Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ridley Scott, Judging God


Why does Ridley Scott, who has said “religion” was the greatest evil of all bother to make a Biblical epic movie?

The Noah movie that came out earlier this year had people scratching their heads, too. Why would an atheist be interested in doing a movie about God's judgment on humanity? Not surprisingly, the movie's narrative was rather confusing. The best an atheist can come up with is that mankind has mistreated Nature and God needed to put an end to that.

With Exodus: Gods and Kings, another atheist is grappling with God's judgment on mankind. And, surprise, surprise, God isn't viewed as good or righteous. While Noah toyed with the idea that God might be fitful and given to overkill, wanting to wipe out all of humanity, including Noah and his family, only rescuing the “innocent” animals. That movie resolves with Noah recognizing that God doesn't want that, and that it is a new beginning for humanity. Even thought it's emphasis seems to be on ecological goodness, not righteousness before a Holy God.

With this new tale of Moses, however, there are some serious issues that cannot be explained by a misunderstanding from a non-believer.

First, Moses does not appear to be the subject of a 400-year-old prophecy. The movie glosses over Pharaoh's edict to murder all the Jewish boys by throwing them into the Nile. The lack of this genocide, in addition to the oppressive slavery over the past 400 years doesn't appear to interest Ridley Scott, Christian Bale, or the rest of the producers, writers et. al. Instead, they pick up the story in some fanciful battle with the Hittites, which I've never heard of before. The Hittites were powerful in the area, but not anywhere near as dominant as Egypt. With the resources of Egypt and the commerce of the world depending on that empire, it wouldn't be logical that a group of people that depend on them would attack in a large-scale war. That would be like Mexico attacking the United States. No matter what differences we might have, that's not going to happen. Ever.

Second, Moses is depicted as being unaware of his Hebrew heritage. I think such ambivalence could rightly be placed with Scott or Bale, but not Moses. Since they skipped the rich story of God's providence when Moses' mother refused to let him be killed, keeping him secret and then placing him in a basket in the Nile, they also missed the part about Pharaoh's daughter who was bathing in the Nile, probably hoping to be blessed with a child (Royalty would not be bathing in the river and the Nile was reputed for its fertility). When she saw Moses in the basket, she might have viewed this as a gift from the god of the Nile. She let Moses' mother raise him until he was weaned, which would be around 3-5 years old in that culture.

It's possible that Moses would have had distant memories of those years, but it is clear in the Bible that he remembered his people. Maybe he stayed in contact with Miriam, his sister. The most important part of the story, and Moses' messianic imagery was the fact that he chose to shed the royal powers and privilege and identify himself with his people who were the lowest form of slave in the world. God shed His glory and became human to rescue his people.

With nothing to gain and all to lose, after thoughtful examination, he descended from the footsteps of the loftiest throne in the world. --Meyer, F, B., Moses, The Servant Of God (p. 21). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.”

This is the pathos of the story! How can you root for a guy who is reluctantly rescuing a group of people he despises?

Moses was 40 years old when he stepped down from the palace to join the slaves. Imagine the anger and hurt that Pharaoh and his daughter suffered at Moses' decision. They would have seen it as a slap in the face, an act of ungratefulness at best. They'd see it as utter foolishness, for sure.

There was pride in Moses. All the Hebrews knew the prophecy of 400 years. They knew that after that time God would send a deliverer to free them from the bondage of Egypt. They were all looking. Perhaps Moses' mother had told him he was the one. Maybe Moses simply couldn't stand to see his people under such cruel suffering and decided he would be the one! We don't know for sure. We do know that Moses saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow slaves to death and defended that slave, killing the Egyptian.

Fear followed Moses actions because he wasn't doing what God had told him to do. He hid the dead body, but then fled from his land, escaping to the wilderness, possibly as far as present day Saudi Arabia.

His own education was very incomplete; it would take at least forty years to drain him of his self-will and self-reliance, and make him a vessel meet for the Master’s use.
--Meyer, F, B., Moses, The Servant Of God (p. 26). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.”

Moses was 40 when he stepped down from the heights of Egypt and attempted to save his people by his own efforts. It took 40 years of humility before he was ready for God's use.

That's another remarkable aspect of this story. Moses was 80 years old when God called him back. During this time he might have struggled to forget the suffering of his people at the hands of the vicious Egyptians. He might have buried his feelings deep and hoped he'd never have to be reminded of those early days. Maybe, as he slept on the hard ground under the diamond-speckled heavens, Moses' thoughts went back to his days of privilege and honor. Perhaps he could see the vanity in it all. Whatever it was, the time emptied him of his self-will and his pride.

Third, the movie portrays Moses as an atheist. He doesn't buy into the gods of Egypt and is unsure of the existence of God. I'm not sure if Ridley Scott is attempting to be creative or derisive in depicting God as an 11-year-old boy. Reactions to his depiction, however, seem to indicate that God comes across as petulant or “spoiled.”

Moses was not an atheist. He knew there was one God, not many, like the Egyptians believed. So, his dismissal of Egyptian mysticism might be true to form. But when God appeared, speaking from the burning bush, Moses was in awe. The Bible also doesn't say that God appeared in any human form when interacting with Moses. Certainly not when he spoke from the bush.

I realize that many will see the “burning bush” as a fantastical, mythic tale. Yet, it has meaning, which we can examine.

The burning caught Moses' attention, drawing him to where it was. God doesn't meet us where we are or how we might prefer. Rather, He draws us out of our routine. Moses turned aside to see the wonder of this mighty flame.

The bush was not consumed. Despite the intense heat and light, the physical form beneath God's display was not damaged. This paradox of power and control amazed the humbled Moses. No earthly power can avoid destroying things, even with great effort. We lack control and tend to break things with our power. Yet God is in complete control of the elements and the display of His power.

Moses could not approach the flame. Much like the sun, God dwells in unapproachable light. Moses, in fact, had to remove his sandals in honor of the very presence of God's display. God was not fully present in the bursting flames and light surrounding the bush. But His glory was translated, as was His voice, for Moses' benefit. Much like Jesus is called “the light of the world,” and “the word of God,” The light from the bush and the voice that Moses heard were translations of God's reality made tangible for a human.

The last thing the movie destroys is God's righteousness. The plagues of Egypt are reduced to “naturalistic” phenomena. Alligators chomping on fish and such to make the Nile water red with blood, a tsunami drawing back the water (in the nick of time, as a matter of fact) to provide the Hebrews an escape and destroy Pharaoh and his army. And by this, the filmmakers miss the focus of the plagues.

And so God set Himself to show that the gods of the heathen were no gods; that the whole system of Egyptian worship must be subordinate to the empire of a greater God than any known to their magicians or priests; --Meyer, F, B. Moses, The Servant Of God (p. 54). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.”

““Who is Jehovah?” He is the God of Nature, at whoso bidding the Nile no longer blesses, but curses, her devotees; at whose command the objects of Egyptian worship become a loathing and an abomination, and make the land stink; at the expression of whose will the bodies of the priests are covered with the lice that deride all that razor or water can do for their extermination, and at whose summons the sacred beetle Corrupts the land. “Not know Him?” He is the God who speaks through human voices; the God of the aged brethren; the God of those groaning serfs; the God who could not run back from a covenant into which He had entered with that long-suffering people; the God of Redemption and of Eternity. --Meyer, F, B. Moses, The Servant Of God (pp. 54-55). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.”

The plagues were uniquely fashioned to displace the Egyptian gods and to make Pharaoh indisputably aware of who God was. Each plague was announced before it happened (which makes a natural explanation impossible). Each one jabbed at a sacred aspect of Egyptian mysticism, right down to the first born.

In the movie, Moses will “have no part!” of the killing of the first born. Which is weird. I wonder if Moses, in this movie, would have had any part in the killing of Hebrew children by the hundreds or thousands? I wonder if Moses would have had any part of the brutality, abuse and murder of the Hebrew slaves?

When filmmakers judge God, they reveal their hatred, not their compassion. Humans will gloss over the evils of everyday life, then rail against the notion of the demands of a Holy God. The reason is simple. Humanity, like Pharaoh, believes itself to be basically good. The evil we do is just part of life, the culture we live in. How can we be held responsible for mistreating slaves? It's just part of the way of life. How can we be blamed for wanting to make the most of our resources and keep them from overpowering us? After all, we assume some god or force has allowed us to be in the position we are.

Humanity resents true justice because it doesn't weigh the scales or take bribes. It demands pure righteousness, which we can't possess on our own.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Disqualifications of a Pastor

Armies retreat, empires crumble and nations implode amid a void of leadership. Or there might be a painful erosion that bleeds a church away under an abusive regime. In the end, the result is the same: People will begin to see the things that might have disqualified their leaders or, in some cases, confront the fact that the people who were in charge should never have been elevated to such lofty a post.

Recently, we've seen the world take notice of a tragic scene which was 18 years in the making. The Seattle-based church of Mars Hill, which reached its zenith of 14,000 members in what has been called the "least 'churched' are of the country," has received its Reduction In Force orders after a rather lengthy series of issues that surrounded their controversial leader, Mark Driscoll.

In his resignation letter, Driscoll said:

"aspects of my personality and leadership style, have proven to be divisive within the Mars Hill context" 
The church had declined to 7,000 members across several campuses by this past summer. Protests began regarding Mark's draconian authority structure in which he used spiritually abusive and cult-like practices to assimilate more control and, not coincidentally, large salary sums to himself.

So, it would seem that the "aspects of" his "personality" were things like greed and selfish ambition, to name two right off the top. Aside from being blatantly sinful, such things would be divisive in more than just the "Mars Hill context."

Driscoll went on to say what he didn't want:

"to be the source of anything that might detract from our church's mission to lead people to a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ."
While this is the "right" thing to say, it also rings a bit false. If he was a repentant man over his sinful self-aggrandizing and painful spiritual abuse of people, he wouldn't have excused himself as having behavior that seems to have been "proven divisive" in some particular "context." The Bible is pretty clear that arrogance, greed and fleshly ambition has no home with Jesus or His Church.

Repentance is when we agree with God about our condition. The repentant man or woman will agree with God that he or she is totally without merit before a Holy God and incapable of cleaning off the filth, much less attaining the righteousness needed for a relationship with God. It is only through the baptism of this repentance that one can then follow after the one, true shepherd, Jesus, looking to his work on the cross as the total payment for their sin and clothing for their righteousness in God's sight.

That's the only path: Repentance and faith in Jesus' work alone.

Flowing from this, the believer will worship God as Father in an ever increasing inner life of faith and sanctification.

Sanctification is also something that Driscoll lacks (evidencing that he's not only a robber, not a shepherd). Sanctification is what the Holy Spirit does within every true son and daughter of God the Father. It is the process that reveals to us the festering scars that our sinful nature has left. Sanctification then sanitizes the wounds and leads us to better living.

One might liken it to an illness that one discovers has happened as a result of his habitual lifestyle that he realizes must change. With awareness of the damage comes a detesting of the source and a rejection of that habit or diet. Once that change is made, returning to the sickening addiction might seem attractive to the old ways, which will tempt as being familiar and comforting. But the process of sanctification is akin to someone who has come out of a painful bondage to drugs, drink or food. No matter how appealing the old lifestyle may seem, the person who remembers the state from which they've come will reject the old ways, knowing that death festers in that feast.

Mark Driscoll didn't repent of his sin. He didn't submit to any authority around him in the form of fellow believers who had called him out on his errors. Rather, he copped to a lesser plea of being a poor fit for a particular context. He adds judgment to himself by claiming he doesn't want to be a source of anything that would detract from Jesus Christ.

The fact is, if he had shown humility in admitting the harm he'd done, confessed his arrogance and then sought to find the people he hurt, confessing to them and making things right, he would have done exactly what he professes that he wants to do: He would be directing people's attention to a growing relationship with Christ.

Instead, he bows out with an ambiguous mea culpa, tosses off an insincere "Christian" and noble goal while serving his own pride and impugning fault on the people who finally woke up to the fact that he wasn't qualified to be a minister. (to clarify, he's essentially saying that there's nothing wrong with him, it was just the 'context' that was to blame and he's leaving, magnanimously taking the blow, in hopes Mars Hill will stop obsessing about him).

And yet, what do we learn? It should be obvious to all that Mark was not qualified to be a minister. He didn't met any of the qualifications that Paul put to pen in 1 Timothy 3. He was a new convert, for one! He had just been 'saved' and then started a church. And he was led into selfish ambition and greed, exactly as Paul said would happen: ..."he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil."

The condemnation of the devil was that he said "I will become like the most high." Satan wanted God's job. It would seem that Driscoll didn't so much as want to "go to work with Dad," as he used to say, but he expected to take over the family business.

The Mars Hill elder board concluded:
"Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner..."

Yet, they didn't find that he was disqualified for ministry.

This is why churches in America are seeing declining attendance and membership. There are no true under-shepherds. We have robbers (Driscoll) and hirelings. The robbers are in the pulpit for their selfish goals of "winning" and financial success. The hirelings are there to collect a paycheck but won't be seen defending the sheep from the wolves.

The sheep hear the shepherd's voice, and they follow. From the tangle of goats and sheep, from which no one would be able to discern whose belong to whom, the sheep disentangle themselves when they hear the shepherd's voice. They don't need to be driven, like cattle, or muzzled or branded. They hear the shepherd's voice and they follow.

Today, we have few who are speaking with the Shepherd's voice. Rather, we have celebrities who amass worldly wealth, pointing to 1 Timothy 5 in which an "elder who rules well is to be worthy of double honor..." Yet, none of them are "ruling well." They have large congregations of cattle and goats, not sheep. The sheep haven't heard the shepherd's voice and stop attending. Those who remain are the throngs of religious people that fill this world, happy with the broad road of faux spirituality that gets mixed with some truth in mega-churches and small churches alike.

Paul didn't write down a list of suggestions for possible qualifications for a good pastor in his letter to Timothy. No, he said 'must' before each one. If the elder board found that Driscoll was guilty of arrogance, contentiousness and harsh language, then they should have had no problem realizing that he's disqualified from any ministry in the church, including being a deacon.

Since the christian culture in America can't seem to realize that, it is doubtful that we'll see any revival on a large scale in churches today. Rather, the revival will happen silently, in homes where the true sheep are reading their Bibles and thrilling over the love of their Heavenly Father and worshiping in spirit and in truth.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Driscoll's Dilemma

Mark has been having a few rough days. It would seem that from his meteoric rise as the "cussing pastor" to the recent consolidation of power at Mars Hill Church, Mark is reaping the whirlwind.

Recently, the Acts 29 group, a network Mark formed with a name that essentially adds to the Bible by saying they are the new chapter at the end of Acts (which has 28 chapters), has kicked him out. They state he's demonstrated himself disqualified as a minister and have recommended that he step down as a pastor and "seek help."

This public slap in the face comes along with an uncommon protest by evangelical Christians outside his church in response to his spiritual abuse of members who had joined him to, ostensibly, worship and serve the Living God.

In addition, folks have preserved the rant that Driscoll had posted via pseudonym of William Wallace II. Google the rant and you'll find it. Essentially, this "great thinker" and "theologian" boils Adam's Fall to "listening to his wife," and becoming "pussified." He goes on to outline what he sees as the most evident damage of the Fall being that men are being convinced to "pee sitting down."

There's a site where former elders and members can post their stories about abuse at Mars Hill Church, Joyful Exiles.

The common thread of all the stories I've read so far is this: Authoritarian abuse.

My wife and I encountered this, too. We are dedicated to Christ and have a strong, real faith in God, the Creator of all things. We believe the Bible from start to finish as a matter of faith.

Unfortunately, what we've found in churches is exactly what Mark Driscoll has fostered. The fallout he's experiencing is in direct proportion to the size of his growth. How many smaller little cults of personality and authoritarian sects rise and fall every year, harming the tender souls who have recognized Christ and want to gather to worship God? Yet those little gatherings and "church plants" don't make news.

Driscoll's Mars Hill does.

And that's a good thing.

I remember hearing about Mark when he started up. I'd heard that he was this straight-talking, manly pastor, etc. I listened to some of his sermon's on Youtube and agreed with about 90% of what he said.

But, it's the 10% that makes all the difference.

That's where pastors become inflated and see this "chain of command" with them being higher up than the rank and file. It's there that the notions of some special power of insight into people's sin enters the equation. It's in that 10% that the truth of the 90% is scuttled and made meaningless.

The 10%, or even just 5% error can seriously harm people.

My prayer is that the public exposure of the Mars Hill abuse will underline the issue of abuse that exists in churches everywhere. It may only be 2%, but it's wrong and harmful and unloving.

Those who would be elders, pastors or deacons are to do so in humility, like Moses. They don't vaunt their status, but sacrifice themselves for their Lord in service. They remember that they're not worthy of anything greater than God's Grace, a gift they didn't merit (by virtue of it being called grace!).

Unfortunately, we have men who, like Korah, march up with 90% of truth at their disposal and form a group within God's people, essentially challenging the authority of Moses (who was a type of Christ). These men, like Driscoll, claim the mantle of leadership and declare that God has endorsed them. Then, they trample the love of God with their twisted, fallen ideas. Their ministry is centered around their desires, their goals and not about serving Christ.

Christians should only have one master, Jesus Christ. If your pastor tells you that he is God's authority over you, correct him. Jesus and the Bible are God's authority over anyone. Period. Those who are acting as true elders, pastors and teachers of God will not be boasting of anything other than God's gracious salvation. They won't be elevating themselves up over the sheep. If they do, they're misguided in their own sin. And if they demand that you treat them with respect that you owe only to Christ, they're asking you to sin.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

 Total Depravity

I'm interested in seeing this next installment of the rebooted franchise. I like the examination of our natures using apes as foils.

The far more interesting thing to me is what it says about evolution and human nature.

It seems that the story depicts the gravitational pull toward distrust, dominance and conflict. It also suggests that there are higher virtues that, while ideals to strive for, are universal and true, yet never really attained. Sounds like something might have been written on the hearts of mankind (and, apparently sentient apes) despite their tendency toward evil and bloodshed.

Endowed by a Creator

I am also interested in the fact that the film makers could not believably show how apes go from unintelligent creatures to reasoning, complex and intelligent beings without being endowed with those traits through the brilliance of a human scientist (in Rise of the Planet of the Apes).


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rebellion


Rebellion. 

That word can be seen as good or bad, depending on context. If we're referring to the freedom-loving rebels in Star Wars, opposing the dark forces of the Empire, it's good. When referring to an anarchist uprising to overthrow a peaceful democracy, it's bad.

Rule of Law.

The difference hinges on whether the rebellion is for or against the concept of law. That concept can just as easily be carried out by a dictator in a benevolent empire as it can by a balanced, congressional or parliamentary system of government. Both systems can fall prey to tyranny. You could have one tyrant or 300 tyrants. Take your pick. The difference between a free society depends on those in authority recognizing that they are serving the rule of law, not the other way around.

Human Rights. 

Everyone likes to argue about rights. Unfortunately, our discussion of rights seems to have devolved into "freebies." Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has become a list of things that we expect someone else to pay for. Worse still, we seem to think that some Ruling Class ought to enforce these unnamed someones to pay for it all.

In particular, I'm thinking about the Hobby Lobby verdict. We have politicians calling the verdict "idiotic."

What I find idiotic is the whole debate. Or that it even became an issue. 

Why is it that when a "corporation," which is a private enterprise by private, and presumably free people, doesn't want to provide a "benefit" to their employees, it becomes an issue for the Government? Do we really want a Ruling Class to dictate what private enterprises must do or provide? Do we want them to tell private citizens what they must do and provide?

If so, that's called slavery. If you're for that, great. But it sort of conflicts with the whole idea of "rights." Just be honest about it. You want to be a slave to a ruling class that will give you stuff at the expense of others. But that has nothing to do with rights. Your rights don't get billed to someone else, and someone else's rights don't get billed to you.

The Good of Society.

Naturally, we don't want people to be misused, so we have laws that govern treatment of people on work-sites, we require that companies provide compensation in the event of job-related injuries ... etc. Those are understandable as they relate to the common good and stability of our society. They also protect the worker's right to life, which shouldn't be forfeited in the service of an employer. Without such measures, we might have fewer workers and a stagnant economy due to harsh conditions, resulting in injury.

With abortive birth control, however, the issue isn't about the general welfare of the workers. I'm fairly certain that Hobby Lobby doesn't run a sweat shop where women are being impregnated against their will. In fact, such a practice on its face would be illegal. We have FBI taskforces devoted to tracking down and stopping such things.

Healthcare as a Human Right.
The issue isn't the public welfare. It rises from the notion that "healthcare" is a human right. Unfortunately, when people talk about healthcare, they're not referring to one's choices in being healthy. That, certainly is a right and doesn't cost your neighbor a dime.

What is meant by "healthcare" is actually health insurance, which pays for check-ups, surgeries, medication, etc. which is provided by doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Those folks earn money by providing the services that health insurance pays for. Thus, healthcare insurance, or even healthcare services cannot be a human right. Otherwise we might just require doctors, nurses and pharmacists (and those who research and develop and mine for the drug ingredients) to work for free.

Birth control has fallen beneath the umbrella of healthcare. It's actually rather simple to explain, too. It costs less for an insurance company to pay for a vasectomy or the pill than it does to have babies born. Simple dollars and cents. Even Hobby Lobby's insurance has these provisions in their coverage.

Abortion as Birth Control. 

Unfortunately, "birth control" includes murder in today's parlance. And that's, essentially, where some people have the audacity to draw the line. I guess I do, too. I don't see killing off your "mistakes" as an acceptable "solution." And I don't care if you're raised as a Nazi. It's wrong. Objectively.

If "loving passion" created life, you better love that life passionately. End of story.

And as for the Court upholding the individual's rights to draw a moral line that really shouldn't need drawing, good for them. But even if they didn't, there is still a right for people to not murder. But it would require the good form of rebellion to stick to it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Theology of 24 - Jack Bauer Justice






"The only blood on my hands is YOURS!" Jack growled just before he launched the woman terrorist out a several story window to her death.

That's probably the most "Jack Bauer" a moment so far in the new mini-series. Up till then, he's seemed to be almost "shoot second" kind of guy with a good, thick layer of bitterness. After all, he's a man who has taken extreme measures to ensure the safety of millions of people on at least 9 different days so far.

I'm sure that when he said that, and did that, many fans of the show cheered him on. And that's where I'm coming from on the whole "theology" part.

The show depicts a man who, in the first "day" suffers the abduction of his daughter, the rape and eventual death of his wife and the child she was carrying (unbeknownst to him until the last few hours of the day). From that point on, having suffered greatly at the hands of the evil in this world, Jack consistently finds himself drawn into situations where millions of other people's lives hang on whether or not he can stop the evil plot that has been set in motion. Of course, while motivations are seldom mentioned by the rugged hero, it's pretty obvious that he's driven by the hatred of the evil that would seek to destroy goodness in this world, a goodness that he's left behind him forever.

It's nothing new to say that when a story lights upon an eternal principal, it tends to resonate well within our culture. 24 is no different. We get a hero who will sacrifice his life, even descend to horrible levels to save millions of lives. While he breaks laws (and fingers, kneecaps and skulls) he's fully ready to accept the just penalty for his crimes. In other words, he doesn't ever justify the means by the end. He understands the evil he takes on, its consequence and is ready to pay up.

As the series moves along, he tends to have others absolve him of his "methods," until the 7th day, when he's called before a congressional committee to answer for his crimes. Needless to say, he doesn't do any time that day, because yet another threat emerges and his heroics are needed.

The next time, however, he's on the run and he ends up a nomad, fleeing from every government on the planet, an outcast.

That's where the miniseries finds him. Throughout, he's a wanted man for his violence and murder.

Despite needing to face prison if he lives, Jack is determined to save lives, ready to die for the world and pay the price for all he's done.

As with most superheroes, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to note that Jack Bauer has some Christ-like characteristics. Dark ones, but they're there.

Most notably, his willingness to die in his effort to save millions of people who are about to die from an evil of which they're not even aware. His humility in not ever wanting credit for what he's done. Now here's the stretch -- the way he takes on evil (in his methods) to save the people and is willing to suffer the penalty for that evil in the process of saving them. In effect, Jack is crucified each day, sometimes literally being killed and brought back to life, whipped, stabbed in the side, etc.

The last thing, which indicates a rather dark, but Biblical world view is the issue of justice. Jack understands the law and understands that evil requires cold, hard justice. Everyone will eventually agree that, despite Jack's methods, his results are perfect. He may become ugly, descend to levels no one else would, but he puts and end to evil, saving lives. The only blood on his hands is that of the guilty.

That said, Jack is not Christ. Most notably because he uses the "weapons of the enemy" so to speak, in order to defeat evil. Christ became the sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God against our sinfulness. Jack, essentially, incurs a just penalty with his actions, crucifying himself in the process in order to stop the evil (for the day) and save people (for the time being, and sometimes only some of the people--since he loses his wife, his family, eventually, friends, etc.). So, it's not a perfect analogy. They never are.

But what strikes me the most is the issue of justice. We have an ideal that states that evil will pay a price. Evil deserves no trial by jury. Evil should be gutted and/or thrown from the top of a building. Instinctively, we know this. We root on the hero that blows these fictional bad guys away.

The theology there is that God is going to return to this planet one day. And he'll be the righteous avenger of His holiness and his perfect creation that our rebellion spoiled. All the wickedness that we've ramped up over the millennia will be ripe for His judgment and due every ounce of His wrath.

The only salvation is to admit that we're all hopeless. We cannot pay off this debt. We won't be able to plead for Him not to throw us off that building, as it were. We'll get it down to the last drop of the hatred that God has for evil. The time for mercy will be over.

The time is now. Just like the villains on 24, they have time to turn back, turn themselves in and admit what they are: terrorists. But when Jack gets to them, that time is over.

For us, in the real world, we can "turn ourselves in" by going to Christ and accepting His payment and, in exchange, accept His Lordship over our lives. If you haven't done so, do it today. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Harvesting






We hear a lot about sowing and reaping. Or bringing in a  harvest of what we've planted. With this is a reminder of how our words will come back to us. Those bitter thoughts grow weeds of discontent. Anger and resentment pollinate our lives with pain.

What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. Instant karma's gonna getcha.

For me, though, this concept can be discouraging. While I try to be kind, think good thoughts, give people the benefit of the doubt and be gracious, I'm not always good at that. And though I think I'm doing better at it with age (read trial and error) this concept would have me counting out the good seeds from the bad seeds. The idea of every bad word being a weed and every good word being a fruit-bearing tree is nice, until I realize that there were a lot of weed planting words and actions in my youth, and still today. And no amount of penitent fruit planting can undo the damage if it's a game of you get what you give.

Thankfully, that's not the whole story. And this is what I really love about the Gospel in the Bible: We are invited to cross into a promised land of God's grace and reap fields that we didn't plant, dwell in houses we didn't build and enjoy the blessings we didn't fight to earn.

Just like the Israelites who crossed the Jordan, whose violent waters were held back from them by the covenant of God (the Priests with the ark walked into the rushing waters, which drew back from them and they stood in the middle of the river till everyone had passed through), I have been saved from the wrath of God, which I deserve and have been brought to the land of promise.

The turbulent high waters of the Jordan represent God's judgment that separates us from His provision. And on that side of the Jordan, we will reap what we sow. We boast, grumble, complain, spurn God, we get humbled, punished and die in the wilderness.

But on the other side of the Jordan, crossing through by faith but under the complete work of God's grace that holds back the waters, we enter into a land where we might still grumble. We might still doubt God. We might still want to do things our way.

Despite our weakness, we're on a path in the promised land, not the wilderness. We're carried along by God, who has promised this land to us. He has promised that we will reap fields we didn't plant.

That's the surpassing beauty of God's provision. So many think God is like a genie who is there to grant our wishes. They complain that "if God loves me, why hasn't he given me ..." Whatever.

Maybe the real question is, "If you loved God, why don't you humble yourself and follow His rules for living?" Perhaps our suffering is, in fact, that we're reaping the crops of our sin.

But it doesn't need to be that way. If we admit that we're without excuse, without hope on our own and go to God who is our water in the desert, our food every day, our only resource for our souls, we'll find the waters of the Jordan are still parted and waiting for us to cross. And they'll remain open so long as there is one of His children running to cross.

Once on the other side, God's blessings are far greater than wealth in this world. They are peace with God and inside, love that surpasses a fast-burning passion, joy that exults during hard times, faithfulness that holds steady during the dark hours of trial, gentleness in conflict, patience in long watches of expectation, goodness that flows to those who desperately need some.

There isn't a wealthy person alive who, at the end of his or her life, wouldn't trade every penny for the list of inner treasures that God has given to His children. He gives them to each according to the measure of their faith as they move in to possess the land, following the path of Christ, who wins the victory over all the illegitimate occupants of the land.

That's why I follow. I have been given a wonderful gift that has broken the chains and freed me from reaping what I've sown. No, I'll be harvesting from fields planted for me by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

When Villains Do Good Things


Why do bad things happen to good people? That's a cliché. I've seen the equally ubiquitous answer, “that happened... once.” The answer refers to the fact that Jesus Christ was the only good person to live (after Adam fell from grace), and suffered (which was bad). Golf clap for cleverness.

We all know that the meaning isn't actual goodness, but rather, generally accepted behavior and kindness or a well-mannered person. We wonder why a mother who cuts up food for her youngest while her own food turns cold, or pampers her husband when he's sick, or volunteers at a homeless shelter would also be visited by cancer. It bothers us that a man who passes up career opportunities so he can provide for ailing parents or adopts unwanted children would also be killed by a drunk driver.

This speaks to our built in sense that right is right and that justice demands that good things should follow goodness. Everyone believes this, whether they call it Karma or something else.

But how about if a wicked person does something good? Boy does that rock our world! Suppose Don Sterling, the villain of the moment, turns around and makes some sacrifice for the downtrodden of the world. Or some politician (take your pick) is found to have done some amazing thing for downtrodden people. Or when we learn of some kind things a serial killer did for his neighbors and they have a hard time reconciling the two personas that exist.

How do we handle that? Our first instinct is to head straight for the motives. The villain will only do good because he/she wants to deceive others into thinking well of them. Or, they do good things because they hope to atone for all the bad stuff they've done.

Both assumptions are probably fairly accurate, but they can apply to any of us and point to a deeper truth. After all, if we believe that justice demands goodness follows good behavior, we have a selfish motive to do good deeds. Basically, we want benefits for our works. This is no different than person who has done bad things hoping to erase them with charity.

I think this goes deeper, though. Yes, it indicates we believe in morals. True, it speaks to the fact that we value a true concept of justice. But the fact that we also find it repulsive that a wicked person would think to absolve themselves with a few acts of kindness tells us something else about the human condition: We understand that we're all unable to achieve true goodness or atone for our sins.

How did you get from selfish good deeds to total depravity? I'm glad you asked that question. If everyone agrees that a wicked person, say a racist, adulterer, philanderer, drug addict, child abuser, etc., cannot erase those things with a few moral actions, we have to admit that our own evil actions, if placed on a scale, would have to be outweighed by greater goodness. And if we despise the evil person's attempt at atonement as yet another indication of their selfishness, what about our own moral acts? Are they just attempts to look good and outweigh the wrong we've done? And if so, isn't that just as evil as a bribe to a judge during trial?

The other thing is that humans universally applaud those who appear to do good for the sake of goodness, with no thought to repayment. We call those people 'saints.' This acknowledges something far deeper about morality: It exists apart from scales of good vs. bad. Morality is pure goodness which every human knows in part. We instinctively know it without instruction.

The reason we know it is because we are created differently than all other creatures. For animals, it is survival of the fittest and their instinct dictates their actions. For us, we will often do things that would never be considered by an animal. We care for those who offer back no benefit for ourselves. We train other creatures to do things and reward them, making their lives better than they would be in the wild. Those are just a few simple examples.

The reason is that we're created in God's image. And God's character is moral and pure. When Adam chose to disobey, he broke that character and became twisted with a mix of good and evil. Today we see the consequences: we all recognize morality, but we don't live moral lives. We have the knowledge of good, but we are more prone to evil. So much so that even our good deeds are actually evil, done for our own benefit. In other words, we're all villains doing good things, never able to erase the bad things we've done.

Which brings me back to the one good person who suffered: Jesus Christ. Since we cannot ever do enough moral things to outweigh the bad things we've done, and since we know the justice demands that good only fall to good people, and bad follows bad people, we have no hope but mercy. And grace. Mercy is when God doesn't give us what we deserve. Our wickedness, even if only in thought, deserves swift judgment. Rejecting God, our actual, ultimate moral failure, demands we be eliminated. Yet, God's mercy is shown by Jesus who pleaded for God to hold back His justice, “Father forgive them.” God's grace is to give us what we don't deserve: Righteousness.

We can't earn goodness or righteousness. No matter how many good things we do, we won't ever be able to claim a moral character like God's. But God offers to clothe us with that moral character when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and only Savior.

Then, through that godly character, our good deeds will become increasingly less about appearing good to others and more about being in harmony with God's character. Then, we stop being villains doing good things and start being good people doing less bad things. But it all starts with God's mercy and then his grace. It's the only way.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Noah: The Untold Story, Part 2

I liked the depiction of Tubal-Cain and his rebellious attitude against God. Many point out that he quoted Scripture, but they miss that he quoted it like Satan would: 90% accurate, 10% twisting. And the evil is in the twisting part. An example is how he points out that mankind is made in God's image, and given dominion. But his idea of dominion is being an equal with God, which is exactly Cain's error and why he killed Abel and departed from God, heading to the land of Nod (wandering).

The one, big, missing aspect that the story had was animal sacrifice. This demonstrates the filmmakers, and many Christian's lack of understanding, Scripturally. Cain's sacrifice of the first fruits of his garden was rejected. Not because it wasn't good enough, but because it wasn't brought in faith. Abel's burnt offering of the best of his flock was accepted. Not simply because God desired a burnt animal sacrifice. God has no pleasure in the destruction of any part of His Creation. Abel's sacrifice was accepted on account of his faith in God's planned provision of a sacrifice: Jesus Christ. It was Abel's heart of faith that mattered. And it was Cain's lack of faith that was the difference.

Genesis 5 is the chapter of death. It details the line of Adam and how each one died. The epitaph, “and he died,” is repeated over and over. Moses, the author of Genesis, is indicating how Adam's rebellion against God resulted in physical death. In Chapter 4 we see the descendants of Cain and how their line is marked with spiritual death. The point is driven home in Genesis 6 when God sees nothing but evil in the hearts of all mankind, save for Noah. What happened? Faith died in their hearts. Mankind wandered away from looking for a sacrifice, symbolized in the burning of an innocent animal in their place for their rebellion against God. Instead, they turned to their own intellect, industry, music and pleasure for satisfaction. I suspect the pre-Flood peoples had religion all over the place, just like today. I suspect they built temples and had gatherings where they worshiped … something. They likely worshiped The Creator! But they did so without faith in God's provision of a sacrifice. They did so without taking an amimal in faith and offering it to God as a burnt offering, representing their need for one who would crush the serpent's head (Jesus, dying on the cross, removing Satan's power over those with faith in Christ).

The movie lacks any animal sacrifice. So, the movie languishes in an attempt to figure out why God chose Noah. Was it because he could “get the job done?” Was it because he was better than others? Because he didn't pick plants he didn't need? Because he was a vegetarian? The filmmakers don't seem to really know. And the lack of animal sacrificing is key to this ambivalence. Aronofsky is like Cain: He doesn't recognize the significance of faith in Christ. He doesn't view himself as a sinner in irreparable violation of God's character. He doesn't recognize his need for an innocent sacrifice to take his place under God's just wrath for sin.

For those who have seen the movie, look up a study Bible and read the notes about Noah. Or write comment below with a question. I'd be happy to discuss the implications of Noah's account. It's a fascinating story that didn't really need the embellishments that were added to the movie.

The story has Noah, with brothers and sisters who reject God, standing alone in a world of beauty, walking with God in faith, then being instructed about the world's coming judgment. Noah would have had siblings, neices and nephews that were heading for God's rightful wrath. He would have been encouraging others to turn in faith and bring their sacrifice to God. While building the ark, looking like a madman to those around him, he would have been pleading with them to join him in the ark. Imagine the spectacle of those who disbelieved, when animals started marching into the ark. 120 years went by as Noah build this structure and sealed it with pitch. Then animals start heading to the ark, much like animals will flee from an area before an earthquake. They should have known something was happening. Maybe they did.

Then Noah entered the ark and the door was mysteriously shut. One door. Now closed. Then 7 days passed. Nothing happened. Imagine the ridicule. Imagine the doubt Noah might have had. Imagine what his family thought.

Then the rains came and the storm swells rose, the fountains of the deep burst forth and hurricane-force winds blew. The millions of people were swept away, drowned. Children, women, men, everything. The cities that Cain's descendants built were buried in sediment, the animals were killed while grazing, mammoths frozen in place on mountaintops that rose up as the continents broke free and crashed together, forming mountain ranges.

Noah then spent a year in the ark. The storm raged for a month and a half. The waters prevailed on the surface for six months. And dry land did not appear for another six months. Noah and his family spent time in a dark, wooden tomb with animals for all that time. Noah did not hear from God during that time. Imagine the desolation and strangeness of being cooped up in a structure for so long, tending to the animals and eating preserved grain, fruits and vegetables.

The world that awaited Noah was ravaged by God's fearsome judgment. Death floated on the waters and was buried in the mudslides of the land that appeared. The worst post-catastrophic images we can summon are nothing compared to an entire world absent anyone other than the few members of one's own family.

God's moral character is nothing to offend. That's the message of the Flood. We all have offended God's moral character. We know this because we can't stop fighting with each other. We can't stop gossiping. We can't stop coveting. We lust, we steal, we want what's not ours. We're brimming with pride, leading to envy and strife.

The story of Noah is a warning: absent faith in God's sacrifice, Jesus Christ, and His Lordship, we will all face God's just wrath. Not by water, but by fire. The people of Noah's day didn't listen, and suffered God's judgment.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Noah: The Untold Story Part 1




Noah, the Paramount Biblical “tentpole” film has grossed close to $200 million by now, if not more. World-wide ticket sales suggest that millioins of people have taken in the movie, which suggests they have at least a passing interest in the story.

With all the fanfare about the movie, from its vocal Atheist writer/director, to the “disclaimer” that Paramount put on marketing materials, I decided to watch the movie on one basis: Does it work as a movie. In other words, I'm not looking for Hollywood to faithfully exposit scripture. I trust them to illustrate God's word less than I do the average pastor in churches (who are, arguably, trained to do that well). I'll leave my reasons for my skepticism for some other post.

So, here goes with my thoughts on Noah. And, for full disclosure, I had to whittle this down a bit. Noah paints a post-Fall world inhabited by the rebellious descendants of Cain, the first murderer in harsh, forbidding tones. The movie recounts that mankind fell out of harmony with The Creator's world and spread destruction, being a cancerous ink blot on what was once beautiful. Noah, we learn, is the last descendant of the line of Seth, Adam's only good child after Cain killed Abel.

The setting is good, narratively. We have a seemingly dying remnant of goodness in the face of a massive population of murderous evil doers. Unfortunately, the movie uses this imagery in a way that it becomes a bit of hyperbole and edges the story into unbelievable fantasy. It's like Aronofsky wanted to paint an impressionist painting and yet have realism at the same time. It doesn't work. When I see the barren, charred, black landscape with tees ripped and burned, I wonder, where would any animals live? What do people eat? Granted, the Cain civilization allegedly eats meat, which is depicted as evil (a concept that is not made up apart from the Bible—God told Adam that he gave every plant for food, not every animal. God does not permit mankind to eat animals till after the Great Flood). But, if there are no plants, the planet is barren, there wouldn't be animals, there wouldn't be food. So, how are people surviving at all? It doesn't make sense. Then, Methuselah lives on a mountain that appears to be lush and green, but he claims he hasn't had any berries in a long time. He really likes berries. It begs the question, what does this old man eat? Apparently, he just drinks tea.

Then, the cursed angels from the Book of Enoch (an extra-Biblical text) show up and make the film look a bit like a Lord Of the Rings knock-off. It doesn't help the realism factor.

Methuselah gives Noah a seed from the original Garden Of Eden, which, when planted, seems to re-create the garden, complete with 4 rivers, as described in Genesis 2. Then, the animals all start showing up. From where? We're not told. It's just as much a surprise to the characters in the film.

The movie gets the general aspects of the story right: God has looked down and seen the wickedness of mankind and determined that He would have to destroy them with a world-wide flood, wiping the slate clean, as it were. Noah was chosen by The Creator to build an ark from the trees that were raised in the new Garden of Eden that sprouted, to “save the innocent.” In broad brush-strokes, this is what the Bible tells. I've seen this portrayed in children's story books the same way. It's simplistic, but generally accurate.

The movie also addresses the total depravity of mankind when Noah seeks wives for his two unmarried sons, Ham and Japheth. He witnesses the rancorous behavior of the people of Cain's city and is given a glimpse of the fact that all of them are just as wicked, himself included. Naturally, what separates Noah from the likes of Tubal-Cain is that God has seen that he's obedient to God's design—depicted in this movie as harmony with Creation—and that obedience allows God to talk to him and save him. Nonetheless, Noah becomes convinced, on his own, that mankind is the plague that God wishes to wipe clean, so no one should procreate.

This leads to the most controversial part of the movie, the crazed lunatic Noah. Many bristled at the idea of Noah being portrayed as murderous and a religious fanatic. For me, it seemed to be a warning against developing convictions about what God wants, absent a message from God. After all, Noah was told by Methuselah that God will speak to him in a way that he can understand. Thus, the visions that Noah has, indicating that he should build the Ark for the animals and his family. Noah never gets a vision about killing his family. He arrives at that on his own. And he's in personal turmoil. His turmoil continues until he realizes that wasn't The Creator's intent, and embraces the new beginning that is before him and his family.

In the end, the movie gets a passing, but average grade. The visuals are compelling, but a bit overdone and sometimes corny. The story, while staying broadly faithful to the story from the Bible, veers into melodramatic themes that drag the movie down.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review



I doubted whether a great Captain America movie would ever be made. I remember when the idea of super hero movies, other than Superman would ever get made.

Then there was Batman in 1989. But there was a long dry spell before anything else happened. The 1990s direct-to-video Captain America was rather painful to watch, though it made some attempt at being more comic-accurate than the 1970s TV movies.

Then came X-Men, which was okay. Not really my cup of tea, but okay. Then ... Spider-man. That was awesome. Sam Raimi and Sony translated Spidey from comic panel to silver screen seamlessly.

I waited for Captain America, sure they would be able to do the same for him. It would be another 10 years before that would happen.

I both feared and anticipated the movie, thrilled that it was being made, afraid of what they might do to make him more "relevant."

Thankfully, they kept his origin true and his morality spotless. He's like the Marvel Super-man, only a little more like Batman since he's not invincible with new powers whenever he needs them. He's unlike Batman in the way he lacks an endless supply of utilities in some magical belt.

I digress.

The first film bit off a lot for one movie. They introduced Steve Rogers, an orphan with a heart full of compassion for the downtrodden in the world and a North Star moral compass, always true. As he tells Natasha in the current movie, "I never lie." He doesn't. I like that.

They introduced him, gave him his powers, had him fight Hydra the whole of WWII and then froze him and brought him to modern times and introduced him to Nick Fury. That's a lot. More than the casual movie-goer can digest in one movie. And I think the character development suffered because of it.

But Marvel has done the same with their movies as they did with their comics--they've built critical mass (not necessarily the film critics, all the time). They have momentum and Easter eggs and after credit scenes and one-shot mini-movies ... They cross over the characters into other movies. This is all pretty exciting in a Saturday morning comic strip sort of thing. People like to connect the dots.

I do, too.

So, we come to Phase 2. Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain Americia: The Winter Soldier. IM3 was decent. Funny, fast-paced, but rather stupid in the end. As others have pointed out, it was the plot of The Incredibles. Thor: The Dark World, I thought, was excellent. Took the character to other realms, introduced ancient mythology and gave Thor time to show his self-sacrificing nature. And there was love interest, relational growth between him and his father and mother. There was pathos and swelling music during sad times as well as heroic action.

The Winter Soldier stands apart from those two movies. The plot is very timely and smart. It bites off a lot, just like the first one. But this time, it's not just the introduction of Sam Wilson--The Falcon, Sharon Carter--Agent 13, Brock Rumlow--Crossbones and a little more Nick Fury. The movie centers around the hot-topic of the day--Security vs. Freedom. This would have been relevant during the Bush years with the Patriot Act, but even more nowadays with the terror target drones from the Obama administration.

So, while The First Avenger felt more like a 1940s action-adventure serial, this one feels more like a hard-hitting political action thriller akin to The Bourne movies, only harder. The fact that there's super heroes in it is beside the point. You almost forget that amid the execution strike teams cutting off traffic on a bridge and gunning down everything in sight. The Winter Soldier is a vicious assassin unlike any other villain so far in the Marvel movies. He's ruthless and cold, without any charm (unlike Loki).

Where this movie suffers, though, is character development and pathos. While Thor had the love interest and the family ties, Steve Rogers only interacts with other spies, super heroes and extra-ordinary war veterans. In other words, we don't have clear access to his character's dramatic situation. It's hard to feel for a character that we can't truly understand. Not many of us lived through the Great Depression or fought in WWII. None of us can truly know what it's like to wake up in a world that would look like something from an H.G. Wells novel.

And, it isn't easy to get that sense from the way Steve is presented in this movie, or even in The Avengers. Aside from his comments about the new things he is discovering, we don't feel this change.

One part that almost does the job is when he goes into his apartment and some 1940s music is playing on a record player. But that scene is a bit too little to convey anything in light of the burst of action that happens right after that moment.

Overall, I think the movie is a great political action thriller and one of the best Marvel movies so far, in its own right. What it lacks in character development (like with Thor) it makes up for with story and action prowess.

But here's my wish list (and this goes for all the action/adventure/thriller movies that come out). Slow down and tell a personal story. Let us get to know the character with more than a bullet point list of history. Who IS Steve Rogers? What does he like to do? In the movie, he's asked that and he says, "I don't know."

That's not a good starting point for character development. In other words, Captain America is only a crusader for justice, nothing more.

I'd like to see him demonstrate his other interests. In the comics he loved to draw. Maybe he would enjoy old movies (he was at the movies in the first film before he got beat up). Perhaps he would be involved in an apartment social mixer. Or even a SHIELD social event.

Any one of those things would make him more human to the viewer.

I kept finding myself comparing The Winter Soldier to the TV show CHUCK. Steve would be Chuck, the asset. He's got skills in his body and mind that no one else can duplicate, though they've tried. He's got an old fashioned sense of right and wrong and a straight-arrow moral code which doesn't bend. Yet he's surrounded by gray-scale spies that are caught up in a program that is actually being run by an evil organization to which they've been blind.

Personally, they could have taken Natasha, the Black Widow, out of the movie, or lessened her role, and had more interaction with Sharon Carter, who could have been his secret "handler." Along with Nick Fury, who would be the hard-nosed, secret-wielding spy, Steve would be wondering what to believe (kind of like Chuck). They could have spent time with him making friends who don't realize he's Captain America and show him try to explain how he's feeling, while keeping his spy life secret.

That would have reduced the scale of the movie, perhaps, but would have made him more personal to the audience. Then, when events are set in motion, we would care more deeply about Steve and feel the shock of him learning about Sharon, etc.

That's my wish. A little less action, more character development.

But overall, a solid movie, albeit a rather fast-paced action-heavy one. Thankfully, it at least raises some political issues, keeping it from sticking to the floor of the movie theater with the rest of the popcorn. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Brothers of Christ

I'm so saddened by the state of this world some times. It's hard to see good when we're surrounded by so much madness. On one hand you have cults that lure people in under their mind control and use religious rites and emotional manipulation to draw people into a false race for 'heaven' of some sort.

Then you have the television evangelists and the mega church slicksters who promise wealth and good times here on earth.

The evangelicals rightly point out that those groups are "false teachers." But then we get the mainstream evangelicals hocking the Bible for money in tracts, movies, cups, mugs, jewelry and other junk.

Recently, Hollywood (you're supposed to jump back in sudden fright at that word, because it's eeeevil) produced a movie about Noah. Or, based upon the character that appears in the Bible, among other ancient texts. Unlike others, I never expected an atheist to produce a faithfully Biblical movie. Evidently, in addition to using the Book of Enoch, the director drew upon the Kabbalah.

Some Christians have endorsed the movie. Others have come out with cries of blasphemy as if the studio and director are attempting to deceive people and twist scripture. They have taken this up as a crusade to defend God and the Bible.

Personally, I wish Christians were so inclined to defend God's word where it is truly being twisted and where people are routinely being deceived: in churches the world over!

I'd like to see Christians show compassion for the lost like Paul did when he preached on Mars Hill, surrounded by pagan deities and false doctrine.

I know, we've got plenty of heresies that have sprung from Mars Hill, too. Some have justified using cheap marketing techniques to "attract" people to Christ, as if that's what Paul was doing.

And while Paul's approach might be debated, he certainly didn't go out and condemn people and slander them. He didn't go around rustling support for how pagan and blasphemous they were. He didn't incur their hate and then go telling everyone what a martyr he was or point out how much he was suffering for Christ.

How will the world learn of God's love, if not from His vessels? God's love doesn't point an angry finger, spew hateful words or berate the sinner. Jesus didn't chase the sinners around with a whip and tell them how blasphemous and evil they were.

Actually, he did that to the religious leaders. He reserved words like "brood of vipers," "hypocrites," and "dead men's bones" for the self-righteous, self-aggrandizing men who condescended to everyone else about doctrine, The Law, theology, etc. They had the P.H.D.s, the Masters of Divinity, the weighty Theses and stern looks toward the rabble they hoped to lead. And Jesus said they bound men up with heavy burdens and made the twice the sons of Hell as they were.

These men are still around. They still "lead" the church. They're the scribes and Pharasees who rail against a Hollywood movie, yet tune in to TV and consume the whole of our culture. They rail against those evil pagans, not blinking at the pride swelling in their hearts for their own righteousness.

Christ followers are not supposed to be like that. We're supposed to be respectful of everyone. We are to humble ourselves and put others first. We are to show the love of God, not in getting reviled because we're jerks, but in humbling ourselves in the face of those who would revile us for our faith.

So, I'm feeling all alone out here. Not that I think Christians should or shouldn't see a Hollywood picture called Noah. We shouldn't endorse it or denounce it. It's the world. But we should humble ourselves in service to those around us. We should esteem others and treat them with respect.

We should behave like son's of God and brothers of Christ.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Righteously Indignant!





I wanted to see this movie today. Due to scheduling conflicts and an unusually warm, spring day in Minnesota, I opted to enjoy Creation and some of the promised seasonal changes that, I doubt, are referenced in this movie. For those whose interest might be sparked by that statement, you'll have to wait.

While I wait to see the movie, which, honestly, will take a back seat to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, if there's another scheduling conflict (just to note how I prioritize movies in regard to my walk with Christ), I am drawn like a magnet to all the reviews screaming across the internet.

The debate is furious! I was surprised at the level of dogmatic fervor that seems to rest on the side of the hard-line Muslims and Evangelical Christians ... let that sink in.

I've seen the "Judge not lest ye be judged" debate fly around, devoid of context. I've seen the whole idea of "Defending the accuracy of the Bible" issue shot across the bow. Adjectives like EVIL, BLASPHEMY, HERESY, PAGAN! and a host of allegations about people's motives, character, visual acuity, sleep apnea, memory, ability to enter the correct theater screening and so on bandied about.

It has become US vs. THEM!

Yeah for Christian love and mercy! We have linked arms with the Muslim countries and we can proceed to burn Darren Aronofsky in effigy or trample the burning corporate logo for Paramount Pictures in the streets while we shout how vile and hate-filled they are.

Then we can go door to door and lynch any Christian who says, whoa, let's remember this is a movie and not go crazy.

I'm all for people having opinions about movies. I love the Rocky movies. Pretty much all of them. Even #5. There are those that most certainly do NOT like them (though, thoughtful, well-studied and educated, refined folks will admit the first one was a work of art). I loved Sam Raimi's Spider-man films. Yes, I said "films!" I like 3 better than The Amazing Spider-man with the A&F underwear model or his chain-smoking girl-friend. Others think that is lunacy!

Movies will generate like or dislike for a million different reasons. As do books. I have some great 5 star reviews of my book The Next Chapter (an excellent thriller, by the way, which will keep you turning those pages). Someone told me they don't like "wordy" stories. I did what any self-respecting author would do, thumbed my nose at her, blew raspberries at the computer screen and went on with my life.

The point is, whether one likes or dislikes Noah, it's a movie. It's not the Bible.

But, they twisted the Bible story and undermined the message and make God out to be vindictive and evil and ... there's the whole vegan vs. meat eater thing!!

It's a movie. And it looks more like an action epic movie, to boot. You want the Bible, go to church.

Oh, wait, that opens a can of worms, doesn't it? See, here's what gets me about this whole 'Righteously indignant' crap. We've got tele-evangelists and major Christian leaders who are twisting the scripture, perverting God's character and promising God-as-a-genie theology, but ... there's no outrage. There's no adjectives of DECEIVER! EVIL! PAGAN!

Why not? Maybe because there isn't a product to sell during a smear campaign like that. The people smearing Hollywood seem to end their castigating with a product pitch or an exultant "My review is still #1" or "I have 200k views in 2 days!" Good for you! I'm glad for your success and I hope it builds up the Kingdom of God.

But the indignation has to go. If we actually believe God calls us to be railing against people who twist His word, then we'll have a 24/7 job.

On the contrary, I think we're called to love one another. We're called to treat people with respect. We're called to demonstrate the peace of God and rain down God's love and mercy on the righteous and the wicked alike.

Let's try that. Let's see if loving people (which doesn't mean you are endorsing their sin or excusing it) is how God will increase our usefulness in increasing His Glory.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Not Offended

While many Christians, Muslims and Jews have violently objected to the Russell Crowe/Darren Aronofsky Biblical-Action Epic, I'd like to just say that, regardless of what the movie ends up being when I see it, I'm not offended.

Even if it ends up departing so far from the story that I feel it is largely a story that has only borrowed character names and an overall theme from the Bible, I won't feel slandered or violated.

Why? Because I didn't write the original story and wasn't there to witness what really went on.

I think of it this way: When you're at an event, or witnessed something that ends up on the news, how often do you notice that they get a few details wrong. It's like that old game of password where the phrase that started the game morphs into something crazy by the end. It's funny. But if you notice that they got so much wrong and it affects you, it's irritating.

In this case, departing from the story of Noah doesn't affect me. It might be disappointing, as when someone tells a lewd joke. Or it might be funny, as in "how did you get THAT from what I whispered in your ear?" But it won't affect my life.

Some say the movie makes God to be an angry, capricious mass murderer.

That's been said before. It's been commented on with the story of the Flood, as well as countless other parts of the Bible. If someone reads into the fact that the Creator decided to wipe evil men off the planet as Him being a "mass murderer" it says more about the person that it does about God. In specific, it says that person thinks they are above God.

I don't know yet if the movie conveys that message. Actually, I suspect it doesn't matter. People already think the Bible conveys that message, so there you go.

A movie will not change the foundation of my faith, which is God as Creator and His word, The Bible. I seek to understand His word in my relationship with Christ through obedience to what it teaches and prayer. I don't do a great job at that all the time. But, it's a process. Seeing a movie that grasps at understanding absent faith (Darren admits to being an atheist) will not pierce my faith. If anything, it shows the need for more people to turn from self to repentance and faith in Christ.

The story of Noah is, after all, about a world in rebellion against God. It's about God providing a way for the salvation of humanity when it deserved wholesale destruction. In His mercy, he rescued one man and his family, allowing them to start over, populating the earth. He provided the design and materials for the ark. He brought Noah and his family into the ark along with representatives from every kind of animal. Then God shut the door.

There was no action sequence of rain falling and spear throwing. God shut the door 7 days before the rains and floods came.

I hope that Darren, Russell, Jennifer, and the rest of those who worked on the movie will, like Herod in the days of Jesus, after hearing the words of John The Baptist, be pricked with the truth of this story and realize that Christ is our ark. He's the one that, in him, we'll be safe from the judgment of God that will rightly come on a wicked world.

I love the line in the trailer where Tubal Cain asks Noah if he thinks he can be safe from him in the ark. Noah's response, "It's not protection from you."

It seems this is timely. So many people attack and kill Christians throughout the world. Arrogantly, people think Christians need protection from the world. No, we don't. But we offer the path of protection that the world needs from God's ultimate judgment that will come one day.

It's not too late. Jesus is holding back that judgment today, allowing all to enter the ark if they only repent and believe.

Friday, March 28, 2014

I Can Tell What It Is

My kids love to draw. They love playing with play dough, too. They make robots, houses, dogs, monsters, aliens, cars, houses, forts, castles, spiders, horses ... all sorts of things.

And they're getting better as they learn and refine their skill. But at first, I remember their works being more scribbles than anything. They looked like a drawing of Pig Pen from Peanuts, minus the head and feet.

When they'd proudly display these things, I'd often comment on the colors they chose, or the use of crayon technique. Soon, I was able to make some guesses as to what they were drawing. I'd often get it wrong.

Then, I started seeing exactly what it was they were seeing in their mind and putting down on paper. It was exciting to see how they were growing in their understanding of artistic representation.

I never once told them that their images were a blasphemy against the subject which God had created.

Yet, I find that some take that approach with Darren Aronofsky's Noah movie. I will see it, probably this weekend and comment further on what he got right, what I liked, disliked and what might be, as PluggedIn put it, off the flanelgraph.

I won't say that it is an affront to God, or a work of blasphemy. Because, by his own admission, the filmmaker is an atheist. He doesn't see God or the scripture with the eyes of faith that only God's grace can give. He sees things imperfectly, like a child who attempts to draw a lion or a dog.

Frankly, even those of faith seem to struggle with conveying what they've read in the Bible into an art form. Preachers get all sorts of things going off-base. Humans, in general, can't seem to do much with getting pretty far off askew at times.

And we're all so good at lambasting each other, tearing one another down. It comes easy to me, too. So, I'm thinking we need to stop the things that come easiest and do the things that might be a bit harder to do.

Perhaps we should look at an atheists Biblical movie like we would a child's work of art. We might show more love by saying, "I can tell what it is."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

God or Mammon

"Many would have tried to retain the proud position and to benefit their enslaved brethren at the same time; to temporize between an outward recognition of Osiris, and a heart-loyalty to Jehovah; to keep on good terms with the court and brick-kiln. But there was no trace of this in the great renunciation which cut Moses off from the least association with the fond and fascinating associations of early life." --F.B. Meyer "Moses--Servant of God"


I find it interesting that F.B. Meyer, who passed on to Heaven in 1929, saw the same tendency that runs rampant among Christians today. Nothing is different. So many think they can be friends with the world and devoted to Christ inside.

We must renounce the pleasures that would have a grip on our lives, denying the flesh and embracing the apparent lowly status of one of the chosen people of God.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Celebrity Gospel

Did you hear the testimony of John Jones, the guy down the street? Wow! Just, wow! How about the 65 year old woman who sets out the juice cups for the kids on Wednesday night Bible clubs? Amazing! Look at Bill Smith, the guy who works at the dump or sorts the recycling on weekends. He put his faith in Jesus as Lord. He never became a rock star, never attained Klout on Twitter, never hit record-level followers on Facebook and never was quoted in the newspapers. What he did do was turn away from the selfish pleasures of the flesh, often looking like a fool to his co-workers, cast his cares for his family, job and goals on God, his Father and lived a life of devotion to a reality that no one else could see. He never traveled outside of his state, let alone the world. He never had a hit song or a critically acclaimed work of art. He never met with the Pope or any other world leader. Yet he shared his faith with his 45 year old neighbor at a barbeque and led that man to the Lord the following summer. And no one knew about it.

Except God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Oh, and myriads of angels who put on a concert unmatched by the filthy, discordant attempts at music done down here on earth.

Of course, we don't hear Christians talk about the testimony of quiet Christians who live peacefully and devote their lives to holiness out of humble gratitude for the Grace of God that has visited them. We don't tell each other about the way someone denies the flesh and never seeks recognition or acclaim.

No, Christians today and throughout time celebrate the celebrity who steps forward with nothing to lose and states that Jesus is Lord. Or that prayer is powerful. Or some other statement of truth. Truth is easy to state.

It's much harder to actually live.

See, belief is all it is when someone says something. Like, "Donuts and cake are bad for my health." That's a true statement of belief. Changing my life to only eat healthy foods, however, is putting that belief into action.

How many celebrities, having all the things of this world have come and gone with Jesus is Lord falling from their lips. And how many of them have actually sold all that they have, given to the poor and followed Christ?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ken Ham & Noah

I like Answers In Genesis. I own a number of their books. I applaud their sturdy stand for Biblical truth. I like many of the ways they frame issues.

But lately, there are things that concern me. It's not that I doubt Ken Ham's sincerity as a believer, or his earnestness for the Gospel. I believe he prays for others and deeply yearns to get the truth out in the best way possible.

What I see, though, is something that happens a lot ... to everybody. When you get attention for a message you're delivering, you stop letting it be about the message and suddenly find yourself inserted instead.

One might call it the Talk Show Host Syndrome. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly ... who cares what their message is, they are the topic! In the same way, big name preachers who started out at one point with a fervent desire to spread God's word find themselves on a much larger stage with high levels of Twitter followers, Facebook fans and news media coverage.

Ever so slightly, the message takes a back seat to the personality. It's no longer a debate over science vs. religion, but it is a landmark debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye! It's not about the message of Noah in the Bible vs. what Hollywood is presenting, but a high-stakes Us vs. Them!

I'm dismayed when I see blogs by Ken pointing out Comedy Central skits that poke fun at him or articles that got something wrong about the Creation Museum, etc. Or how Hollywood is out there "deceiving" Christians ... evidently into buying their product over Ken Ham's.

If I were able to talk to Ken, I'd like to point out there is a growing blind spot for him and Ray Comfort. They've let themselves become the topic, rather than point people to Jesus Christ. Who cares if Comedy Central is mocking you. They mocked President Bush and countless others, too.

I'd point out that when every post seems to carry disparaging comments about non-Christians, your admonition of prayer for them looks more like self-righteous spite.

I'd mention that if every article ends with a sales pitch about your products, or blatant fund raising for your Biblical attractions, it smacks of sanctified profiteering.

The point isn't to tear Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis down. As a Christian, I hope, if anyone at AiG sees this, they'll feel encouraged in the proper direction to re-evaluate the tone of their blogs and communications.

I said this in another blog about the Noah movie. If the world is interested in Noah to give his story a real-world treatment in an epic movie, that's great! They may be seeing it as a story full of pathos and human struggle, environmentalism vs. human greed and wickedness, but ... they're taking the time to read the story and to tell it. Like any other story that Hollywood does, they'll mangle it. They can't leave anything alone. We know this.

What every Christian should be doing right now is praying for Darren Aronofsky, Russel Crowe, Emma Thompson and the rest of those who worked on the movie. We should pray that God will use this for good. After all, God prophesied through the high priest who was plotting to murder Jesus. God used evil men to carry out his plans.

From what I've seen of the Noah movie, I'm glad they got 2 things right: The flood was world-wide and it was sent by God as judgment for mankind's wickedness. Kudos! Now let's tell people about what the ark symbolizes (Christ) and let's encourage people to talk about this and how Noah's day is like today.

But let's do it without selling stuff, okay?