For it is by grace you have been saved...

Friday, February 28, 2014

"Son of God" - My Response

No, I haven't seen it.  I didn't even see the Bible TV thingy the same folks made, which this movie is taken from.  But this is my general response to any and all TV Movies/Major Motion Pictures that have been or will be made on the text of Scripture.

I'm not trying to knock anyone or anything.  It's just that every time we have the "next big thing" in Bible movies that's going to "change the lives of anyone who sees it" I can't help but look back on all the other previous blockbusters.  None have ever had that effect.  All have fallen short.  Any time you try and portray the text of Scripture, you end up sacrificing the truth behind it for the "art" or the "storyline" or whatever.  

I'm not saying don't see the movie.  I saw The Passion and did think it had a certain emotional appeal.  But folks, read the Book, don't wait for the movie.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Freedom Not to Post

The last week has been a bit busy for me.  As I mentioned in a previous post, our oldest is preparing to graduate college and go to Germany for a year.  The middle two are both in the middle of the college application process.  Lots of paperwork, appointments, etc.  

Add in the 18 year old getting her braces on, with all of those appointments; as well as my own ongoing appointments for my degenerative eye condition (boy, that makes me sound like a falling apart old man, doesn't it?); and then all of life's regular busyness: homeschooling, band/choir stuff, sermons to prepare, hospitals to visit, etc., etc. 

The point here isn't to whine, although I'm really good at that.  The point is to lead up to the fact that it's been just over a week again since I've posted.  And while I realize that at least two people will notice that, the point is that I feel guilty.  

I've had this silly blog for several years, and I've put some phantom requirement on myself that it really matters in life whether I post here or not.  As I've said before, in the end this thing is really just a catharsis for me, but I still feel some "obligation."  Kevin DeYoung has helped me with that. 

In his wonderful little book on busyness, called Crazy Busy, he addresses the issue of pride as one root source of our business.  The desire for pats on the back, to please people, to prove ourselves often drives the busyness.  He uses lots of other "p"s like: pity, poor planning, power, perfectionism, position and prestige.  All lead to busyness, and all come from pride. 

And then he tops it off with: Posting.  He writes this:  "If we're honest, pride lies behind much of the social media revolution...we can turn Facebook and Twitter into outposts for our glory.  Or...we can fear what others will think if we don't show up for hours, days, or weeks.  We don't want to disappoint hundreds or thousands of people we've never met..." {Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013,) p. 37}

Well, I'm not so prideful as to think that hundreds, or even dozens, will be disappointed.  But I do admit that my pride actual does think that someone might even notice.  Someone might wonder why I haven't posted.  When the truth is, you're so busy with all the stuff in your own life, you're not worried about how often something gets printed here.

So, I'm thankful to Pastor DeYoung for giving me the freedom not to post.  To free myself from at least this one little corner of the pride that adds to my busyness.  So, if you'll excuse me, I have a sermon to prepare for.  Have a nice day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Preachig Lessons from Peter Jackson

I've mentioned numerous times here how slow/behind times I can be.  That's why I just got around to seeing the new Hobbit movie over the weekend.  Truth is, we don't go to the theater often, and when we do it's usually the bargain shows.  But since my wife had the youngest at a 4H even all day Saturday, the middle two and I thought it was a good time to go see some Tolkien. 

To be honest, while it was a fairly good movie, it was my least favorite so far of Peter Jackson's interpretations of Middle Earth.  I'm not the first to point it out, but this film was the least faithful to the book of any of the five films made so far.  Expanding the book into three 2 1/2 hour movies wasn't a great idea, in my opinion, and they stretched quite a bit to make this one that long. 

The most notable issue, apart from adding characters that simply didn't show up in the book, was the great lengths Jackson and Co. went to to tie all this in with the Lord of the Rings material.  From the darker tone, to the inclusion of storyline meant to remind us this was part of a more epic series of events, the added material actually did more to distract from the Hobbit's story.  But I'm no movie reviewer. 

I am, however, a pastor.  And it dawned on me as I was churning some of these thoughts around that Mr. Jackson and I are in a similar business here.  We are concerned with taking the text and presenting it to a "modern" audience.  While there are obviously serious differences in what we are doing, I did begin to apply some of what I was thinking about the Hobbit adaptation to how I present the Bible week after week.  And here are some positive and negative lessons I learned. 

First the positive.  

1. Context.  While trying to connect the events of the Hobbit to the Lord of the Rings saga may have been a bit much for a movie storyline (in my opinion), it is a helpful reminder that these events were not stand alone events in the Middle Earth universe.  Making  those connections is, in the end, a helpful thing. 

Much more so for Scripture.  When teaching any text, it's always good to remember that this is not an isolated passage.  It happens in context of real historical events, and more importantly, it takes place in the midst of God's redemptive history.  Loosing sight of the bigger picture can cause us to miss the real point of the text sometimes.  I need to keep the big picture in mind. 

2. Flawed Heroes.  Bilbo may be the main character, but I've always thought Thorin was kind of the "hero" of the tale.  A king on a quest to reclaim his kingdom, restore the fortunes of his people, etc.  While all a noble cause, Thorin is far from perfect.  His own greed and ambition get the better of him at times, and Jackson did well to highlight that in the film.  Likewise, Bilbo, Gandalf and the rest all have their shortcomings, none of which is hidden. 

When presenting biblical characters to us, God never shies from their flaws.  Moses, the reluctant leader and former murderer.  David, the adulterous letch who kills to cover his crime.  Samson's ego.  Paul's misplaced passion.  On and on.  We have a tendency to subject biblical characters to hero worship, and while we should never overemphasize their flaws, we shouldn't ignore them either.  It reminds us that we are all alike before God, weak vessels, broken vessels, to be used for His purpose and His glory. 

Now, some "negative" lessons

1. Don't Live on Past Success.  In some sense, I think Mr. Jackson is believing his own press.  The success of the Lord of the Rings movies has convinced him that he can always make the epic more epic.  Sometimes, less epic might be better.  Doing more and bigger of what you've already done isn't necessarily the best thing. 

Likewise, as a pastor, last week's sermon is over and done with.  If it was a "hit", I don't need to work to repeat it, or think that this "hit" will sustain me for the next month.  I need to get back into the text and work to be faithful in presenting this text and then the next text, and so on.  Which leads to...

2. Stick to the Book.  Again, most of the negative press for this latest Hobbit film was the fact that it went so far afield from Tolkien's original text.  Adding new characters, new story lines, delving deeper into the darker aspect of it all...  While as my son says, "it was still a great movie," the purists will be a bit put out. 

When it comes to Scripture, this is of paramount importance.  Stick to the Text.  Let the point of the the text be the point of the sermon.  I don't have the freedom to play with things, to be "creative" in an attempt to make the whole thing more entertaining, etc.  Which leads to a similar by slightly different idea...

3. You Can Entertain, but Miss the Point.  Mr. Jackson may have made a fun, entertaining movie, but I think he missed the point.  The Hobbit's tale, while containing some darker images, was overall a lighthearted adventure.  While Lord of the Rings is a more world wide epic struggle, this was supposed to be the more fanciful tale of a Hobbit of the Shire and his adventure with the dragon.  I think the overload of Orcs and the high body count of the film misses much of what Tolkien was after.

 In our effort to "reach" people and keep their attention, and draw the crowds and so on, we can end up missing the whole point as well.  It's not my job to entertain as a pastor.  It's not my job to draw crowds and then do whatever it takes to please them.  I am to preach the Word, in season and out.  Preach the Gospel and leave it to God to change hearts. 

4. Longer Isn't Always Better.  If we believe the stories, the original intent was a two parter.  That got extended into a trilogy, because that's the Hollywood standard I guess.  And besides, you can make more money that way.  But 2/3 of the way into the 2 1/2 hour movie, I actually found myself glancing at my watch and wondering how much longer it would go.  I'm not saying it was a boring movie.  It wasn't.  But I really think the added material I've mentioned, while serving a purpose (I guess) really made the thing unnecessarily longer than it needed to be.  Again, I think maybe we're trying too hard for the "epic" aspect. 

As with my preaching, I don't think I need to worry about cutting it short, working to entertain or please people, but at the same time I think it's wise to know when to quit.  Longer sermons aren't necessarily better sermons (though, of course, the opposite is also true).  It goes back to the text.  Preach the text.  When it's done, be done.  I had in my mind for a long time that sermons had to be a certain length, and if they didn't make it, I'd go back and try to add some more "filler."  Just preach the text.  If it's 35 minutes one week, but only 25 the next, and maybe closer to 40 the next, oh well.  Just don't keep it going for the sake of feeling like you have time to fill.  

Well, those are just some snippets.  Each one could be discussed at length, and I thought about turning this into a whole series of posts on the issue.  But then I thought about that whole "longer isn't better" thing and figured I'd just hit the highlights.

In the end, I came away with one overarching thought though.  I don't have any more right to "judge" Mr. Jackson's film making than people in my church have to "judge" my preaching.  We all have our opinions.  But I'm sure he made the film he set out to make, and that he's quite satisfied.  For me, if I can faithfully share the gospel of Jesus Christ, and can stand before my King and know that I preached the message He wanted me to preach, then it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jelly Baby Day...Again

NOTE: This is a repeat of a post from this day last year.  Yes, I lack creativity.  Deal with it.
(Warning.  The following entry is purely trivial and may be the cause of serious wasting of time)

Today, I'm told, is National Gum Drop Day.  Yes, a day to celebrate those wonderful little candies that get stuck in your mouth.  I'm not sure if the Bassett's Jelly Babies are technically a gum drop or not, but we're going to count it.

For those who don't know, Jelly Babies are a sweet little treat from Britain that date back to the end of WWI.  Originally called "Peace Babies" they were made in celebration of the ending of that war.  The Jelly Baby name came in the 1950s, and in the 1960s they were said to be a favorite of Beatle George Harrison, prompting fans to toss them at him.

But the Jelly Baby's real claim to fame is that they are the favorite of a certain Time Lord simply known as "The Doctor."  Doctor Who fans are well aware of the history of The Doctor and Jelly Babies, especially as played by Tom Baker.  He regularly offered them to friend and foe alike, and often the phrase "Would you  like a Jelly Baby?" was used to diffuse a tense situation.  Since the Fourth Doctor has always been my favorite, my oldest daughter actually ordered some genuine Jelly Babies all the way from the UK as a Christmas gift for me.  What a kid!

So, in honor of Gum Drop Day, and simply as a complete waste of time, here is the complete collection of every Jelly Baby reference from The Doctor.  Have a bite and enjoy. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Suggestions for a Loving Marriage

Valentine's Day.  I have to admit that while part of me wants to rebel against the mushiness of it all, the other part of me has always liked the mushiness of it all.  I just realized that my wife and I are now celebrating our 30th Valentine's Day (including the "dating" days).  I guess we must be doing something right.

So, I thought maybe I should offer advice to the rest of you.  But, I don't think I really have any that Ephesians 5:22ff doesn't cover.  So instead I'll just reprint these old "commandments" for husbands and wives.  They've been around for years, and I can't even find the original source, so if you know it let me know.  Enjoy.

Ten Commandments for Husbands

1. Thou shalt not take thy wife for granted, but will honour and respect her as thy equal. (1 Pet 3:7)

2. Thy highest allegiance, except God, shall be to thy wife, not thy relatives or friends. (Gen 2:24)

3. Thou shalt frequently tell thy wife how important & valuable she is to thee. (Phil 2:3; Prov 31:10-11)

4. Thou shalt hold thy wife's love by the same means that thou won it. (Sos 5:10-16)

5. Thou shalt actively establish family discipline with thy wife's help. (Eph 6:4)

6. Remember to do all the little things for thy wife when you say you will. (Mt 5:37)

7. Keep thine eyes on thy own wife, not thy neighbors. (Prov 5:15-20; Job 31:1; Jer 5:8)

8. Thou shalt make every effort to see things from thy wife's point of view. (Gen 21:12)

9. Thou shalt not fail to kiss thy wife every morning. (Sos 8:1)

10. Thou shalt not be stingy with thy wife when it comes to money. (Esther 5:3)

Ten Commandments for Wives

1. Expect not thy husband to give thee as many luxuries as thy father hath given thee after many years of hard labor. (Phil 4:11; Amos 4:1)

2. Thou shalt work hard to build thy house with the husband that you have, not fantasizing about "the one that could have been". (Prov 14:1)

3. Thou shalt not nag...hit him with thine frying pan, it is kindlier. (Prov 27:15; 21:19)

4. Thou shalt coddle thy husband and be a warm wife. (1 Cor 7:3-5)

5. Remember that the frank approval of thy husband is more to thee than the side glances of many strangers. (Ezek 16:32; 2 Pet 2:14)

6. Thou shalt not yell at thy husband but will be a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Pet 3:1-4)

7. Permit no one to assure thee that thou art having a hard time of it. (1 Pet 5:9)

8. Thou shall not fail to dress up for thy husband with an eye to please him, as thou didst before marriage. (SoS 4:9-11)

9. Thou shalt submit to thy husband from thy heart and allow him to be head of the household. (Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:6; Eph 5:33)

10. Thou shalt assure thy husband and others that he is the greatest man alive. (Phil 2:3; SoS 5:9-16)

Happy Valentine's Day

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Geek Moment #1

The last few posts have been a little more serious/intense, so I thought I’d lighten things up.  I thought about doing a “Homeschooler Moment” since I haven’t in awhile, but this turned out to be less of a homeschool specific thing and more of just a Geek thing.

That’s right, our homeschool has produced a family of Geeks.  Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Superheroes, etc.  Books, movies, games, we have it all. (Though I will mention in our defense that when it comes to Tolkien, we require reading the books before they can see the movies.  That’s a little better, right?)

Anyway, one of our Geekdoms involves Doctor Who, that 50 year old British Sci-fi show about a time traveler and his faithful companions.  If you don’t know it, I really can’t explain it here.  (Actually, the Doctor will get a mention again in a re-post planned for this Saturday.  We’ll call this Geek Week).

One episode involves the Doctor meeting Vincent Van Gogh and produced a fan favorite painting of an exploding TARDIS (that’s the name of the Doctor’s time machine, Time and Relative Dimension in Space).  Well, I’m geeky enough to have an Exploding Tardis rug on my floor, which is the set up for this little Geek Moment.  (Boy this is taking longer than I thought to explain)

Shift a bit.  Our youngest daughter has been teaching tricks to our dog.  When she gets excited (the dog, not the daughter) she starts spinning in circles.  My daughter thought it would be fun to get the dog to do this on command.  Ahh, but what command words should we use?  Spin?  Circles?  Go crazy? 

It was then that she realized that the dog is spinning right on top of my Exploding Tardis rug.  And the command word hit her.  So, when we want to watch our dog go crazy in circles, we just command, “Tardis!”  And here is the result.

OK, so I’ve been bored lately.  And you must be too if you’ve continued reading this far.  But we thought it was great.  A dog that goes crazy when she hears “Tardis.”  Gotta love it.  I know our other Geek friends do.

Well, I’ll give you fair warning.  As I said, I’m planning a re-post on Saturday, and it’s Geeky, too.  So if you can’t handle the Geek, avoid it.  For now I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Fourth Doctor quotes which explains my maturity level quite a bit: "There's no point being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes."

Monday, February 10, 2014

Pro-Gay/Anti-Christian Bias in Sports

As a Missouri Tiger fan, I was of course interested in the reports coming out (pardon the pun) about Mizzou DE and NFL hopeful Michael Sam stating he is openly gay.  While the sports media hails his "brave" announcement, I have to wonder again just how brave this really is.

Last year NBA player Jason Collins announced his homosexuality and was greeted with similar praise for his bravery.  I penned a post then contrasting the media praise for Collins vs. the vitriol poured out on ESPN analyst Chis Broussard for sharing his Christian beliefs on the subject.  I asked, who is the brave one here?  The one praised by the media and even the president, or the one ostracized for his faith.

This pro-gay/anti-Christian bias in the sports world continues to grow.  Sam is getting all kinds of praise and support, with no fewer than three links to positive stories about him on the FoxSports front page.  Meanwhile, this same FoxSports network fired NFL great Craig James last fall after only one day on the job because during a political campaign he stated that his Christian faith led him to oppose gay marriage. 

Message:  Gay?  We'll pat you on the back, promote you as a brave hero.  Christian?  We'll slam you, tell you to keep your views to yourself, and maybe even fire you.  Can no one see the obvious bias in this?

Of course, this is just symptomatic of society in general.  The Obama administration chose to push the homosexual agenda and shove it in the face of the world by sending openly gay activists as our official national representatives to the Olympics.  It was done in an open protest of Russia's stance opposing gay marriage. 

And even "in house", the administration continues to rail against conservative Christians by removing military personnel who oppose gay marriage, even threatening chaplains who preach against homosexuality with "treason".  You can read about that little nugget as well of a host of other issues in this extensive rundown of persecution against Christians here and around the world. 

The message is getting clearer by the day.  Christians need to keep their mouths shut.  Whether it's in politics or sports, the world doesn't want to hear it.  Meanwhile, they'll promote as much immorality as they can, whether it's giving props to openly gay athletes, or passing out condoms to Olympians, or continuing to wink and nod at the promiscuity of superstar players. 

The point is simply this. As I've said often, our nation is not only growing ever more immoral, but also ever more opposed to Christianity and Christian values.  Folks, we need to wake up and see the reality.  The days of comfortable Christianity are coming to an end.  We are only a step away from outright persecution.  Today it's in the sports world, next it's your job.  I'm not just being an alarmist, I'm simply saying the Christian people need to stand strong, be ready for what's coming, be prepared to stand for the Truth no matter what may happen. 

As for Mr. Sam, I will pray for him.  I will pray that God showers His grace on him, shows him that real love is found in Christ who came and died for sins like his homosexuality, as well as my own sin.  I pray Christian teammates will love him and share Christ's love with him.  I pray that in the days to come, maybe him or some other "openly gay" athlete will have their lives radically saved by Christ and be put in the spotlight for a whole new reason.  We'll see who the media calls brave on that day. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ham vs. Nye: Creation/Evolution Debate Response (a bit late)

Everyone has heard by now of the debate last Tuesday between Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and Bill Nye, "the Science Guy."  If you're like me, I love the idea of this debate to bring a solid Creationism case to the "masses", but at the same time, you know it's not going to do much good to change the mind of hard core anti-God folks like Nye. 

There have been dozens of responses, two of the best of which are these from Al Mohler and Rick Phillips.  So I can't really add to the wisdom of it all.  I just wanted to share my favorite response of all, which comes from AiG cartoonist Dan Lietha.  It's based on one exchange during the debate where Mr. Nye admits not knowing where matter comes from, and Ken quipping "hey, there's a Book on that."  

Again, while I don't have any wise insights on the debate itself, I do believe this is a crucial issue.  If you have not done any research into this, if you think it's just a "side" issue, then please reconsider.  If we remove the foundations of creation, if we tear out the heart of the first book of Scripture, then the rest crumbles as well.  

If we try to insert "millions of years" into the creation account, maybe into verse 2 of Genesis 1, thinking that we are making a reasoned compromise with "science" then we are mistaken.  Death and decay comes as the result of the Fall, which makes redemption in Christ necessary.  If we insert millions of years worth of life and death before the Fall, then we completely undermine the truth that Sin caused death.  If Sin doesn't cause death, then Salvation is unnecessary.  If Salvation is unnecessary, the Cross is pointless.  And if the Cross is pointless, so is the Resurrection, and Paul tells us that if this is the case, we are to be pitied above all men.

So this isn't a secondary issue.  Please look into it.  Read some of the well researched and well written materials by folks like those at AiG and see the scientific evidence supporting Creationism.  Don't let the anti-God evolutionists make their claims unopposed.  As Mr. Ham points out, there is a Book on this, written by the only eye witness to the event.  Read it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Excitement: Jesus vs. Sports

I'm a sports fan.  Have been for a long time.  Baseball, football, hockey, NASCAR.  Those are my main diversions, but I've been known to watch a bit of a variety of things.  I'm looking forward to the Winter Olympics, even. 

Sadly, we did away with our satellite a few years back, and so my sports watching has decreased drastically.  Especially since one of the local network stations we don't seem to be able to pick up is Fox.  That means no NASCAR (that one hurt), no Saturday baseball, no NFC football.  And this year, no Super Bowl.  Of course, having read and heard a bit about yesterday's game, it doesn't seem I missed much since I would have been rooting for Manning and the Broncos, but I digress.

One of the conundrums over the years has been Sunday evening church vs. the "big event."  Whether it's the Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, a World Series game, or whatever, there are often events that happen at the same time as our evening service.  We know some will not attend because of the event.  Some want us to cancel because of the event.  Sometimes I want to stay home and watch the event!  But oh, what to do?  Jesus vs. sports?

Obviously there isn't really a competition.  Jesus comes out way ahead any day.  But the one thing that I hear over and over when it comes to these situations, something I've even said myself, is the "too bad Christians can't be as excited about Jesus as people are about _________________ (game, race, etc).  Sounds noble and "holy" to say, it really. 

Thanks to Adam Ford for putting it in this perspective.

Wait a minute, what do you mean, unnecessary?  Well, it's like this.  Actually, I can think of two ways of looking at it.  One has to do with our "too bad we aren't like this" statement.  Several years ago a guy named Jon Acuff posted a little item on something he called the "Jesus Juke."  That is taking any conversation that is about a lighthearted, fun, joking situation and trying to insert this serious, holy kind of thing.   He mentions laughing at a joke about something he saw at the airport, and having someone try to make some profound comment out of it about our spiritual faults.  Not that he disagreed about the spiritual truth; just that maybe this wasn't really the best time for it.

The point here: people enjoying a sporting event can just be people enjoying a sporting event.  We don't have to make it a Jesus vs. Sports thing.  It's ok to like sports, to have fun with it, I don't have to beat you over the head with a Jesus stick every time you want to watch a game.   Yes we can bemoan the lack of commitment and enthusiasm in the church, but we don't have to always do it in relation to the "big event."

And two, the other way of looking at it as to do with the "excitement" issue itself.  Thought I can't speak for Mr. Ford, I think what the above comic was getting at is simply this:  Jesus doesn't need a stadium full of people jumping up and down screaming his name once a week, or once a year, only to go back to their normal lives as if it never happened.  Face it, that's what happens at Super Bowls, etc.  We get all excited, make big plans, but then life goes on like it always did.

I think Jesus is much more concerned about lasting life change in His people.  Sure, we ought to be joyous, and "excited" about what God has done for us.  Our joy in Him should be evident.  His first miracle was to change water into wine to keep a wedding feast going, so joy is certainly a good thing.  But more than an emotional high now and then, God wants ongoing change.  He wants ongoing growth into holiness and humility and hunger for His Word.

Truth is, we already have too much of the once a week excitement-fest approach to the Christian life.  Too many already see the Christian faith as a now and then, get excited for the event, then go back to "real life" kind of thing.  True Christianity is about "real life."  It's about how we deal with day to day living, day to day joys, day to day sorrows, day to day service for our King.  Sure it's exciting.  And I don't even mind an "event" now and then to build that excitement.  But it's about much more than that.

So, excitement in the Jesus vs. Sports thing is really a non-starter.  Two different things.  Sports excitement is a momentary flash in the pan.  Jesus excitement is a daily experience of His grace.  I'll take the second over the first any time.