Friday, February 27, 2009
We sing this song a lot at our church - do we really see it as our joy to honor Him...in all we do? That's the goal here, folks.
On a side note, I really do wish Phil Joel would reconsider and come back to the Newsboys.
Now, I had recently watched "Defiance" and didn't feel his assessment was fair. Given that my Dad is a retired history teacher, I have seen hours of wartime footage of Allies liberating concentration camps that was much more raw than any drama could be. I truly believe context determines the moral implications of what we are watching. Is it informational, or entertaining?
On another blog, the writer considers the valid question of how we can entertain ourselves with the very things that crucified our Lord. Hollywood systematically and literally drags the Name of Christ through the mud at every opportunity. Against a backdrop of a "Passion of the Christ" trailer, Ashley interspersed sound-bites from various popular films where "Jesus Christ!" was used as an expletive (watch it here). Warning: graphic content; not for kids. Very effective; very sobering.
I simply cannot enjoy movies that treat immorality as the norm. Recently, we rented the comedy "Anger Management" from Netflix, as the trailer looked funny (I confess I did not pay attention to the rating - my bad). We had to turn it off less than 10 minutes into the film. Both Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson are talented actors with a rare gift for physical comedy - why the slide into sexual innuendo and filth?
It seems like I cannot enjoy most movies anymore, and like with TV, I won't watch something I would not allow the kids to watch. However, with that said, I would like to highlight a few truly God-honoring, family movies that you can watch and enjoy together. Today, I would like to focus on two movies - thus far the only two New Testament dramatizations that meet my standards of biblical accuracy.
First off, be sure and check out Anthony Hopkins and Robert Foxworth in the Emmy Award winning "Peter and Paul". This dramatization oof the Book of Acts is by far the most accurate portrayal of the Apostle Paul's journeys I have ever seen. The script sticks painstakingly to the biblical text, even depicting Hopkins (Paul) as narrating large portions of his letters. (Ever since watching the film, I always "hear" the epistles being read in a British accent. After all, everyone knows that Jesus had a Britich accent, so why wouldn't Paul? Insert tongue firmly in cheek here). I like British accents, and British people, for that matter. (Can you imagine a "Jesus" with a South Texas drawl? Or a "Bah-stahn" accent like mine? Didn't think so.)
As I recall, the only "imagined" scene in the movie came towards the beginning, when Peter and Paul met each other for the first time. They had a conversation in a semi-secluded garden, where Peter expresses his regret for denying Christ years before. Of course, Acts 9 doesn't elaborate on what was said by whom when the two Apostles first met, but it is entirely realistic to assume that such a conversation actually took place. This movie accurately depicted the historical context of the Hellenized world in the first century, as well as faithfully following the biblical chain of events. This was a much better film than the more recent "Paul the Apostle" (Johannes Brandrup), which was painfully inaccurate and historically laughable (naked Pharisees wrestling Greco-Roman style? Sadducee wives flirting with Pharisee bachelors? Come on, script-writers). "Peter and Paul" is available through Netflix, as well as ChristianCinema.com (I have not reviewed the site, so I can't vouch for the quality of CC.com's movies), and I highly recommend it for your viewing pleasure.
Some "biblical" movies depart so widely from the Scriptures that they are painful to watch. Like the afore-mentioned "Paul the Apostle" (my husband suggested I just view it as historical fiction, in order to curb my incredulous outbursts), most movies made about Jesus Christ make me wince. The made-for-TV films are typically the worst, as they attempt to super-impose a late-20th-century agenda on the Christ of the Gospels. With very few exceptions, most movies about Jesus are just awful.
In 1979, the evangelistic movie "The Jesus Film" came out and has been since translated into most of the world's languages. A word-for-word rendering of Luke's Gospel, this movie had merits in that it presented the Gospel message of salvation clearly and effectively, didn't take artistic liberty with the Bible, and incorporated the story of creation, fall of man, and subsequent Law of Moses into it's introduction of the Savior. However, the Shakespearean acting was so wooden and the effects so outdated that it is not my first choice for a Christ-centered family film night.
I HIGHLY recommend, if you haven't seen it already, that you rent the 2003 production "The Gospel of John". This is an absolutely wonderful movie that follows John's Gospel, as the title implies, with narration directly from the biblical text. British actor Henry Ian Cusick does a phenomenal job playing Jesus Christ, bringing realistic passion, personality, and tenderness to the role. It is highly unlikely that Christ spoke in a King James monotone, as many of the older films seem to imply. Cusick grasps the importance of body language, eye contact, smiles and voice register in conveying the compassion and personal interest Christ displayed towards other people.
While John's Gospel seems to skip from one place to another and keeping venues straight can be confusing, the script writers seemlessly wove events and conversations together against plausible Jerusalem and Galilee settings. Like Jim Caviezel in "The Passion of the Christ", Cusick is a believable "Jesus" who communicates tenderness both with his eyes and his intonation. However, "Passion" was not only gratuitously violent and graphic, it also fell seriously short theologically. While focusing exclusively on Good Friday, (and taking much artistic license with the Gospel accounts - many scenes, characters and statements were fictitious), Easter Sunday was overlooked and the significance of the Resurrection was downplayed, if not completely lost. Gibson played fast and loose with Scripture, which few cinema goers have the discernment to realize. The critical message of salvation was missing from "Passion", which was a shame, given the film's wide exposure.
"The Gospel of John" doesn't make the same mistake, although it sold far fewer tickets at the box office. Unfairly, the film received a PG-13 rating - completely undeserved; as it depicted by far the most sanitized version of the Passion I have ever seen on film. Neither the scourging nor the actual crucifixion is shown on-camera, and the only physical violence we see is the centurion coming to break the legs of the two thieves. The camera does zoom on the Roman spear piercing Jesus' side and the pericardial liquid oozing out, but the earlier physical torment is implied rather than shown on film. This is appropriate and in-line with the Gospels, none of which focus attention on the physical suffering of Christ. The camera shows Him on the cross - it goes without saying He got up there somehow. Do we really need to see nails being driven into wrists, or the contact of a whip with skin? Films that leave nothing to the imagination (secular as well as "Christian") leave images that distract us from the whole point of redemption , especially when viewed by children.
As good as "The Gospel of John" is, there are a couple of minor flaws. One is inherent in any film that follows only one of the four Gospels exclusively: important stuff from Jesus' ministry gets left out. John was the last of the four evangelists to pen his account, and he focused primarily on the deity of Christ. Since the earlier Gospels had covered "the action", John did not repeat all the details. Thus, following his account exclusively eliminates key moments from the story: we don't see Jesus instituting Communion during the Last Supper; most of the miracles are missing; and key statements of Christ from the cross are truncated.
Personally, I think the making of a quality, accurate film about the Lord should incorporate and blend events from all four Gospels, rather than following one slavishly. The Synoptics and John's account complement each other, rather than presenting competing stories.
The only other problem with "The Gospel of John" was one of accuracy. Director Philip Saville included Mary Magdalen throughout the entire length of Holy Thursday. Annoyingly, the camera moves to her rapt countenance, eyes riveted on Jesus, every few seconds during the Upper Room discourse. Absurdly, she accompanies the eleven remaining apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane, where she remains a silent but central figure up until the moment of Jesus' arrest. The chemistry between her and Jesus in the Upper Room is questionable, and her presence in those scenes is unbiblical. None of the four Gospels records Mary Magdalen as being present, and if she is included as a background figure, all of the women associated with Christ's ministry should have been written into the script. Luke records Susana, Joanna, and "many others" as being a domestic and financial presence among the disciples - although Luke indicates in chapter 22 that the apostles prepared the Passover meal themselves. Including a lone woman or women at the scene of the Last Supper and afterward is unlikely, even by the cultural mores of the time.
In closing, I would like to encourage you to seek out truly edifying, Christian movies to watch and enjoy, rather than despairing of the media altogether. If you have any particular suggestions of films you would like me to recommend or review, please mention them in the combox below. Remember, it must not take artistic license with the biblical narrative. I'm a stickler for that. Messing with the Bible is a PET PEEVE of mine!
As you allow God to renew your mind, let your entertainment choices reflect a heart after His!
Monday, February 23, 2009
My pastor's wife has given me a wonderful book by Ed Welch, "When People are Big and God is Small" which deals not only with the fear of man, but the insecurity many of us bring into our walk with God. We're afraid to face our own sin squarely when we have an incorrect view of God. Until we really believe that He loves us, we avoid Him when we sin and think His interest is impersonal. Only when we get a revelation that the one Who hung the stars holds us in His palm can we rest enough in His great love to become truly others-focused. Later in the week, I read the following quote by Welch: “Obedience is post-liberation thankfulness.”
Oh, yes it is. Pretty much summarizes my rambling thoughts of last Friday's entry.
It continues: check out the in-depth discussion of Christ's reinstatement of Peter (the beach-side barbeque exchange of John 21) over at Scripture Student. That guy didn't worry about presuming on Jesus' grace - he just jumped right in!
If you haven't already visited "Desiring God" for your daily dose of edification today, let me quote a wonderful truth explored this morning, about doubts the born-again believer must counter:
J. Gresham Machen, one of the great proclaimers and defenders of the Christian faith in the early 20th century, went through a season of fearful doubt on his way to solid confidence. Remarkably, it was his mother who spoke one of the decisive words of rescue. He tells the story:
I was brought up in a denomination that considered the assurance Christ offers us to be the sin of "presumption". The apostle John extols this wonderful assurance in 1 John 3:18-20, and elsewhere Paul and the writer of Hebrews exhort us to confess and approach the throne of grace with confidence. There is nothing we can or should do to make ourselves more acceptable to God; no "penance" that can earn His favor. Such an attitude is the epitome of pride - to think that our pitiful, penetential attempts can somehow add to the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Like the ritualistic attempts of the 1st century Pharisees to reach God on their terms (instead of on His), man-made divine merit/demerit systems and codified terms of obtaining forgiveness are a slap in the face to a gracious, compassionate God.
The question is not merely whether we can rest in our faith, but whether we can rest in the doubt that is the necessary alternative of faith. We pass sometimes through periods of very low spiritual vitality. The wonderful gospel which formerly seemed to be so glorious comes to seem almost like an idle tale. Hosts of objections arise in our minds; the whole unseen world recedes in the dim distance, and we think for the moment that we have relinquished the Christian hope....
My mother [spoke to me] in those dark hours when the lamp burned dim, when I thought that faith was gone and shipwreck had been made of my soul. “Christ,” she used to say, “keeps firmer hold on us than we keep on him.”
My mother’s word meant...that salvation by faith does not mean that we are saved because we keep ourselves at every moment in an ideally perfect attitude of confidence in Christ. No, we are saved because having once been united to Christ by faith, we are his forever. Calvinism is a very comforting doctrine indeed. Without its comfort, I think I should have perished long ago in the castle of Giant Despair. (J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 561)
Old thought patterns, like old habits, die hard. Reading the Bible and letting it seep down into my soul is the only way to overcome this old fear and compulsion to "make it up to God". Who, I secretly believed, is probably angry at me and needs to be appeased through compensatory "works", both corporal and spiritual.
This belief is a lie straight from the pit of hell, and is one Satan uses effectively to keep Christians in bondage. When repentance becomes penance, and love becomes guilt-ridden duty, we are utterly deceived about God's true nature.
Why is it so much harder to rest in His assured love than to strive for His favor? Because it strikes at our pride, I would guess. Truly humbling ourselves under God's hand is to acknowledge that nothing good lives in us, never will on our own merits, and God loves us anyway. In spite of ourselves; and despite all the times we question the depth of His affection for us. Christ iisn't ashamed to call us His brothers (or sisters, as the case may be). Think of that!
While on earth, Christ walked by faith, just as His servant friends are required to do. There were wilderness moments (even before Calvary), but unlike us, He never doubted. The artwork above is called "In the Wilderness", and it is a great reminder of Whom we are to behold when Satan whispers that age-old lie: "God doesn't really love you. Hath God really said...?"
Renewing our minds with the washing of the Word is the only defense against the doubts, the striving, the fearing we are presuming on His grace...when we just come, empty-handed, just as we are to seek Him. Thinking we need to clean ourselves up before approaching Him is like taking a shower so that we can take a bath.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? - Romans 2:4
For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9
Saturday, February 21, 2009
The bottom line: God's love (agape) really is unconditional. I was wrong in thinking I can lose it. Looking at the whole of Scripture, we can make a water-tight case for that. This is HUGE to me and makes all the difference. Let me explain......
John Piper writes that God's love is unconditional "in a sense" - His electing love and regenerating love are not conditioned on our response. This is certainly true, but it doesn't answer the question of whether He loves everybody, and if we can "lose" His affection when we (His children) mess up. We're not talking about a saving love - obviously we know salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ and repentance. I'm talking about how He feels about us when we're disobedient and not giving Him our whole hearts.
I've been struggling lately with John 14:21 and John 15:9-11, which make it sound as if His love is conditioned upon our obedience. I am not perfectly obedient, and the harder I try to repent and submit to His lordship, the more discouraged I get. I feared the threat of His withdrawing His love from me. Last night, as I was cooking, I started wondering if the Greek term in those verses might be "phileos", brotherly love/fellowship, which Peter confessed he had for Christ in John 21 (realizing he didn't truly have the perfect, unconditional "agape" love Christ was asking for). It would make sense, I thought, since Jesus is talking about those already in the Kingdom. Perhaps we could understand those verses to mean that if we don't "abide in" or don't obey Him, we forfeit a sense of His fellowship. Estranged relationally, we don't experience the greater intimacy of friendship. The use of "phileos" would help support this interpretation, I thought.
So I checked Strong's, but no; it wasn't "phileos". All of the verses that link God's love to obedience and walking with Him promise "agape". Hmm. This is a puzzle, because taken at face value, it would indicate that God is threatening to stop loving us if we don't please Him, which doesn't add up.
Then I noticed something else - the same verb "agapeos" is used when Jesus saw the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21 - "He looked at him and He loved him"; (he who walked away, never became regenerate); He loved the multitudes; and - most significantly - in all of the verses where Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Consistently, it's "agape" love He talks about - which, by definition, is unconditional and does not expect or demand reciprocation. Why does this matter? Because Jesus never tells us to do something He doesn't do Himself. He loves ("agape") His enemies; those who reject Him; His quibbling disciples; and even the multitudes (made up of people with all different types of hearts).
(I promise I'm going somewhere with this).
So now......if He's talking to His children, why would He "stop" loving them based on imperfect obedience....when He even loves those who hate Him, reject Him, or are indifferent to Him? The Bible clearly states that He loves them. He LOVES them. I'm sure sending those to hell who reject Him breaks His heart. But right now, my focus is on those of us who love Him but mess up. I asked myself this question: "Why, if He even loves His enemies and people before they become saved, would He think less of those trying to follow Him? It's impossible (and illogical)!" So that's not what the verses are saying - something else is implied.
Deeper fellowship and increasing intimacy is to be experienced with obedience to God - this makes sense. Sure, God will love His enemies, (although juustice demands that He must ultimately damn them), but it stands to reason that His relationship with His children is going to be qualitatively different. Looking at the verses about God's love, it occurred to me why Jesus didn't use "phileos" to describe this unique intimacy with God that we have -- it's too weak a word to describe God's love. To promise "agape" unconditionally to His enemies, but only "phileos" to His friends doesn't make sense. It would be like offering the use of your pickup truck to someone who already has the stretch limo you gave him. In fact, I'm not even sure you could describe a love as deep and vast as God's with "phileos" - it sort of degrades or minimizes (cheapens) it.
HOWEVER, the notion of friendship, fellowship, closer intimacy is implied in that love Jesus is promising His "friends". It's not directly conveyed by use of a different word, but all this time He's been telling them how to follow Him and be different from the rest of the world. He's offering them so much more - that friendship with Him - ON TOP OF the unconditional aspect of God's love and concern for them He already promises! If He loves us unreservedly, eternally and unconditionally, He's not going to say, "let's go back to being 'just friends'." That would be more absurd than my saying that to my husband, after 13 years of marriage. Uh, it's a little late....but the closeness of our relationship can fluctuate. I think that's implicit in what Jesus was saying.
This knowledge is HUGE. It's actually very freeing, because even when I wrong the Lord by being apathetic, hard, or even outright rebellious (hopefully that won't happen, but I'm still a sinner), coming back is possible because I still have that reservoir of His love to fall into. He will have noticed and been displeased with my heart, (and I can't expect unhindered fellowship because my heart's not right), but it hasn't qualitatively changed our relationship.
All that to say this: He still loves me. He won't stop, either, no matter what (although I have no intention of presuming on His grace or trying His patience). I think we can make that case strongly from the Bible. If you just take those 1 or 2 verses in a vacuum, you might miss it. This knowlege makes me want to pray, to worship, etc.; it's not "duty-worship" where I feel guilty if it's not enough.
Jesus, thank You for loving me in spite of myself. Thank You for Your unending patience and perseverence with my stubborn, unbelieving heart. I am so filled with gratitude that nothing I can do will make You love me less, and even more - nothing I CAN do will prompt You to love me more. Thank you for enabling me to see this amazing truth from Your Word, and to desire Your friendship and presence above all else.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
- Wow.....so this morning, I received my very first blogger award, from Lizzie over at "A Dusty Frame". She listed me as one of the people who has been encouraging to her, which was sweet although I don't feel very encouraging (or encouraged) in my walk these days.
If you remember Barnabas from the Book of Acts (sorry, I'm too lazy to look up the reference right now), he was a companion on Paul's fledgling missionary journey. His name means "son of encouragement" ("bar" = the Hebrew "son"; you usually see it in subnames). Later on, when John Mark (the Gospel writer) bailed on Paul, deserting him halfway through a mission trip, Barnabas was the one who gave Mark a break (against Paul's better judgment). So the implication is that I have been, in some small way, an encouragement to others.
Lizzie is a wise Christian woman who continues to persevere in trials. We have known each other since 2005, from the Christian bulletin board forum "BabyCenter", although neither of us has had the time or inclination to over there in years. (You can only take so many pluralistic debates on Mormonism and charismania). Her site is a treasure trove of apologetics, devotional writing, Christian reading suggestions, and ministry links (including Angel Tree and Prison Fellowship). Lizzie also has an online store, with lots of cute crafts and pretty kids' clothing items! My little girl loves her decorative beaded socks and red ribbon bows. The link for the e-store is: http://adustyframe.com/thedustyattic/.
This is a really neat idea and you can pass it on to others (in the blogosphere or elsewhere, I suppose). Here's how you can do it:
*Link back to the person who gave you the award.
*Use my graphic (leaving my blog address on it)
*Share it with anyone who encourages you whether or not their blog is “spiritual”.
*Share this explanation
“Barnabas worked with the Apostle Paul.
We remember him for his encouragement and generosity. In this spirit, I’d like to let you know that you are a Barnabas in my life. Thank you!”
Thanks again Lizzie!
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I found the cover art a bit racy, and hope that Miss Christian will take that into consideration with the forthcoming two books. Much to her credit, the author is donating all royalties from the book to help the homeless in NH. Great job!
In Meg Christian’s book “Battling the Unknown”, Book 1 of “The Last Rawl Trilogy”, there were many pros and cons, although for the most part it was interesting. I found myself often thinking about what would happen to Katrina Rawl, the main character, during her exhausting adventures.
First of all, the story begins when Katrina was only six years old and she was living with her dying mother. Her mother’s last words to Katrina were “find Amile the Warrior”. Years later, Katrina was living with her crabby aunt working in the humid outdoors and eating potatoes every single night, and she found out that the evil Umberodian government wanted her. Katrina runs away, visits numerous cities much different from her own, and tries incredibly hard to keep her identity safe and hidden. Along the way she meets Twitter, an obnoxious bird, and Arlon, a trustworthy man. They both accompany Katrina on her long journey to find Amile and to be safe. Eventually, in the very last few pages, Katrina finds Amile, and leaves the book in suspense while the government is still furious that they haven’t found Katrina.
Some of the things in this book I didn’t really like. I didn’t like how in every single chapter most of the paragraphs went on and on explaining too much detail. This made Katrina’s adventures a little boring. One example is when she climbed into a dark tunnel and I felt like I was reading paragraph after paragraph on what the tunnel looked like and what was at the other end of the tunnel. I was yawning. I also didn’t like how at the end of some chapters the book leaves suspenseful parts at the end, and the next chapter is about something different. For instance, at the end of one of the chapters, Katrina was in one of the cities and a suspicious person was watching her. I was wondering what would happen next, but the chapter after that just explains that she ran and continued traveling. Other than that, I enjoyed reading this book.
I liked many things in Meg Christian’s book. I liked how there was a map in each chapter explaining where Katrina was going during her journey. It helped me visualize the route that Katrina took much better. I also liked how Katrina met some nice and hospitable people during her adventure who took care of her for a few days. She wasn’t totally alone. I liked how Katrina never gave up even if her goal to find Amile was difficult. I wonder what she will discuss with Amile in the next book.
I recommend “Battling the Unknown” to anyone who likes adventure, suspense, or fantasy books in general. I liked this book, and I’d really like to read the next one.
Valentina, age 12
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Last Halloween, I ordered a packet of tracts from ATS to hand out to Trick-or-Treaters, geared toward kids and cleverly illustrated. No Gospel, no mention of repentence, only a vague reference to Christ being the light of the world. An incomplete gospel is worse than no gospel at all. Into the trash they went.
Okay......my kids participate in AWANA, which is a great program and motivates children to dig into the Scriptures. Last year, my 4-year-old son had nearly two dozen Bible verses (and references!) memorized, despite not knowing how to read. He LOVED learning about God (still does), and could explain the premise of the Gospel quite well for his age. One night in the bathtub, he reflected, "Jesus loved us so much He took our punishment, because 'all have sinned'. 'God loved us and sent His son'. And He is sad when we do naughty things - that's sin. We need to be nice and try to do what makes God happy." Well said, for a 4-year-old. I teach him about God, incorporate biblical principles into daily life (as we do with all our kids), bring them to church, and so on. But I will not lead Stefan in a "Sinner's Prayer", as I believe it is nothing more than an incantation at this age. Or at any age, when you leave out heartfelt repentance.
I couldn't help noticing, though, that the "Skipper's" book from his AWANA club tells the kids all about trusting Jesus, but leaves out the need for repentance. No explanation of the new life. Do we expect regeneration from 5-year-olds who have (by and large) been brought up in Christian homes? Why not just lead them in the ways of God, and let the Holy Spirit convict them into a true conversion, when they're old enough to grasp the implication of how serious sin really is? Leading kids into a "ask Jesus into my heart" prayer can actually short-circuit their spiritual growth later on. Just talk to any youth pastor - many teens point to a moment in early childhood when they "prayed a prayer". Their claim to be saved hinges on that one moment, but sometimes show no fruit and are indistinguishable from their non-Christian friends (except maybe by their Christian T-shirts).
Stefan came home with a tract this week, the ATS publication "Speed". I put it aside (he can't yet read it by himself). Here's an excerpt:
Here is the game plan God gave us in the Bible:
1. Sin separates us from God.
2. Only Jesus can take away our sin.
3. You must trust Jesus as your Leader and Savior.
4. God’s free gift to us is new life–eternal life with him.
SAY “YES” TO JESUS RIGHT NOW!
Pray a simple prayer like this: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for loving me. I am sorry for those things I have done that have separated us. Please forgive me. I want Jesus to be the Leader and Savior of my life. I believe he died on the cross and conquered death so that I could have eternal life with you. I receive this new life you freely give. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Where, exactly, does repentance fit into this? (An apology is not the same as seeking forgiveness - Jay Adams has a great book on that subject). Why is "Lord" softened to "Leader"? Why is the Lordship of Christ completely disregarded? Is this an American/"seeker sensitive" thing? Making the Gospel more palatable by taking out the hard stuff does no one any good. How will the kids grasp the Good News, if we're afraid to tell them the bad news? Does Jesus not warn us that to follow Him means a radical change?
There's something wrong with this. We're willingly breeding a generation of superficial professions - of an historical faith in Christ. Obedience is not optional - it is expected of true believers.