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January 03, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to the left sidebar of my site. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to give honor where I feel honor is due.

This week’s King of the Week is Between Two Worlds, which is owned and operated by Justin Taylor. Justin’s site is primarily a listing of news that is of interest to Christians. Justin is also a contributor to the Reformation21 blog.

As I understand it, Justin has about the easiest job in the world. He is listed as the author (or editor) of four books, but has never written more than a chapter for any of them! He merely writes the introduction, has little-known people like J.I. Packer and John Piper write the content, and then puts his own name on the cover. It has to be a great gig! All joking aside, I had the privilege of meeting Justin at last year’s Desiring God National Conference and he and I have become friends through this crazy thing we do called blogging. I have come to see that Justin is the real deal. I admire him and am glad to see him using his talents to further the kingdom.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

January 03, 2006

I recently posted a review of Dave Swavely’s recent book Who Are You To Judge?, a book which discusses judging and legalism. I recommend that you read the review before you continue with this article. I would like to discuss a particular application of Swavely’s teaching. At one point he discusses gambling and provides the following scenario:

Imagine a man named Bill, who has gambled two times in his life, while on vacation in Atlantic City and Reno. In both cases he did it merely to have fun, and maybe to win enough to pay for his hotel room that night. He took $20 with him to the casino, which is about what he might pay for other vacation fun, like video games or movies. He planned to leave when the $20 was gone, or when his set time limit was up, whichever came first. Both times he quit when his time limit was up, one time leaving with about the same amount of money he started with, and the second time with about $120. In the first case he was thanking God that he had a new experience that was enjoyable, and in the second case he was thanking God that his hotel room was paid for (see Romans 14:6 for why thanking God is important in situations like this).

Following this scenario, Swavely makes the following affirmations:

  • Gambling can be addictive and can ruin someone’s life.
  • It is wrong to lust for money, or even to gamble with money that would otherwise be giving to the Lord.
  • Gambling to earn money to pay bills or debts is an unscriptural approach to finances.
  • He would vote to keep gambling illegal in his state because of the bad effects it has on culture.

Yet even with these affirmations he cannot say that it was necessarily wrong for Bill to enjoy the games he played for a couple of hours. He also feels that he should not judge others who enjoy this type of restrained gambling. Hence a blanket statement that “gambling is wrong” is legalistic. The biblical basis for his argument is that the Bible does not mention gambling even though it clearly existed in the Greco-Roman world. None of the verses people cite against gambling are actually discussing gambling itself, but rather draw inferences about the practice. He believes, then, that a discussion of gambling must boil down to the motives of the participant. “I believe that wanting to get rich is a sin, because the Bible says so, and therefore anyone who gambles with the goal and desire of getting rich is sinning. The sin is not the act of gambling, however, but the attitude of the heart. And it is simply not correct to assume that everyone who gambles does so out of a desire to get rich.”

Swavely points out, correctly I believe, the absurdity of taking arguments against gambling too far. There are some who feel that card-playing of any type is sinful because cards lead to gambling (in which case my grandmother committed a grave sin when she taught me how to play “Go fish!”). This is the same type of person who may argue that dancing ought to be forbidden solely on the basis that dancing leads to lust and then to sexual sin (or, as the joke goes against Southern Baptists, sex ought to be forbidden because it leads to dancing). All humans, and not just Christians, tend to build “fences” around certain activities that they deem sinful in order to keep people from even approaching a particular sin. We see clear examples of this in Scripture where the Pharisees created ridiculous rules in order to protect themselves from violating any of the ten commandments. The great irony, of course, is that the rules they created were themselves violations of the very heart of the commandments. We can be guilty of the same sin.

Here are some of the things the Bible says about money that may be applicable to gambling:

  • All I have belongs to God (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).
  • The normal means of gaining money is through work (“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands” - Ephesians 4:28).
  • It is better to earn money than to gain it quickly (“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it” - Proverbs 13:11).
  • Covetousness and greed are wrong (“You shall not covet…” - Exodus 20:17).

Swavely would teach that a Christian can abide by these principles and still participate in gambling. He may be right. But one area that Swavely does not deal with, that I feel is important, is that gambling is always done at the expense of someone else. Casinos make vast amounts of money. Of course any business tries to make money, but casinos do so without delivering much in the way of a product or service and they deliberately prey upon people and their finances. Casinos exist to enrich a few at the expense of many and if they were not succeeding admirably, they would not continue to exist! While Bill may be a responsible gambler, the money he “earns” from his two hours of fun may just have come from a person who played the slots with his last $20 in an attempt to earn enough to buy food for his family, something Swavely says the Bible forbids. It may have come from a compulsive gambler who is ruining his life and his relationships with his family. In other words, gambling does not happen in a void. Most Christians would not accept money from the lottery, even if they found a ticket rather than purchased it, because the money is considered tainted. I believe we might have to say the same is true of money dispensed from a casino.

An article published by a Presbyterian denomination states there are three reasons that people gamble: dissatisfaction, depression and despair. While these may all be valid some of the time, there are some people who gamble just for fun. They are not dissatisfied with their finances, and are not depressed or filled with despair. While some people may enjoy a game of Monopoly or Sorry, others may enjoy playing Poker or Blackjack. Thus a person may desire to gamble from pure motives. In such a case I am not convinced that gambling is wrong. It is more difficult to say that it would be wrong for Bill and some friends to gather in his basement to play poker together, each bringing $20. Is this a worse way of spending money than, for example, going to a movie or even going out for dinner at a steak house? Are they violating any scriptural principles? If this is not an unscriptural way of spending time and if these men are not violating any biblical principles, we have no right to judge them, do we?

What do you think?

December 31, 2005

Brokeback Mountain is becoming a hit film. Opening in limited release in select markets, it has generated a lot of buzz and seems primed to become even more popular as it opens in more theatres.

Here is a description of the movie (copyright Focus Features):

From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ang Lee comes an epic American love story, based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx and adapted for the screen by the team of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Set against the sweeping vistas of Wyoming and Texas, the film tells the story of two young men – a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy – who meet in the summer of 1963, and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, one whose complications, joys and tragedies provide a testament to the endurance and power of love. Early one morning in Signal, Wyoming, Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) meet while lining up for employment with local rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid). The world which Ennis and Jack have been born into is at once changing rapidly and yet scarcely evolving. Both young men seem certain of their set places in the heartland – obtaining steady work, marrying and raising a family – and yet hunger for something beyond what they can articulate. When Aguirre dispatches them to work as sheepherders up on the majestic Brokeback Mountain, they gravitate towards camaraderie and then a deeper intimacy. At summer’s end, the two must come down from Brokeback and part ways. Remaining in Wyoming, Ennis weds his sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams), with whom he will have two daughters as he ekes out a living. Jack, in Texas, catches the eye of a rodeo queen Lureen Newsome (Anne Hathaway). Their courtship and marriage result in a son, as well as jobs in her father’s business. Four years pass. One day, Alma brings Ennis a postcard from Jack, who is en route to visit Wyoming. Ennis waits expectantly for his friend, and when Jack at last arrives, in just one moment it is clear that the passage of time has only strengthened the men’s attachment. In the years that follow, Ennis and Jack struggle to keep their secret bond alive. They meet up several times annually. Even when they are apart, they face the eternal questions of fidelity, commitment and trust. Ultimately, the one constant in their lives is a force of nature – love.

Rotten Tomatoes, a site that collects movie reviews, provides the following brief synopsis: “A beautifully epic Western, Brokeback Mountain’s gay love story is embued with heartbreaking universality, helped by the moving performances of Ledger and Gyllenhaal.”

Here is a second, significantly different (and more honest) description of the movie as provided by WorldNetDaily editor David Kupelian. Note the difference between a summary provided by a Christian as compared to a secular publication.

In Brokeback Mountain, a film adaptation of the 1997 New Yorker short story by Annie Proulx, two 19-year-old ranchers named Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) have been hired to guard sheep on a rugged mountain in 1963 Wyoming. One night, the bitter cold drives Ennis into Jack’s tent so they can keep each other warm. As they lie there, suddenly and almost without warning, these two young men – both of whom later insist they’re not “queer” – jump out of the sack and awkwardly and violently engage in anal sex.

Too embarrassed the next morning even to talk about it, Ennis and Jack dismiss their sexual encounter as a “one-shot deal” and part company at the end of the sheepherding job. Ennis marries his fiancée Alma (Michelle Williams, Ledger’s real-life girlfriend) while Jack marries female rodeo rider and prom queen Lureen (Anne Hathaway). Each family has children.

Four years later, Jack sends Ennis a postcard saying he’s coming to town for a visit. When the moment finally arrives, Ennis, barely able to contain his anticipation, rushes outside to meet Jack and the two men passionately embrace and kiss. Ennis’s wife sadly witnesses everything through the screen door. (Since this is one of the film’s sadder moments, I wasn’t quite sure why the audience in the Portland, Oregon, theater burst out in laughter at Alma’s heartbreaking realization.)

From that point on, over the next two decades Ennis and Jack take off together on periodic “fishing trips” at Brokeback Mountain, where no fishing actually takes place. During these adulterous homosexual affairs, Jack suggests they buy a ranch where the two can live happily ever after, presumably abandoning their wives and children. Ennis, however, is afraid, haunted by a traumatic childhood memory: It seems his father had tried to inoculate him against homosexuality by taking him to see the brutalized, castrated, dead body of a rancher who had lived together with another man – until murderous, bigoted neighbors committed the gruesome hate crime.

Eventually, life with Ennis becomes intolerable and Alma divorces him, while Lureen, absorbed with the family business, only suspects Jack’s secret as they drift further and further apart. When, toward the end of the story, Jack dies in a freak accident (his wife tells Ennis a tire blew up while Jack was changing it, propelling the hubcap into his face and killing him), Ennis wonders whether Jack actually met the same brutal fate as the castrated “gay” cowboy of his youth.

Ultimately, Ennis ends up alone, with nothing, living in a small, secluded trailer, having lost both his family and his homosexual partner. He’s comforted only by his most precious possession – Jack’s shirt – which he pitifully embraces, almost in a slow dance, his aching loneliness masterfully projected into the audience via the film’s artistry.

Kupelian shows that this film is pro-homosexual propaganda aimed at advancing an unbiblical agenda. “Lost in all of this, however, are towering, life-and-death realities concerning sex and morality and the sanctity of marriage and the preciousness of children and the direction of our civilization itself. So please, you moviemakers, how about easing off that tight camera shot of Ennis’s suffering and doing a slow pan over the massive wreckage all around him? What about the years of silent anguish and loneliness Alma stoically endures for the sake of keeping her family together, or the terrible betrayal, suffering and tears of the children, bereft of a father? None of this merits more than a brief acknowledgment in Brokeback Mountain.”

This film has taken the image of the cowboy, a figure still revered by Americans, and used it to advance a lifestyle that is forbidden by Scripture and harmful to society. “The result is a brazen propaganda vehicle designed to replace the reservations most Americans still have toward homosexuality with powerful feelings of sympathy, guilt over past “homophobia” – and ultimately the complete and utter acceptance of homosexuality as equivalent in every way to heterosexuality.”

Kupelian’s article is well-written and convicting. I highly recommend that you read it.

December 30, 2005

Earlier this week Canadians received news of the 78th murder of the year in Toronto, our nation’s biggest city. Of these 78 victims, 52 have been killed by gunfire, a rather tragic record for the city. The victim of this murder was a 15-year old tenth grade student who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jane Creba was with her mother and older sister on Yonge Street, within a busy shopping district lined with stores, and was enjoying Boxing Day sales when gunfire erupted. Two rival gangs shot at each other despite the crowds. Creba was killed and six other bystanders were injured.

For some reason this crime has impacted Canadians in a way others have not. I have often lamented that pretty, white (and usually blonde) girls receive the most media attention following killings or abductions and this may or may not have led to more significant media coverage for this shooting. It may also be the meaninglessness of a crime in which a girl was killed who had nothing to do with the dispute. Or maybe it is simply that any one of us could have been the victim of that crime as most Torontonians find themselves wandering Yonge Street at some point in the year. This type of crime is largely foreign to Canada, though it seems violence of this type is becoming increasingly common.

Canadian politicians are outraged by this crime. Strangely, many of them have pointed the blame at the United States of America. Toronto’s mayor, David Miller, says this crime is “a sign that the lack of gun laws in the United States is allowing guns to flood across the border that are literally being used to kill people in the streets of Toronto.” He also said that “The U.S. is exporting its problem of violence to the streets of Toronto.”

It is interesting that this violence happens during a federal election campaign. Paul Martin, Canada’s Prime Minister, whose government has just been ousted in a non-confidence vote, recently declared that, if re-elected, his party will ban handguns. “What we saw yesterday is a stark reminder of the challenge that governments, police forces and communities face to ensure that Canadian cities do not descend into the kind of rampant gun violence we have seen elsewhere.” Of course the Liberal Party’s move is really meaningless. The verbiage of the proposal is as follows: “Banning handguns through an amendment to the criminal code that would invite provinces and territories to participate to make the ban national… Legitimate target shooters who meet requirements would be eligible for an exemption to the handgun ban.” Canada already has a ban on guns except for legitimate target shooters, security guards and ‘collectors’. In other words, this is empty, political verbiage and there would be no real change.

CNN, in an article about the Canadian reaction to this shooting quotes John Thompson, a security analyst with the Toronto-based Mackenzie Institute. He says “the number of guns smuggled from the United States is a problem, but that Canada has a gang problem — not a gun problem — and that Canada should stop pointing the finger at the United States. ‘It’s a cop out. It’s an easy way of looking at one symptom rather than addressing a whole disease.’” And that is exactly the case. Canadians have long felt a sense of superiority when contemplating violence south of the border. I think, though, that we have lost our innocence.

I find it interesting that Canadian politicians are blaming America for allowing guns to enter Canada. Yet ultimately it is a nation’s responsibility to keep out what it deems to be forbidden. Two days ago I crossed the border from the United States into Canada after spending a week in Atlanta. As I approached the Canada Customs kiosk at the border I am quite sure I saw the border guard put down a newspaper. She looked bored and more than a little grumpy. She said, “How long were you gone?” I replied, “One week.” She then said, “How much are you bringing back with you.” I told her “six hundred dollars.” She said, “You’re okay,” indicating that we were free to go. And we drove off. We answered two questions, showed no identification and did not undergo any type of inspection. Now don’t get me wrong: I know that the border guards cannot take the time to search every vehicle that passes from the United States in Canada. I also know that as a white male with two children and a pregnant wife I am probably considered fairly low risk for whatever it is they might try to intercept at the border. But two questions?

Following a previous visit to America we approached a border crossing late one night. The border guard was sitting with his feet propped up on a desk, leaning well back in a chair and reading a novel. As we approached the kiosk he slid the window open without putting down his book and said, “How long were you out.” I said, “Four days.” He said, “Value of the stuff” (by which I assume he meant “stuff” we had purchased or received as gifts). I said, “two hundred dollars.” He nodded and slid the window closed. I could have had my car stuffed from floor to ceiling with handguns!

Just yesterday my wife remarked that it seems the primary responsibility of a Canadian border guard has more to do with collecting revenue for goods purchased abroad than it is with stopping forbidden goods from entering the country. I wonder if that might just be the case.

Hal Lindsey (yes, that Hal Lindsey) wrote an article for WorldNetDaily where he imagines what Paul Martin might have said when he met with Condi Rice in October and brought his concern to her attention. “Madame Secretary, Canadians are breaking Canadian smuggling laws and we are powerless to prevent it. What does the United States propose to do to solve our border inspection problems?” And indeed, why should Canada blame the United States for something that is clearly our problem?

Lindsey hits the mark when he says, “The problem isn’t guns. It is people who are unwilling to admit responsibility for a problem. So instead of fixing the problem, they attack the symptom. Canada chose to assign responsibility for its social ills to an inanimate object. Failing in that effort, they are now trying to assign responsibility for their social ills to the United States.”

Guns are not the problem. It is the people that cause the problems. Casting blame is as old as evil itself. We need only look to the first book of the Bible to see evidence of this. “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” He blames her and she blames the snake. All the while they deny their own responsibility. And that is exactly what Canada’s politicians are doing. Rather than facing the true issues, issues of the heart of man, they consign the blame to something, anything else.

As a Canadian I am ashamed of the reaction of these politicians and even more ashamed that they would seek to leverage the tragic, senseless death of a young girl for political gain. Paul Martin and David Miller do not speak for me on this issue.

December 21, 2005

Every believer carries a measure of the guilt for Jesus’ death. If it were not for our willful disobedience to God’s perfect Law, we would have no need of a Savior. We acknowledge in song that it was our hands that drove the spikes into His’ and sometimes speak about driving the nails into Jesus’ hands every time we sin. We speak figuratively, of course, knowing that although we were not present at the time of His death, we bear the guilt of providing the need for His death.

In the Bible we are given a brief glimpse of a man who was present while Jesus was nailed to the tree. This man was a Roman centurion, a commander over 100 soldiers of the Roman army. We know little about the man except that he was probably a hardened solider and commanded a detachment of what were most likely Syrian-born soldiers. He had, in all likelihood, presided over the crucifixion of hundreds or even thousands of men and must have become hardened to the agony these men endured.

It is likely that this man was present from the time Jesus was brought before Pilate right until the Lord’s body was lowered from the cross and given to Joseph of Arimathea. He may even have been present with the detachment of soldiers that aided in Jesus’ arrest the night before His crucifixion. This man would have accompanied Jesus from the time the Jewish leaders brought him to the Praetorium. He would have ordered his men to beat Him, caring little for who He was, knowing Him only to be another in a long line of people he was commanded to execute. He would have been nearby when his men dressed Jesus in a robe, pressed a crown of thorns onto His head and walked Him to Golgotha. He would have given the order to proceed with the crucifixion.

The centurion is mentioned in three of the four gospel accounts. He is mentioned not for his cruelty, ruthlessness or ability as a soldier. He is mentioned for something far more important, for a marvelous transformation that occurred immediately after the death of one of his prisoners.

Having seen so many crucifixions, the centurion knew what to expect from prisoners. Most people who were sentenced to be crucified were criminals, brigands, thieves and murderers. He had heard countless men scream in agony while being whipped and plead for their lives before Pilate. From their crosses he had heard them shout curses to men below and blasphemies to God above. The behavior of the thieves on either side of Jesus was all too common, as they mocked and ridiculed Jesus as he hung between them.

Perhaps it was during this time that the centurion began to notice that there was something different about Jesus. Where most men cursed and swore, Jesus, as His hands were nailed to the wood, cried out for God to forgive those who were causing His suffering. Or maybe He noticed the tender mercy in Jesus’ voice when He spoke to the penitent thief beside Him, promising that the same day he would be with Jesus in paradise. Perhaps he was amazed that during such suffering Jesus could look down at His mother and ensure that her future was secure by telling John to take care of her. Certainly the three hours of darkness that accompanied Jesus’ suffering would have marked this as an execution unlike any other.

We can only guess when the centurion began to realize that perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. What we do know is exactly when He knew with full certainty.

Just before He died, Jesus cried out “It is finished.” Immediately after that He said “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” At that very moment Jesus died. At that same moment a violent earthquake shook the land with such ferocity that rocks were split. Matthew tells us “when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Luke expands on this saying “when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”

And just like that, the man who presided over Jesus’ execution, the man who ordered the nails to be driven into His hands and feet, became the first person to become a believer after Jesus’ death.

What an awesome, exciting testament this is to God’s divine grace! God was willing and eager to save one of those primarily responsible for the murder of His Son. A man who watched Jesus be scourged, who watched his soldiers mock and abuse Him and who probably enjoyed every minute of it, suddenly cries out in terror, realizing that He has killed an innocent man. His cry of terror is also an expression of faith as he confesses his new-found knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God.

I am certain that this story served as a great encouragement to many people in the early church. Though many of them carried the guilt for having killed the Lord, the realization that God could save even those who held the nails, would have proven that He is a God of love and forgiveness. It would have reassured them that, like this centurion, they could gain God’s favor through Jesus’ sacrifice.

This centurion’s miraculous conversion continues to serve as an encouragement today. Just as we share the centurion’s guilt for driving the nails into Jesus, so we can share the victory He won that day. As with this soldier who lived and died almost 2000 years ago, we need only have faith to believe that “truly this was the Son of God” and we, too, can be forgiven for the part we played in this terrible, unjust execution.

December 20, 2005

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to the left sidebar of my site. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to give honor where I feel honor is due.

This week’s King for a Week is Cerulean Sanctum, owned and operated by Dan Edelen. According to his blog, “Dan writes from his nascent farm while he labors on The Great American Novel and seeks to walk humbly with Christ.” The motto of Dan’s blog is “Cerulean Sanctum: Looking for the 1st century Church in 21st century America.” And that is exactly what Dan seeks to do - to challenge the church to model itself after the Biblical example.

One thing I can say about Dan, and something that is rare in the blogosphere, is that he actually finishes the series he begins. My friend Doug and I have laughed together about how many series we have begun only to have them fizzle and die. Dan begins ambitious series and actually seems to finish them. He writes articles that are biblical, challenging and occasionally infuriating.

And so I am glad to commend this site to you. For the next week you will be able to see the most recent headlines from Cerulean Sanctum in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

December 13, 2005

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to the left sidebar of my site. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to give honor where I feel honor is due.

This week’s King for a Week is Common Grounds Online, a group blog founded by Glenn Lucke, author of Common Grounds which I have reviewed here. The site seeks to continue the exploration begun in the book, though a person certainly does not have to read the book before he can enjoy the site. Glenn has gathered a good group of authors and there is always lots to read at the site.

And so I am glad to commend to you Glenn’s book, ministry and web site. For the next week you will be able to see the most recent headlines from Common Grounds Online in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

December 09, 2005

Wow.

I’m really not easy to please when it comes to movies. Film is not my medium of choice and I almost always prefer a good book to a good movie. Rarely does a movie captivate me in the way a book does. As with most people I almost always find a movie to be less enjoyable than the book it is based upon.

When it comes to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe I have little to compare the book to. I have not read the book for many years and in recent weeks could not bring myself to go and buy it lest I appear to be someone just trying to keep up with the latest fad. So there is little I can say about the faithfulness of the movie as it compares to the book.

But as a movie it is simply excellent.

Now, I am terrible at writing movie reviews. In fact, I am so bad at it that I rarely bother. And really this isn’t even a review as much as some discombobulated thoughts from a movie I returned from only a few minutes ago. To be more fair I should probably give myself a few hours to digest it, or perhaps I should even see it again. Nah.

A lot of reviews I’ve read have compared The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe with The Passion of the Christ and Lord of the Rings. While inevitable, this is unfortunate, I think, as I believe a movie should stand or fall on its own merits (or lack thereof). The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe did not have the budget of Lord of the Rings or another mega-blockbuster and this shows on occasion, especially with the special effects. But on the whole the movie is brilliantly done and absolutely pregnant with deeper meaning. There is clearly a story behind the story that is just waiting to be discovered. And even then I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the deeper meaning.

While the friend I watched the film with found it a little bit slow, especially at the beginning, I enjoyed every moment of it and thought it moved quite well. I know that today’s children demand a fast pace but I do believe most will be able to enjoy this nonetheless. There is a real innocence to the mythology of the story, an innocence that seems almost out of place in this age of Harry Potter and PG-13 fairy tales. And behind the innocence is a certain truth that is so much greater than what we find in comparable films.

There were three things that I feel could have sunk this movie. First, the producers could have removed the Christian metaphor that lies behind the film. Thankfully, and intelligently, they did not. All of the parallels to the gospel story are starkly present in this movie. Second, the effects people could have done a poor job on Aslan. Again, they did not. Aslan is well-voiced and moves with grace, power and credibility. Finally, they could have relied on substandard child actors. I am glad to say that the children do a wonderful job in playing their roles both naturally and skillfully.

If I had one disappointment that stood out about the others it is that Edmund, who had betrayed his family, never asks Aslan for forgiveness. I believe that this was a critical aspect of Lewis’ story and, while we see Edmund talking to Aslan, and later hear Aslan telling the other children not to talk about the past anymore, we never hear that plea for forgiveness. This is not, by any means, a fatal flaw, but I suspect it was a concession made to avoid the Christian theme from coming across too strongly. It is disappointing in its absence. In its place the filmmakers substitute an epic battle that was largely foreign to the book.

I am thrilled to have seen the movie and do hope to see it at least once more. I am glad to be able to recommend the film. It is not without its flaws, but as one reviewer said, there is certainly nothing to cringe at. As with the Lord of the Rings series, the filmmakers stayed true to the story and have created an excellent film. I look forward to hearing your impressions.

PS - Don’t leave until the lights come on. You’ll want to stick around for a short while because there is an important scene halfway through the credits.

December 06, 2005

I’ll be the first to admit that this week’s King for a Week is not a site that is geared primarily towards a person like me - a married male. However, this does not mean that the site is without value to me. Solo Femininity is the home of author (Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?), blogger, speaker and all around nice person Carolyn McCulley. Carolyn is part of the Sovereign Grace family and works with C.J. Mahaney and Josh Harris. Her site provides “Godward encouragement for Christian single women (and others who visit here).” I am proud to be one of those “others” who visit the site and I have often benefitted from Carolyn’s ministry and encouragement.

For the next week you will be able to see the five most recent headlines from Solo Femininity in the sidebar of my site. I encourage you to visit her site and read those articles. I have no doubt that you will benefit from them as I have.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box.

December 01, 2005

I want to take a little break today from our regularly-scheduled programming (a series about profanity) to discuss something that has been on my mind a lot over the past few days. It stems from a few things I’ve read and a few discussions I’ve had, so I wanted to write about it while it is still fresh in my mind. Be warned that I am writing this by way of stream-of-consciousness so it may wander a little bit!

The Westminister Shorter Catechism asks the question, “What is the chief end of man?” Many of us know the answer. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created in order to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling. And as John Piper has told us repeatedly in his books and teaching ministry, we do so by enjoying Him forever. “The great business of life is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. It seems to me that many churches would say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord.

Before I continue I will affirm that I place great value in evangelism and regard it as a Christian duty. A church that does not care to evangelize cannot be a healthy church and likewise, a Christian who never shares his faith is, in all likelihood, spiritually ill. Evangelism is a privilege and an honor and I admire those who have dedicated their lives to sharing the good news with others.

But I do not believe that evangelism should be our highest goal.

A few years ago I spoke to a pastor of a small church that had been formed largely on the basis of Purpose Driven principles. I asked what their discipleship process involved. I was shocked when the pastor told me, without any remorse, that “if you are really looking to grow as a Christian this isn’t the church for you.” He went on to explain that his church was geared almost entirely towards evangelism. The Sunday morning services were stripped of almost anything that might offend: congregational prayer, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and so on. The music was done in the style of what was most popular in the town and the preaching always presupposed almost no knowledge of biblical principles. There was a small amount of discipleship training, but only on a very basic level. In other words, this church was driven by unbelievers. Their tastes, their likes and dislikes and their desires were considered the foundation for all the church was and did.

My current church likes to use the motif of a journey to describe the Christian life. The journey begins somewhere and ends somewhere and along the way there should be continual growth. But according to the pastor I spoke to, he would lead people into the fledgling stages of this Christian life and then abandon them in order to focus on people who were still on the other side of that starting line. He would lovingly take people from point 0 to point 1, but then turn his back on them to look for others. This pastor showed that, in his opinion, there was nothing greater than evangelism. He could not honor God more than if he was leading people to recite a sinner’s prayer.

A person like this pastor tends to interpret everything in the Christian life through this false assumption of man’s chief end and applies guilt to those who do not constantly evangelize. He may regard theology as something evil - something that detracts from the ability to witness. I have often had discussions with people who feel that theology is actually opposed to evangelism. If we are learning theology, they might say, we are missing opportunities to evangelize.

I believe that, to a great extent, this belief is based on Arminian assumption - that *we* are ultimately responsible for the spiritual state of our fellow man. It fits well with the oft-repeated warning that “there are people in hell right now who are there because you did not preach to them.” It assumes too much of our responsibility and our ability (and the ability of the one who hears). It speaks too little to the work of God in predestining some to eternal life and certainly speaks too little to the fact that until the Spirit opens hearts, every person is blind. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Theology, if it is an end in itself, can be bad. It sounds strange but it is true. Theology is not intended to be an end in itself. Rather, our theology should drive and motivate our lives. Our theology informs our evangelism. I have little doubt that, having studied theology over the past couple of years, I am better equipped to evangelize now than I was two years ago. I know more of God, more of His character and more of His Word. I have come to see the mistakes I used to make when I evangelized and know how to correct them in the future.

In speaking to people like the aforementioned pastor I have often been told, implicitly at least, that God holds a giant clipboard on which he takes notes on the amount of time we spend learning about Him and compares it to the amount of time we spend teaching others about Him. If we do not maintain the proper balance (as defined by these people) God is displeased with us. I have come to realize that this is simply not the case. We are responsible to take opportunities presented to us in which to evangelize and are even responsible to work towards creating such opportunities, but I see no reason to believe that these need to be equal pursuits in terms of time and attention. Our primary responsibility is to ensure that we are bringing glory to God through our lives as we use the gifts and talents God has given us and that we constantly submit our time and our talents to Him.

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