Last night, I told my students that I hope they came away from this passage with three things in mind: a serious and sober reflection on whether this warning is one that hits their hearts, a thankfulness in the power of God’s spirit to cause us to stand on the last day, frailty and all, and a desire to dig deep into God’s Word rather than cowering and capitulating when things become difficult to understand. I pray the same for you as well, and I look forward to the questions we’ll ponder together as this series continues for the summer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lake James Vacation Pics

Here are a few pictures of our Memorial Day weekend trip to Lake James, NC with family.

Hebrews Warning Passages: What Do They Mean?

Tonight, I start You Asked For It, my summer Q&A series, with my youth group. We'll get things started by tackling a question submitted by one of my students about how to approach the Biblical passages about falling away. We're going to dive in headfirst to one of the more difficult such passages - the warning of Hebrews 5-6. I'll post a summary of the lesson tomorrow to give you my take, but I'd be curious to hear from any of you on how you approach this text.

Swept Away

Well, a fantastic season came to an end yesterday for the Hurricanes as they lost to Pittsburgh 4-1, completing a four-game sweep of the series for the Pens. I hate to see the year end on such a sour note, especially considering what Carolina accomplished this year. Back in December, this team was floundering around .500, had just fired their coach, and looked destined for their third straight season of post-Stanley Cup mediocrity. They turned things around, and over the last two months of the season were one of the hottest teams in the NHL, ironically, probably second only to Pittsburgh. Upset wins over New Jersey and top-seed Boston and a place in the NHL's final four were more than anyone expected a few months ago. This team made a great run, and has a bright-looking future.

However, that future is filled with questions. Some are easy (does Paul Maurice lose the 'interim' tag as head coach?), and some are tough (out of a free agent crop of Cole, LaRose, Jokinen, Ruutu, Babchuk, and Seidenberg, who do you inevitably let walk?). It'll be an interesting offseason, and I'll be excited to see the Canes take the ice again in October. As for the Stanley Cup finals? I'll be cheering for the Pens.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Year of the Bible?

A Georiga congressman has asked President Obama to declare 2010 "The Year of the Bible."

Leaving aside the question of what good this would even accomplish if it passed (as the video points out, Reagan did this in 1983, and I'm not aware of any mass revival it spawned), I have to say, I find this congressman's reasoning deeply troubling. He basically presents the Bible as a treatise on political freedom and a tool for "making our nation great again." While freedom is most certainly a primary theme of Scripture, it sure isn't the red-white-and-blue variety. Rather than being respected, Scripture is acually degraded, as its message of freedom from personal sin through the death and resurrection of Christ is dumbed down to a message on fiscal conservatism. I'm very uncomfotable with the idea of promoting Scripture as a handbook to political health. With all due respect to Congressman Broun, who may well be well-intentioned, let's let the government worry about how it spends our money and we'll leave the teaching of Scripture to the church.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Call Us Lewis and Clark

This weekend has been a great getaway with family at Lake James, NC. My parents rented a lake house for the weekend, and it's been nice to relax with everybody. There's not much nicer than reading Scripture and a good book (I'm currently enjoying Al Mohler's He Is Not Silent) in the morning outside overlooking a lake and mountains in perfect silence. This morning, my brother Ryan and I took a canoe a couple miles across the lake to a small island at daybreak, which was a good workout and really fun. I'm looking forward to the rest of the weekend before we head back to Louisville tomorrow afternoon. I hope your holiday weekend is going as well as mine.

On The Brink

Well, it went from bad to worse for my Hurricanes last night, losing 6-2 to Pittsburgh in Raleigh to fall behind 3-0 in the series. They played defense more porous than a sponge and just never looked like they were on the Penguins' level. To keep the season going, they'll have to become just the third team in NHL history to climb out of a 3-0 hole. That gigantic effort starts Tuesday night in Game 4. I don't like their chances - at all - but I've also watched this team enough to know that they're never out of it until the final buzzer sounds. Come on, Canes!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Backs, Meet Wall

Monday night, it was goalie Marc-Andre Fleury who turned in a superstar performance for the Penguins. Last night, it was Evgeni Malkin, who notched a hat trick and powered the Pens to a 7-4 Game 2 win over my Canes. His third and final goal midway through the third period that padded Pittsburgh's lead to 2 left even me staring in awe. Malkin is simply amazing, and if Carolina's going to stand a chance in Saturday's now-pivotal Game 3, they've got to find a way to put a body on him and slow him down. Here's hoping the RBC Center crowd in Raleigh will give the Canes a lift over the next two to even this series.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 5/20/09

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 had our 17th and final lesson in Chasing After the Wind, our study in the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s been a great trip through the book, and one that had us asking the question last night, “What do we do with this now?” We’ve seen Solomon go to great lengths to get his point across, showing us that all the things people chase after in this world will never ultimately satisfy, and that nothing has any meaning whatsoever unless viewed through the lens of the God who created it. In chapter 12, he brings home his point with one final thrust, much like a student who closes a research paper by summarizing the force of his research. As we read this final charge, we looked at three specific ways that we can apply the book’s message to our lives, so that we can follow James’ charge to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

First, in verses 1-8, we looked at the charge to live urgently. Solomon exhorts us to remember God in our youth, before life saps away our strength and desire. So often, we make the mistake of thinking that living for God’s glory is something that we’ll do later in life, once we take our time living for ourselves. What a mistake this is. As time marches on, many of the opportunities we are given to glorify God will fade, as Solomon illustrates in his reflections on time destroying our joy (verse 1), physical strength (verses 2-5), desire (verse 5), wealth (verse 6), and life itself (verses 6-7). If we are not taking advantage of every moment we’re given, we will come to the end of it all and see the meaninglessness of verse 8. I told my students last night that I don’t want to see them cruise through their teenage years and then look back at age 40 or 50 and see a wasted youth. Whatever your age or place in life, live every moment unto the glory of God and seize every opportunity he has blessed you with to do so. In it all, enjoy every breath as a gift from the God who has created all joy and pleasure.

Next, in verses 9-12, we looked at the need for us to seek wisdom and live it out. Notice Solomon’s summary of his own life’s work – not only did he seek out wisdom with all of his heart, but he taught it to the people, he sought to pass its benefits on. It affected the way that he lived his life (though, at some times more than others). The wisdom of God is never a static knowledge, but it affects the way we approach every area of life, from schoolwork and jobs to relationships with friends and family to romance to marriage and everything in between. In fact, verses 11 and 12 serve as a warning against the accumulation of knowledge for knowledge’s sake at the expense of seeking the true and perfect wisdom of God, which Solomon says is like a nail that fixes us firmly in place.

Finally, in verses 13 and 14, Solomon summarizes the whole point of the book, or as he calls it, “the end of the matter.” What is the meaning of life? What is the point of it all? These are questions that have puzzled people for ages. Ecclesiastes sums the answer up for us in a single sentence – “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” What should you do with your life? Develop a view of God that sees his glory, magnificence, holiness, justice, grace, mercy, and love, and let that view provoke in you a sense of reverence and awe that compels you to seek God and his ways with every breath. So often in America, we fall into the trap of seeing faith as just another compartment in our lives, right up there with relationships, school, work, hobbies and the like, rather than seeing it as supreme – as the lens through which we see and understand all those other things and by which they have their meaning. If knowing, treasuring and following God - which we now understand is done through knowing, treasuring, and following Christ and his cross - is truly everything, if it is the purpose of your existence, then does your life properly reflect that? Forget your words, does your life agree with the declaration of verse 13? Keep its truth always at the forefront of your mind and heart, and when you, like Solomon, come to the end of your life, you’ll find that far from a “vanity of vanities,” or a “chasing after the wind,” you have instead lived a life that was in no way wasted. May God give us grace and joy in that pursuit.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Ultimate Question: Kris or Adam?

Who will take home the Idol crown tonight?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What's Derek Done Now?

As you'll already know if you're on his email list, things are getting pretty weird surrounding Derek Webb's upcoming fifth album, Stockholm Syndrome. In the past two weeks, he's sent two emails discussing a conflict with his label over the content of the album. Today, went offline, with only the two emails posted in its place. Granted, this isn't the first such clash he's had, and I'm a big fan and supporter, but this all just seems a bit strange. I'll be curious to see what the fuss is about, but I must say, I'm starting to get a little concerned. I've loved his solo stuff, but his last couple albums have been increasingly political. I've enjoyed them, but I've also missed the rich theology of his first couple albums. Given that fact, and this new dustup, I worry that perhaps he's crossing a line that he shouldn't cross. However, that's just speculation, and I'll wait to see the whole story. Don't let us down, Derek.

A Familiar Start

Well, at least we were competitive in this one. In what's becoming a theme in these playoffs, my Hurricanes dropped Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night to Pittsburgh, 3-2. I say it's becoming a theme because Carolina lost their openers in the first two rounds to New Jersey and Boston before bouncing back to win those series. Those first two were blowouts, but the Canes played tough last night, and probably would have won the game if not for a superhuman performance from Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, especially in the first period. Game 2 is Thursday night, and if form holds, we've got them right where we want them. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Deep In the Lab

Hilarious musings from one of the best characters on TV.

Friday, May 15, 2009

They Did It Again!!!

This is getting crazy. My Carolina Hurricanes pulled off another miracle finish last night, grabbing a 3-2 overtime win over Boston in Game 7 to win the series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Much-maligned Canes forward Scotty Walker tapped home a rebound for the game winner with just under 1:15 to go in the 1st OT. So, after squandering a 3-1 series lead against the East's top team, Carolina pulled it out after all. I don't know what it is about Carolina pro sports, but they tend to really love this script - come charging out of the gates, build a lead, squander it, then win it at the end. It's stressful as all getout to watch, but hey - let's keep riding this wave all the way to the Cup!

Basics Final Reflections

What a conference it was this year! Basics is always a great experience, but this year was really a treat. I've reflected on Monday's messages already, so I'll pick up with Tuesday. There were two morning sessions on Tuesday. In the first, Alistair Begg preached his first message on the importance of persuasive preaching, drawn from 2 Corinthians 5. Alistair gave a great challenge to a largely-reformed crowd to not let our belief in the sovereignty of God become an excuse for dispassionate, unpersuasive preaching. Following a coffee break, John Piper gave his second sermon, "Preaching Regeneration Undiminished," from John 3. It was a fantastic call to pastors to truly comprehend the weight and glory of the new birth, and to know and preach God's great salvific love for his people, a love that is "greater than the love of John 3:16."

After lunch (Chick-fil-A!!!), I attended a seminar by blogger-extraordinaire Tim Challies on "Training Your Church to think Biblically." Challies had some great practical advice, and his Q&A time was especially helpful. After an afternoon break and everybody's favorite dinner, barbeque night, John Lennox preached the evening session on "Using Scripture to Engage the Mind and Imagination." As I remarked before, it was perhaps the most powerful sermon I've ever heard. Take an hour this weekend and listen to it, and I promise you'll end the hour with a more magnificent view of God and his rule than you began it with. Afterwards, we had an informal Q&A with Alistair, a time that is always interesting and - thanks to his wit - very entertaining.

Wednesday morning began with a Q&A time with all the speakers and then concluded with Alistair's second sermon on persuasive preaching, this time from Acts 26. He broke down Paul's address to Agrippa wonderfully, and gave us a powerful charge to take a "foolish" gospel to a "wise" world with full confidence and expectation in its power. It was a great note to end the conference on.

It was a long drive home, complete with an Ohio monsoon and a nail in our tire, so it was certainly good to get back home to my wife and baby girl - who amazes me at how much she can grow up in three days. The conference was a time of tremendous spiritual refreshment and encouragement for me, and I would recommend a trip up next year to any pastor or church leader. Though the speakers have not been set yet, Alistair revealed a short list that includes Tim Keller, C.J. Mahaney, and Sinclair Ferguson. In short, I think we'll be OK.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Basics Audio Now Online

You can now download MP3s of all conference sessions and seminars for free here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Basics Reflections, Tuesday Night - A Pause

It's been a fantastic day, and I fully intend to post some full reflections on the day's messages. However, I must confess that I heard tonight a mathematician preach what I truly think is the most powerful sermon I've ever heard in my life. As John Lennox preached Revelation 4-7, I felt as though I were led with John into the very throne room of God. With clarity and conviction, Lennox delivered an exhilarating reminder of the earth-shattering magnificence, glory, and grandeur of the living God. Rather than churn out a summary of the day like a journalist meeting a deadline, I want to take time tonight to reflect, exult, and repent of a complacent view of God that has often been trivial. I'll write more tomorrow, and I'll surely post a link to the audio of the message when it becomes available. I told my good friend Kenny immediately following the session, "I want to take an MP3 of that and give it to everyone I know." I pray that you would see and savor the greatness of God like I did tonight, and that you would rejoice with my heart in his mind-blowing lovingkindness.

Basics Quotables, Day 2

Some nuggets of pure gold from day two...
"From the first page of the Bible it is abundantly clear that God kicks the legs out from under the stools on which his servants seek to sit comfortably." - Alistair Begg

"Men are frightened that they may be involved in seeing the non-elect get saved. The benefit of the restoration of the reformation principles in the area of soteriology carries with it the danger that men who are unwilling to wrestle with the antinomies of the Bible will be silenced in their gospel proclamation. We dare not hide behind our inability or unwillingness to bow beneath the immensity of Scripture and thus fail to be persuasive in our preaching." - Alistair Begg

"Wherever there is faith the width of the strand of a spider's web, the fullness of redeeming grace is there." - John Murray

"How do you know you're going to wake up a Christian tomorrow morning? The only way you know [you won't fall away] is 'God won't let it happen.'" - John Piper

"Christ says, I'm sending you to open their eyes, to take out the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh, to raise the dead. But you say, 'But I can't open thier eyes, I can't make a new heart, I can't raise the dead.' You can't create electricity or make light, but it never stops you from flipping switches. You can't create internal combustion, but it never stops you from turning the key. You can't create cell tissue, but it never stops you from eating. When you speak, God raises the dead." - John Piper

"It seems that some people trumpet a childish faith as if it were the childlike faith that Jesus demands." - Tim Challies

"Through your preaching, you not only teach your congregation what to believe, you teach them how to believe." - Tim Challies

"If you're not careful, you'll end up studying Scripture to find sermons rather than to get to know God." - John Lennox

"Life is an illumination that points us to God. If you try to explain life without the throne of God, it ends up without significance." - John Lennox

"Imagine it - your last tear will be wiped away by the very governor of the universe." - John Lennox

Monday, May 11, 2009

Basics Reflections, Monday Night

What a day! Monday at Basics is always crazy - getting up at 6:30 to drive from Louisville to Cleveland, check into our hotel, and head straight over to the conference to walk in just in time for the first seminar. Loads of great preaching, some good food, a rekindling of old friendships, and here I sit at 10:40 ready to pass out before getting up tomorrow at 7:00 and starting another day. It's a blast!

Today, I attended a seminar by John Piper on ministry under the motif of 1 Corinthians 1:24 - working for the joy of our people in Christ. The topic and the message was a familiar one for anyone who's ever heard Piper, but his passion is always refreshing and his Q&A afterwards yielded some good information. John Lennox led the first session, and delivered a fantastic introduction to his topic this week - preaching as an engagement of the mind. After his sermon, I can't wait to hear him tomorrow - his perspective on the Gospel and reason as intrinsically connected was fascinating and a great encouragement to live a life that begs the question by our hope and engages the world with the truth of the gospel with intellectual confidence but ultimately a trust in God's power. Piper preached the evening session on "Preaching Justification Undiminished." The sermon, focused primarily on Philippians, reflected his pastor's heart on the topic of justification by faith - specifically, the imputed righteousness of Christ - an overview of his study and concerns and the recent debate between he and N.T. Wright. Peppered in between with hymns by the Gettys, familiar and new, it was a great day of worship that has me feeling refreshed and refocused on the greatness of our God.

I'm going to fall asleep at my keyboard if I keep going for much longer, so goodnight, God bless, and I'll try to post an update during our break tomorrow afternoon.

Basics Quotables, Day 1

"The saltiest thing the world will ever taste is Christians who don't lose their joy when they're being hammered." - John Piper

"Have you ever noticed that people who claim not to be learned in the Scriptures can tell you everything about the stock market, thought they are not stock brokers. They can tell you every detail about the Kansas City Chiefs, though they are not professional football players. Yet they cannot tell you anything about James or Romans." - John Lennox

"Paul everywhere used his reason and his intellect to his help, but he didn't trust it - he trusted God. Paul used every ability that God had given him, but he trusted's not one or the other. Pitting reason against the Holy Spirit is a false dichotomy. We need to be very careful not to find a theological reason for being intellectually lazy." - John Lennox

"When you hear [liberal theologians] talk about being "global" and "loving," it sounds so right - because it is! But it's been gutted from the inside [by the removal of the Gospel]!" - John Piper

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Here I Go Again!

Well, tomorrow morning I'll be headed off to Cleveland for the 2009 Basics Conference for Pastors. Alistair Begg's annual conference, which I've attended since 2006, starts tomorrow afternoon and will feature Alistair, John Piper, and Dr. John Lennox. Can't wait! I'll be taking my laptop along to post reflections throughout the week, but you can also head over to Tim Challies' blog for a liveblog of the event.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 5/8/09

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.

A Mighty Wind

I'm a huge fan of Christopher Guest and company's series of "mockumentaries." For those of you who haven't seen the likes of Best in Show and Waiting For Guffman, Guest and a group of actors including Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins, Jennifer Coolidge, and others collabortae on largely improvised fake documentaries exploring an eccentric array of characters. A Mighty Wind, released in 2003, is their send-up of folk music - with all music written and performed by the cast. It's a favorite of mine, but it had been years since I'd seen it until Heather and I watched it with a couple friends last weekend. To put it simply, it was even funnier than I'd remembered.

The movie is set in motion with the death of legendary folk music producer Irving Steinbloom. As a tribute, his children arrange a concert that will reunite three of Steinbloom's most famous groups. There's the Folksmen (a Kingston Trio-type group), The New Main Street Singers (a clean-cut, color coordinated nuftet), and Mitch & Mickey (the romantic darlings of the folk-music world). The cameras follow the bands as they prepare for the concert, reflect on the past, and renew lost relationships.

The hilarity of Guest's movies often comes from just how real, yet at the same time ridiculous, the characters are. Everybody perfectly toes the line that divides silliness from sincerity, and the results are a moving that is incredibly funny but also surprisingly touching. The music is incredibly well done (I dare you to watch this film and not end up with at least one song stuck in your head for days), with irony and subtle humor sprinkled throughout. Most of the dialogue is improvised (Guest and Levy sketched out characters and a general outline and left the rest to their actors), giving the movie an incredibly real feel. Much like Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap (and by the way, The Folksmen are portrayed by the same Spinal Tap trio of McKean, Guest, and Shearer), if you were to stumble upon this unknowingly you'd almost believe you were watching a real, if strange, documentary. It's a difficult movie to explain, and it may not be everybody's cup-o-tea, but I'd encourage you to give this one a shot this weekend. - **** (out of 4)

A Mighty wind is rated PG-13 for sex-related humor.

A Comprehensive Challenge

Though I've never been able to attend the Together For the Gospel conference, I listened to audio of all the messages from last year's edition and found them extremely challenging, convicting, and encouraging. I'd heard a couple of the messages from the 2006 conference, but not all of them, so I was excited recently to begin reading Preaching the Cross, a book written by the conference speakers that encapsulates the content of their messages. The book is not an exact transcript or reproduction of the sermons, but the content is very similar.

Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, John Piper, and R.C Sproul each contribute a chapter, and all of them are quite helpful in their own right. The book is, as the title suggests, built around the centrality of Christ's atonement in preaching. Each writer's work is related to that theme, but each is very different in its focus - a fact that keeps the book fresh throughout and makes it a valuable tool in many different areas. My favorite chapters were likely Sproul's refelctions on the centrality of justification by faith, Duncan's insights on preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and Mahaney's hard-hitting call to a careful watch on one's own life. Content-wise, the book was excellent. My only complaint is that at times it reads like a book of sermons, with the unshakable feeling that to hear these messages preached would be far more engaging than simply reading them. I wouldn't call the writing flat, but the whole endeavor did at times betray itself as a book that is a byproduct of another medium. If you attended T4G 2006, you may want to take a pass on this one, since it will be largely summary and retread. However, if you're like me and did not attend, you'll find a lot of benefit in this book. The subject of the cross in preaching is covered from nearly every conceivable angle, a great help for the pastor who seeks to leave no stone unturned is his proclamation of Christ crucified - the only hope for our people and for us.

Hitchens/Wilson Film Sneak Peek

I've blogged before about my excitement about the upcoming film Collision, a documentary on the recent series of debates between athiest Christopher Hitchens and pastor Douglas Wilson. The first 13 minutes of the film have now been posted online, and it has me even more excited to see the whole thing. I haven't seen a release date yet, but here's hoping it's soon.

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 5/6/09

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.

Have you ever read something in the Bible and had absolutely no idea what it was talking about? How did you respond? If you’re honest, you’ll probably admit that there have been times when spiritual laziness took over and you just skipped on to something easier to understand. We’ve all likely done it, but it’s a grave mistake. If we believe that the Bible is God’s word given for our benefit, then we should be willing to diligently search to see what it says. Think of it this way – if I asked you to bring a shovel and meet me in my backyard this Saturday to dig for gold, how likely would you be to show up? What if I told you that a geological survey team had done imaging of my backyard and found conclusive evidence that there was gold buried in it? Would you be likely to show up then? If the Bible is God’s word - then we know that there is treasure to be found, we just have to be willing to dig for it.

That was the attitude that propelled us into Ecclesiastes 11 last night. We took a passage that starts out puzzling at best and looked at three very practical lessons we can gain from it if we’re willing to do the work of searching and meditation on what it says. The first lesson that we see, from verses 1-4, is the importance of living wisely in this world. Solomon’s charge to “cast your bread upon the waters” sounds ten degrees south of bizarre to most of us today. However, what he’s talking about here is actually a very simple principle with far-reaching implications. At the most basic level, he’s simply offering sound financial advice here, as evidenced by the parallel command in verse 2. The text is telling us not to hoard wealth, but to use it wisely to protect against disaster. As one of the guys from our group pointed out, if you stash all your money in a wad under your mattress and your house burns down, you’re in quite a bit of trouble. We should seek to be wise in the way we use the gifts (from financial and material to talents, time, and relationships) that God has given us. Rather than clinging to what we have, we should use it with the attitude of a steward (for a great illustration of what that means, check out this recent post by Tim Challies), seeking to bless others and in doing so demonstrate the love that we’ve been shown in Christ.

The second lesson, from verses 5-6, is to worship God in both thought and action. In verse 5, we’re reminded of the fact that God and his works are beyond our comprehension. We know that which he has revealed to us, but there is so much about this life and God’s perfect plan that is mysterious to us. When was the last time you contemplated the “bigness” of God. When was the last time you marveled at the way he is weaving all things together for his glory and our good? Even more, are you ordering you life with those truths as a driving force? Do they affect your priorities, your values, your joys? Flowing out of that, verse six tells us to act, to work, in light of God’s providence. How do we do that? By working diligently and leaving our future in his hands. Faith in a sovereign God is not a fatalism that sits back and waits for God to do everything for us. Faith works – it follows the commands that God has given us in his word, goes about his work, and trusts that the results are in his hands. As a quick example, think of the implications of this principle on your evangelism. I’m sure you can think of one person in your life who seems to be a spiritual “lost cause.” There’s no way they’ll ever come to Christ, you think. So, you don’t even bother sharing the gospel with them, or making an effort to show them Christ’s love. This lesson shatters that ridiculous thinking as the stupidity that it is. Our task is to do the work of the gospel by living it out to all people that God puts in our path and to leave the work of changing hearts to him. When we’re worshipping in thought and action, we won’t see any lost causes.

Finally, in verses 7-10, we see a charge to make your life – and your youth – count. So often, we take for granted the wonderful gift that this life is – and the incredible opportunities that God has set before us. We fail to take joy in the blessings of each day, and put on blinders that dim the light of God’s glory that is shining all around us. We treat youth as a time of little consequence, and we set incredibly low expectations for the teenage years. As Alex and Brett Harris put it in their book Do Hard Things, if a kid simply refrains from getting into trouble and does decently well in school, we view that as a success. I told my students last night, and I say to any who might be reading this: there is so much more there for the taking in your youth. Do something big for the glory of God. Make an impact on the people he has put you around. Like Timothy, set an example for other believers, even those older than you, to follow.

All of that comes from an obscure, tough-to-understand chapter in the Old Testament. Put that wisdom to use in your life, and let it at the same time be a reminder to you that there is treasure to be found in the field of God’s word. You’ve just got to be willing and ready to dig.

Hate Crimes, Sex, and the Love of God

A fantastic and thoughtful post by Douglas Wilson. I'd be interested to hear others' thoughts on it, especially the distinction he draws in how we respond to sin in terms of failure vs. rebellion.

Another Finnish Finish

Few people in the hockey world noticed back in February when the Hurricanes picked up underachieving winger Jussi Jokinen of Finland off of wavers from Tampa Bay. They've all noticed now. After his first round heroics (a game-winner in Game 4 with .2 seconds left and the tying goal in Game 7 with 1:20 left), he slapped home a rebound last night to give the Canes a 3-2 overtime win and a 2-1 lead in their second round series against Boston. Carolina now has the chance to deliver a crippling blow to the Bruins in Game 4 Friday night in Raleigh.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Few Vacation Pics

Here are a few pictures from our recent vacation in Canada - a couple from Niagara, and one from an awesome 200-year-old British Pub where we had lunch one afternoon.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Women are Saved Through What???

Tomorrow night, I'll be teaching my youth from Ecclesiastes chapter 11, which opens with the strange command to "cast your bread upon the waters." The chapter, especially the opening verses, is full of metaphor and has been challenging to work through. As I pondered a hypothetical field trip down to the Ohio River to have my students chuck loaves of whole wheat in, I've been reminded of the importance of diligently studying God's word. Yes, the gospel message is simple and easy to understand, but much of the wisdom in the pages of Scripture can be obscured by the 2000+ years of human culture and thousands of miles that separate us from the original authors. The temptation is to read something that we don't understand and just skip it under the assumption that if God really thought it was important he would have made it clearer.

Perhaps that made yesterday's "Mondays with Mounce" post on the Kononia Blog even more interesting to me. Greek scholar Bill Mounce looks at some textual issues in 1 Timothy 2:15, without a doubt one of the most puzzling verses in all the Bible. There have been times when I have thought to myself, "Seriously, Paul - could you not have explained that one for us?" However, God inspired it for a purpose, and he was exactly as clear as he inteded to be. Check out Mounce's post for some interesting info, and don't grow weary in doing the work of studying God's word. We can meet up by the river tonight. I'll bring the rye.

HT: Tim Challies

Hazelwood Stories, #2

Here's "Mr. C's Story," the second video in "Hazelwood Stories," my church's series of member testimonies. You can check out the first as well, if you haven't seen it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hurricanes Update - Still Alive!

I must admit, when we left for Canada last week, I wasn't sure my Carolina Hurricanes would still be playing hockey when we returned. Now, not only did they score 2 goals in the final 1:20 of Game 7 to defeat New Jersey 4-3 in the game and in the first-round series, but they steamrolled the top-seeded Boston Bruins last night 3-0 in Game 2 of their second round series to even things at a game apiece headed back to Raliegh for Wednesday's Game 3. Could they shock the east's best team, a squad who swept the four-game regular season series? I'll never say never with this bunch. Being a Carolina sports fan may not be good for your personal stress level, but it sure is a lot of fun!

The Gospel and Friendship

Of all the experiences Heather and I had during our time in Canada last week, perhaps nothing has stuck with me as much as a sense of wonder at the amazing implications that the gospel has for friendships. I first began exchanging emails with Dan Collison, pastor of our sister chuch, The Sanctuary Pickering, back at the end of last year. He and his wife, Denise, visited us in February, and we just spent time with them in Toronto. Between both visits, we have spent perhaps a total of 4 days together, but likely a little less. Heather and I can now say that we view them as close friends, and we feel like we've known them forever. How is that possible in only 96 hours?

It's possible because we share Jesus Christ in common. In him, there is a bond that runs deeper than any other, including blood. I realized this on an even deeper level when we worshipped with their church last Sunday. Here we were, in a room with 40-50 people we'd never met, and there was an instant connection, an immediate sense of community. We didn't share nationality in common, we didn't always share personal histories in common, but we all shared the joy of having our sins covered by the sacrifice of Christ, and that was more than enough. It was never difficult to strike up a conversation with people, and in just a couple hours we had meaningful conversations that most people would never dream of having with people they'd just met. For us, though, there was a sense that we were on the same wavelength, that we held the same values, passions, and joys. There is truly no bond like the gospel.

We're really looking forward to going back this summer with our team from Hazelwood. We've got friends that we look forward to seeing again, and we've got a fresh appreciation for the gift that our church family is to us. As you read this, think about the people at your church. You may share more things in common with some than others, but at the end of the day you share something of supreme significance with all of them, something that shatters all other petty differences. You share Christ. With him as our foundation, healthy, deep, and meaningful relationships are never far away.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Don't Judge Too Quickly

Here's a funny TV ad my father-in-law sent to me the other day. There are a lot of great ads in this series, but I hadn't seen this one before.

Back in the States, Eh

It's good to be back in the 'Ville! After nearly a week visiting friends and vacationing in Canada, Heather and I got back home last night. It's amazing how our daughter looks older after just six days away from her! We had a fantastic time, and I look forward to posting about it more in-depth over the weekend.