Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ascent

Hmmm...so much for being a steady blogger once I got to school. I've written a grand total of...one post. Well, now it's Christmas break, and if anyone out there is still reading this blog, I might try and write a bit...but we've all seen how much that means. Oh well. School has been so much fun and so terribly busy, there's been no time.

On the plane ride home, I had no book to read, and was listening to my iPod as I looked out across the landscape (on a side-note, remind me not to sit right on the wing if I'm planning to look at the landscape). Suddenly, this line popped into my head: "the endless patchwork of farmland melds into the deep blue of the lake." It felt very poetic, and since the Muse does not hit me very often, I decided to run with it, so I pulled out my laptop and wrote this poem (moderately edited since). Enjoy in lieu of a real post.

Ascent

Rolling down the great imposing plain of asphalt
the airplane picks up speed, the wheels leave the ground,
I feel pressed into my seat—not crushed,
more as if my father’s firm hand holds me back.
The endless patchwork of farmland,
interrupted by a tiny grouping of towers—is that Detroit?
It seems so small from up here—
Melds into the deep indigo of the lake
The ascent continues—the body trembles slightly—
there’s a vast wasteland of glaciers, now
it disappears into a pale haze at the horizon.
The sky rises above the haze, the same azure blue
as the lake below—perspectives change—which way is up?
The glaciers have become another patchwork of farmland
this time covered in a thick layer of snow.
Another plane passes in the distance
leaving a bright plume of vapor behind it, like a comet
We’ve passed into a cloudbank—the world is white
like a blizzard, but I can still see the wing.
Even in the blizzard, a faint hint of blue is visible
if you look close enough
I think the plane is turning, I feel unbalanced,
but all perspective is gone
Blue lake below, blue sky above—or is it the other way around?
This cursed cloudbank skews the world
Out of the cloud now, the white is at the level of my eyes,
a great plain of snow as far as the eye can see
No definition out there—I could be anywhere in the world right now—
I’ve always wanted to visit Paris
We’ve descended, sandwiched between two clouds,
with the blue peeking out from both sides
Even gravity deceives up here
The stomach drops, rapid descent, that way must be down
We’re still descending, but the stomach has adjusted—
funny how it does that, I can’t even tell we’re dropping anymore
I remember something about that in physics—inertia, was it?
No matter, it’s Christmas break, and I’m going home—
I swear, it’s like another world up here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dishonorable vessels

After many, many months, the predestination issue resurfaces here on HoldFast. This post comes about because one of the favorite topics of discussion up here is the topic of predestination/election, especially between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. After one such discussion, I read Romans 9 in my quiet time and was struck down, because this passage answers the single most difficult question the Calvinists have to answer: Why would God create people just to damn them? This question was posed by Claire back in my post The Line Cannot Comprehend the Cube, and had been posed since I've been here. This passage literally had me jumping up and down in my seat because it was so amazing, so I'm going to quote it at length here. If you're interested in this topic, you don't want to miss this:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:6-24)

Whoa! I read that again and I'm floored again! Let's walk through his argument here step-by-step: Paul states that the entire nation of Israel will not be saved, i.e. just being an Israelite is not enough to save you. Those who are saved are children of the promise, not the flesh. As an example, he relates the story of Jacob and Esau, a set of twins, who are about as close to natural equals as you can possibly get. Yet before they were even born, before they could do anything to make up his mind, God chose Jacob to love and bless and Esau to hate and curse. It was a free choice, and had nothing to do with what they did or were going to do.

He continues by refuting the idea that this is unjust. He exercises his divine Creator's prerogative by showing mercy and compassion to those whom he chooses. Paul gives the example of Pharaoh, who was raised up by God entirely so that he could be brought down again. He never had a choice (in the free will-position's sense of the word), but was "forced" to harden his heart, and was then damned for it.

Then comes the question of the hour: Why does he blame us for this? If he forces/predestines us to sin, why are we then damned for that same sin? He responds as God responds to Job: Who are you to question the decisions of God? Does the creature have any right to demand reasons of the Creator? The Creator has the right to do whatever he wishes with his creation. He creates vessels for honorable use (those who will be saved) and some for dishonorable use (those who will be damned).

Then comes the answer to the question posed at the beginning: Why would God create men to damn them? The answer is this: by making known his wrath and his power against those vessels "prepared for destruction", he glorifies himself by saving others whom he has predestined for heaven. He makes known the riches of his glory by showing mercy to some and and not others.

This is a big deal! Paul is stating that God damns people to hell for sins that they are predestined to commit. How does that fit in with the idea that men have a free choice, uninfluenced by God, whether or not to accept salvation? It really doesn't.

Edit: I should point out that I have not addressed at all the way free will fits into the Calvinist paradigm. I'm only looking at one side of the issue in this post, and the issue is more complicated, because although God predestines us to sin, we are still responsible for it. This does not remove responsibility from us in the slightest. How do those two views synthesize? I'm honestly not sure. Ultimately, I think it's just one of those mysteries we'll have to wait for heaven to answer. I just think it's a mistake to give humans too much credit, as I think the free will position does. End Edit.

I know that I will now begin hearing arguments based on verses such as 1 Timothy 2:4, "[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." I would just like to point out the distinction between God's secret (or decreed) will and God's revealed will. God's revealed will is, according to Wayne Grudem, "God's declared will concerning what we should do or what God commands us to do." God's secret will, on the other hand, is "his hidden decrees by which he governs the universe and determines everything that will happen." Grudem gives a detailed exegesis of these concepts and the differences between them on pages 213-216 of his outstanding Systematic Theology (the new 2007 edition, I'm not sure about the old one), and I can relate some of his arguments for that, but suffice it to say that passages like 1 Timothy are statements of revealed will, not decreed will: we are to evangelise everyone because we don't know who is predestined to be saved.

I'm sure that this post will stir up much controversy, so let the argumentation begin. But let's keep it civil, folks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Just and the Justifier

Yes my friends, he's back! After a long period of settling down in my new college environment, I have finally made it back to the blogging world. I'm having a great time, but life keeps me busy, so I'm not sure how often updates will be coming. I'd like for them to be at least once a week, but I make no guarantees. I have an insanely massive Odds and Ends post that's been collecting for two or three months now, so I might actually break it up into two, but until that time, enjoy this little reflection I wrote this morning as a meditation on a verse first brought to my attention by John Piper at New Attitude.

In reflecting on God's glory (his favorite topic), John Piper directed our attentions to Romans 3:21-25, a wonderful passage that dwells on man's depravity, Christ's sacrifice, and our justification. As I was looking at the passage in my Bible, however, I noticed the very next verse, and it absolutely floored me:

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Just and the Justifier. What does that mean?

Just

God is perfect and holy in his whole being. Holiness is the sum total of all his attributes; he is separate and apart from his creation. Sin cannot enter his presence, for it is absolutely antithetical to his character. He is completely just, and must punish sin fully and completely. For him not to punish sin and still bring the sinner into fellowship with himself would be an offense to his character, and demonstrate that he is not truly just. In other words, for him to be loving and not just would mean that he is not God. He would be fallible. He would be a disgrace to himself.

The Justifier

Yet God loves us, and he desires to be in fellowship with us. But how can he do that when we are sinful, and cannot possibly pay for our own sins? We can never enter his presence, because everything we do is an affront to God, a direct act of rebellion. Yet God made a way: he sent his own Son to die on the cross for our sins, bearing the full wrath of God against our sins. He, as the previous verses say, "put forward [Christ] as a propitiation by his blood." And now, we humans can put on Christ's righteousness and enter God's presence without fear, because we have been justified. God has justified us, and reconciled us to himself.

And herein lies the beauty of this verse: it captures this essence in just one phrase: "so that he might be just and the justifier." Christ came to show that God is both just and loving at the same time; only God could have come up with a plan that would present him as just and the justifier at the same time. What a glorious mystery this is!He is utterly holy, and yet stoops down to associate with vile sinners such as me, who have scorned him and rebelled against him. He pays for the offenses we have leveled at him with his own blood, and reconciles us to himself forever. What a glorious God we serve!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Harry Potter: Good or Evil?

We were walking out of an opening weekend showing of Eragon. Most of us there were pretty underwhelmed, but that didn't mean there weren't conversations going on. Juli turned to me right away and asked "So, why are you allowed to read and see Eragon and not Harry Potter?" It was a good question: both contain magic and strange mythical creatures and some other similarities. I stumbled through half an answer before I realized that everything I said about Harry Potter started like this: "From what I've heard..." As Juli would correct me on what I'd heard, I realized it was time for me to actually read the books myself and come to my own conclusion. In the past month I've read the first three books, and eventually plan to read the rest. So what are my thoughts on the book? Are they really as evil as people say they are?

I had originally planned to write this post several months ago (as a matter of fact, the first paragraph of this article was written back in January). But I decided I wanted to read all six that had been written, and by the time I did that Book 7 was due out very soon, so I decided to wait until it came out. So this article has been in planning for a long time. Because the seventh book has only been out for about a week, I'm not going to spill any big spoilers about that one to be fair to everyone who wants to read it. I will be talking about crucial plot elements in the other six, however, so be warned: I always write with spoilers :D

Literary Analysis

I loved these books. No, really, I did. As novels, they are at the top of my list for engaging, well-written fantasy fare. The plots are original and well-crafted, and more than once I stayed up late into the night to finish one of them. For instance, I borrowed Deathly Hallows from a friend on Wednesday. Thursday morning I gave it back, because the previous night I had read all 759 pages straight through until 3:30. They are that gripping.

Rowling has an amazing talent for creating characters. Even characters that are pure evil, like Lord Voldemort, are given motivations and backstory that flesh them out and give them life. Characters like Harry or Ron have real weaknesses and strengths, and change over the course of the books according to their experiences. Even Dumbledore, the height of good wizardry, definitely has his problems, and wrestles with decisions and their consequences. Snape is...well, you can never be sure about Snape (but I won't say anything else). And Hermione...let's just say that I've never met a character who reminded me so much of me.

I don't have to say much else besides the fact that if this was the only criterium for whether or not to read this book, it would pass with flying colors. Sadly, however, it's not.

Magical Analysis

This is obviously the issue that all the controversy over the past ten years has centered around. Critics have claimed that the positive portrayals of witchcraft and wizardry will lead more people to embrace the real-life Satanic forms. After having read all seven books, I am still torn about this. However, this is the conclusion I have come to: the portrayal of magic in Harry Potter is clearly fictional enough that only the most obsessive children will be drawn into real-world witchcraft.

Harry Potter's magic consists of waving a wand around and saying certain words until a spell, in the form of a beam of light, comes out the end. It's like a complicated way of firing a Star Wars blaster. Admittedly, this does bear a resemblance to real-world witchcraft in that special words are used, but even that is different because only certain people are even able to do this, because only certain people are born with the power to use magic.

The whole idea seems fantastical enough that nobody would think that any of it existed in the real world, but I know that there are always people out there who take everything incredibly seriously (just think of all the Star Wars fans who insist that they are actually "Jedi"). That, I think, is where the danger comes from: people unable to separate fantasy from reality. They are the ones in danger from the ideas presented in this book. Everyone else, I think, could easily read the book without ever believing a word of it, in the same way that we read a science-fiction book about aliens abducting humans: entertaining, but completely fictitious.

There's another side of this issue, however, which I think is much more serious. One thing that is never addressed in the books are where magic comes from. It's just something that certain people are born with and must learn how to use. There is no higher power, nothing controlling anything at all. Good and evil are equal and opposite forces, and either could win the epic battle which they are raging throughout the books. It's a world, quite simply, without God. This is typical of a fantasy book, but it is something which has always irked me about the genre. Lev Grossman voiced a similar concern in this short article in TIME magazine.

A world without God. Now that's a problem. This lack of a higher authority comes to the forefront when Harry finds that he didn't die when Voldemort first attacked him because his mother's love protected him. Love, apparently, is the highest good, and has more power than even Dark Magic. But love is useless without an origin, and in this book it has no origin. It just is. And that's much more disturbing than the magic.

EDIT: Paul brought up a very good point in one of the comments, and I addressed it in the comments, but I think that the point is important enough to bear inclusion in the post itself. Paul argued that Harry Potter is witchcraft, and God declares explicitly in Scripture that he hates witchcraft, therefore we should hate witchcraft too, and should thus avoid Harry Potter. Here's what I wrote in response (with a few minor edits):

The magic of Harry Potter is the same kind of magic found in Eragon and every other fantasy book I've ever read. It exists in a world without God (something I've already addressed in my review), and that is a problem. Beyond that, though, I think that the sorcery condemned in the Bible and the sorcery used by Harry Potter, although called by the same name, are really two different animals altogether. Harry Potter is just typical, God-less, fantasy magic, no different from other fantasy books, as opposed to the real world, God-hating, dangerous magick. A condemnation of Harry Potter would, I think, have to extend to the entire fantasy genre, something I am not willing to do. My personal opinion is that there isn't even a real comparison there.

That said, I think your objections are sound, and I will be honest and admit that I do not know too much about modern-day witchcraft. My impressions are that they are totally different from Harry Potter magic, but I would be willing to be proved wrong by some real solid evidence that the two kinds of magic are the same. What I would dearly love is a decent evaluation of the books by an expert in the occult (and Harry Potter and the Bible does not count--most of its claims are too ridiculous to be taken seriously). Until I am shown that, though, I believe that they condemning Harry Potter for his purely fantastical magic is a mistake. END EDIT

Moral Analysis

Rowling deals with some pretty deep themes, such as the power of love and sacrifice and loyalty to one's friends. I've already adressed the problems with her treatment of love, but at the same time there are valuable lessons to be learned. There are other themes developed, about bigotry and trustworthiness, that are similarly valuable.

But honestly, one of the biggest problems I had with the book is the way that Harry and his friends are always breaking the rules and getting blessed for it. It's a small thing, but I think that children are much more likely to cling onto that ("I'm allowed to break the rules if it's for a good reason") than they are to a few magic spells. Yes, they demonstrate some admirable qualities as well, such as Harry's willingness to take risks for his friends or his mother's last sacrifice to save his life, but I think that the negative things Harry does that are portrayed positively are much more harmful than the good things he does are beneficial. And I haven't even talked about the "snogging" that is disgustingly dwelt upon in The Half-Blood Prince (I'm all in favor of a good romance in a book, but this was nothing like a "good" romance...just juveniles making out the whole time.) But even that is not my biggest concern about the series.

The first three books are very mild. They just have Harry at school, and Voldemort makes attempts at him but never succeeds. But at the end of The Goblet of Fire, Voldemort comes back, and from that scene (which contains ruthless murders and a blood sacrifice), the books get dark. Very dark. Voldemort and his cronies use some terrible magic, and the world takes on a dark, despairing tone as he gains more and more power, becoming seemingly unstoppable. Some scenes are positively grotesque, such as the Inferi, dead bodies enchanted by Voldemort to do his bidding, that dwell beneath the water in a cave and drag people down to their deaths. This darkness continues all the way through the last book, and is the primary reason why I would not suggest these books to children.

Books 1-3 are relatively harmless, but books 4-7 are increasingly dark. I would not have much of a problem at all with children (if I had any) reading the first three books, but I would not let them read the last four. You can imagine the reaction this would cause, though: the books are so engaging that you just have to know what happens next. I can't imagine a child quietly accepting that he is not allowed to finish such a "fun" series. No, instead you would have angry, resentful kids, just waiting to find a way to sneak the books whenever they can. Basically, I would not let my kids read the first three because they would be drawn into the last four, and I don't feel that that kind of darkness would be beneficial to their young souls.

However, I think that once children are mature enough (and I would see this age as being at least high school), their parents should give serious thought to letting them read it. It has many of the problems inherent in fantasy and children's literature, but once the child is mature enough to deal with that, I think they are immensely enjoyable books. The dark themes that are not appropriate for young children are, I believe, not a problem for a mature reader, and there are many other themes masterfully handled in Rowling's hands (such as love, sacrifice, and perserverance).

Final Evaluation: The books are not appropriate for younger readers because of the darkness inherent, and there are serious deficiencies typical of the fantasy genre, but are fine for older, mature readers.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Heading Off to School

In two weeks, I will be in the car driving up to a remote town in southern Michigan. My trunk will be full of clothes, books, and miscellaneous items with which to survive over the next eight months. Yes, the time is almost here for me to go to college. Let me tell you, this is a pretty big step for me, but the truth is, I'm greatly looking forward to it. Everyone who I talk to tells me "College will be the best four years of your life" (or, as the guy I met on the beach said yesterday, "College was the best seven years of my life"). As I head off, I thought I would tell you guys about the school and what I'll be studying while I'm there so that you can pray for me.

Hillsdale College was founded in 1844, and it was the first college in the nation to accept students regardless of race or sex. It has always been committed to the principles of freedom and liberty, and although it is not a "Christian" school, it is very conservative and teaches everything from a Judeo-Christian foundation. It is a small school, with only about 1300 students, and it is known for being very academically rigorous.

One of the main reasons that the school is well-known is because it has refused to take any federal funding for the last several decades. Most schools depend heavily on funds from the government, either in grants or in financial aid to students, but the government takes such aid as giving them the right to interfere in the college's daily operations. When Hillsdale discovered this, it made the decision that rather than have it's independence compromised, it would simply refuse all federal aid and rely on private donations. This tactic has worked remarkably well, and the college has no trouble raising funds (it has just completed a huge renovation of the dining hall, and has also built a new Student Union building within the last two years).

Hillsdale has a very strong liberal arts program, and actually requires all freshmen to take a number of specific courses, including "Western Heritage" and "Rhetoric/Great Books". That way, every student has the same foundation on which to build their education. It is especially well-known for its history program, which is the program I currently plan on entering. I will be majoring in history, with the intention of going on to either law school, grad school, or seminary.

I am in the HonoUr's Program (yes, we insist on spelling it with a U), which I'm very excited about. In the Honours Program we take special sections of certain classes, go on a yearly retreat, and do all kinds of fun things together. I have several friends already at the College and in the Honour's Program, and they tell me that Honours is one of the best parts of the school.

My first semester I will be taking Western Heritage, Rhetoric/Great Books, Latin I (I flunked my placement exam, so I have to take it over again), Differential Calculus, Choir, and either Golf or Weight-Training. I'm very excited about my schedule, and I look forward to getting started in all these classes (except for Calc, but after that math is over forever :D ).

Sprititually, I'm looking forward to making my way through some classics of the faith. I want to read some Edwards, some Owens, some Augustine, some Spurgeon, some Bunyan, and other great works. I am currently reading John Stott's classic The Cross of Christ which is excellent, and after that we'll see what I can get my hands on next. I am also buying Calvin's Institutes with the money I got from my birthday, as Mr. Boisvert told me that every serious student of the faith should have it in their bookshelf. I look forward to benefitting from it when it arrives.

Here, then, are my prayer requests over the next year:

  • That The Clash would prepare me mentally for the spiritual opposition I am sure to face, both from professors and from students
  • That I would have the self-control to get up early enough to have my quiet time every morning, no matter how early my classes start
  • That I would have the courage to engage my unbelieving friends in conversations about their faith, and that I would be faithful to share the gospel with them
  • That I would be responsible and spend my time wisely, and especially be able to budget my time spent blogging and browsing the internet
  • That my roommate and I would get along and experience fruitful fellowship together as brothers in the faith (his name is Tom, and he was in my AP US History and AP Macroeconomics classes, so I know him a little bit and know that he's a Christian)
  • That I would call home regularly and stay in touch with all of my dear friends back in Maryland
  • That my computer would not have any problems for at least the first year :D

Well, there you go. Please keep me in your prayers over the next few weeks as I pack, attend The Clash, and move into my new school. I'm so excited to see what God is going to do!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Coach Carter

Just watched this really amazing movie. It's about this coach who benches his undefeated high school basketball team because they are failing their classes. There are so many good messages in this movie about education, inner-city schools, the cycle of failure, perserverance, and what really counts in life. The acting was great, the production values were great...it was a well-done movie.

And yet I am upset. I'm upset for two reasons. First, it portrays abortion as a necessity in the inner-city for anyone who wants to escape. It's the only sensible thing to do. This grates on me for obvious reasons if you know my pro-life positions. But that wasn't my biggest problem with the film. My biggest problem was a philosophical problem. At the most pivotal moment of the film, as the players finally decide to own Coach Carter's decision for themselves, one of them stands up and recites a portion of this famous poem from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others
.

In the new version of Godspell's "Prologue", this is the quote chosen to represent the New Age worldview. Marianne Williamson is one of the world's most prominent New Age leaders. The use of this quote in Coach Carter automatically aligns the ultimate goal with the New Age. And that's what really bugs me. This movie was so full of good morals, good lessons for life, but then the justification for all these lessons is...a page out of the New Age handbook.

Yes, most movies these days represent this New Age, postmodern outlook on life: "Believe in yourself," "Be true to your heart," "Follow your dreams, and you can do anything." Sure, Coach Carter is not even close to alone in proclaiming these views. What amazed and disappointed me was that it so blatantly chose to align itself with this worldview that it would even quote something like that. I find it greatly depressing.

So final evaluation: Great movie, great lessons, terrible worldview. And that is highly unfortunate.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Count of Monte Cristo

First off, let me explain to the many people who loved the recent movie starring Jim Caviezel that the movie does not deserve to share the same title as the magnificent book. Although the movie is enjoyable in its own right, it fails to capture the amazing complexity of the plot as conceived by Alexandre Dumas. I hope that someday a faithful adaptation can be made, but until that time comes, I shall have to content myself with reading the book. (Note: I have been informed that there is a lengthy French version that is much more faithful to the book, which I will have to check out at some point.) That said, this is a review of the book, not the movie (and like usual contains spoilers, so be careful).

I have been working on this book all summer. I first read it at the end of middle school, and it quickly became one of my favorite books. Now, the summer before I head off to college, I decided to read it again, since I could only remember very broad plot details. When I went back to read it again, I realized that the version I had originally read and fallen in love with was abridged, and the unabridged was close to 1500 pages long. Although full of many long dialogues, like most French novels, it was definitely worth the extra effort.

For those of you who don't know, the book is about the life of a sailor named Edmond Dantes. Sent to prison on trumped-up charges on the eve of his wedding, he spends 14 years in an armed fortress with a learned priest who knows the whereabouts of a fabulous treasure. When he manages to escape and finds the treasure that makes him rich beyond all imagination, he plans his revenge on the three men responsible for sending him to prison and destroying his life forever. They have all become upstanding members of Parisian society, and he slowly, by means of his fabulous wealth, tears their lives down around them, driving one to suicide, one to madness, and one to utter ruin and bankruptcy.

The sheer intricacy of the revenge was what had originally drawn me to the book. Dantes finds out every detail about the mens' lives and uses that knowledge to his full advantage, causing their families to be torn apart, their fortunes to disappear, and everything they love and hold dear to be systematically ripped away. Yet, on second reading, I find the lessons it teaches to be even more provoking.

Throughout the book, Dantes thinks of himself as the avenger of God, bringing justice to those who deserve it. He finds vindication for that idea in the fact that he continues to survive all sorts of inescapable situations, first in getting out of prison, next in finding the treasure, and then in escaping from a duel which he was certain to lose. Yet towards the end of the book he finds that his maneuverings have almost caused a woman to die who is loved by the only man Dantes counts as a true friend, and then discovers that he causes a mother to kill her small child before killing herself. He exclaims when he is informed of the young man's love for the woman:

See, my dear friend, how God punishes the most thoughtless and unfeeling men for their indifference, by presenting dreadful scenes to their view. I, who was looking on, an eager and curious spectator,--I, who, like a wicked angel, was laughing at the evil men committed, protected by secrecy (a secret is easily kep by the rich and powerful), I am, in my turn, bitten by the serpent whose tortuous couse I was watching, and bitten to the heart. (p. 1236)

Although he never ceases to think of himself as God's avenger, he realizes that many of his tactics went beyond the bounds. When he is shown the body of the young boy, who was never supposed to die and was only taken due to the selfishness of the mother, the narrator records

Monte Cristo became pale at this horrible sight; he felt he had passed beyond the bounds of vengeance, and that he could no longer say, "God is for and with me." (p. 1403)

He is so distraught by this, as he then watches the father go mad with grief, that he exclaims, "Oh! enough of this,--enough of this, let me save the last (referring to the last of the three men, and the only one on whom his vengeance was not complete. He then offers the last man full forgiveness, although his life has already been mostly shattered.

Although not a rousing condemnation of revenge in all its forms, the book offers an interesting perspective on the issue. To a certain extent Dantes' actions appear justified, but his methods often leave many others injured, both physically and mentally, and even a few dead. Although he does none of the killing or injuring by his own hand, it is brought about because of his shrewd maneuvering. Towards the end, as the men's lives crash in around them, the reader is moved to pity for them, even knowing the terrible evil they have committed. The count, although the hero, seems at many times to have destroyed his human emotions, causing him to thoughtlessly commit some acts that anyone else would have shuddered at.

Is it still one of my favorite books? It's definitely still way up on the list, but not for all the same reasons it was there before. It shows what is wrong with revenge, and it also features an amazingly intricate plot that is sure to fascinate any reader of good literature. Just be warned, it's quite an undertaking, but the pay-off is tremendous. And the dialogue is much more interesting than Victor Hugo's, as a little bit of a plus.

NOTE: I know I promised the Harry Potter post next, but I lost the beginnings of my first draft, and I'm working on my grandma's computer in the mountains. I plan to rewrite it tomorrow, but I can't guarantee it. So enjoy this review of the book I finished today, and Harry Potter will hopefully be posted before the end of the summer :D

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hidden Treasures

Whew, can you say "Sam's a bad blogger"? I've discovered something very important: I blog best when I'm procrastinating from school. Knowing that, don't expect any consistent posting until September after I've settled into school. I'm actually writing the Harry Potter post now, however, just in time for the release of the final book, so that should be coming sometime in the next two weeks. In the meantime, here's a meditation on Job 28 from my quiet time this morning.

I think Job 28 is one of the most beautiful chapters in Scripture, and especially in Job (second only to God's monologue of creation in chapters 38-41). The entire chapter is worth quoting here; please take the time to read it and savor the beauty and truth contained within:

“Surely there is a mine for silver,
and a place for gold that they refine.
Iron is taken out of the earth,
and copper is smelted from the ore.
Man puts an end to darkness
and searches out to the farthest limit
the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
He opens shafts in a valley away from where anyone lives;
they are forgotten by travelers;
they hang in the air, far away from mankind;
they swing to and fro.
As for the earth, out of it comes bread,
but underneath it is turned up as by fire.
Its stones are the place of sapphires,
and it has dust of gold.

"That path no bird of prey knows,
and the falcon's eye has not seen it.
The proud beasts have not trodden it;
the lion has not passed over it.

“Man puts his hand to the flinty rock
and overturns mountains by the roots.
He cuts out channels in the rocks,
and his eye sees every precious thing.
He dams up the streams so that they do not trickle,
and the thing that is hidden he brings out to light.

“But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Man does not know its worth,
and it is not found in the land of the living.
The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’
and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’
It cannot be bought for gold,
and silver cannot be weighed as its price.
It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir,
in precious onyx or sapphire.
Gold and glass cannot equal it,
nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold.
No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal;
the price of wisdom is above pearls.
The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it,
nor can it be valued in pure gold.

“From where, then, does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living
and concealed from the birds of the air.
Abaddon and Death say,
‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’

“God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
For he looks to the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he gave to the wind its weight
and apportioned the waters by measure,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a way for the lightning of the thunder,
then he saw it and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.
And he said to man,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”

Think of the camera that follows Saruman's rooks into the mines at Isengard during The Fellowship of the Ring. Reading this chapter is like following that camera, but instead of the heat of the lava and the squalor of the orcs, we are treated to huge caves filled with gold, silver, sapphires, and multitudes of precious jewels. It's a beautiful, breathtaking sight.

But then Job asks the question: Where is wisdom? That which is valuable above all else, where can it be found? Only God knows where it is or how to find it, for it was he who created it. Wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord, for only when we fear God will he impart wisdom to us.

I don't have a lot to say about this passage, mainly because it speaks for itself. No matter how beautiful creation is, it can never match the beauty of wisdom. That is why Solomon tells us in Proverbs 2 that "if you seek [for wisdom] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Wisdom is the ultimate treasure, and it is found in knowing God. Search for him and find him, and you will have everything you need.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Spider-Man 3

Okay, so much for trying to post every day to get caught up. It's amazing how easily your time gets eaten up when you have less to do. I'll have to work on that this summer...but for now, I'm going to post something that was not even on my list of upcoming posts: a review of Spider-Man 3 that I had written back on opening weekend and then never posted so that I didn't spoil it for anyone. I guess the statute of limitations has run out by now, so here's the big post (as written on May 4).

Last night I went out with my coworkers and watched the midnight showing of Spider-Man 3. However, it would not be fair for me to give a bunch of spoilers to everyone else who did not go to the midnight showing, so I'm not going to actually post this article for several weeks to give people a chance to see it. So here's my disclaimer again: The following review contains major spoilers and expects familiarity with all parts of the plot, including the ending, so don't read it if you don't want the movie spoiled.

First, my critical review: I enjoyed the movie. I don't feel like it met the high standards set by the first two, but it was an overall enjoyable movie. I had three major concerns with it: first, it felt like they were trying too hard in this film. The first two films were known for their "more is less" mentality, but this one went all-out to try and wow and impress. The best example of this is that there are four major villains in this film, which just feels like too many. The special effects were great (especially on Sandman), and the backstories were good, but not fleshed out because there was too much going on. Second, the editing felt poorly done. So many times I felt whipped around, like they were trying to fit too many things in, so they just had to show me this--and then that--and then this because we were running out of done.

Third, much of the humor felt very campy and out of place in this film. Both of the earlier films had moments of humor, but this one played up the jokes significantly, especially during the time when Peter is under the influence of the black suit. For example, he breaks out into a whole dance sequence at one point, which personally left me thinking, "What on earth?" It seemed like the audience was constantly being led to laugh at times when a laugh felt out of place (part of this was because of some very melodramatic moments that came between Harry and MJ). However, the French waiter did not feel out of place (at least to me), and I quite enjoyed it (it felt very John Cleese-esque...in fact, at first I thought it was John Cleese).

So those were my critical comments, but I also found some great thinking moments I wanted to comment on. Overall I thought that the alien symbiote that first took over Peter and then Eddie Brock made some great points about the nature of sin (although not perfect by any means). It was a sort of Jekyll/Hyde adventure, where Peter loves the power rush that putting on the black suit gives him, but soon finds that it is possessing him and turning him into something terrible. When he finally tries to free himself from it, it is intensely difficult. When it takes over Eddie, turning him into Venom, he loves the way it makes him feel angry, and at the very end, when Peter gives him the opportunity to escape from its clutches, he runs back in and embraces it as it is destroyed, taking him with it. He is so attached to the anger that he is willing to be destroyed rather than part with it. It is sad, but it's a great picture of how sin grabs onto our lives, makes us feel good, but eventually destroys us.

So it was an imperfect film and could have been much better, but I did enjoy it. If you want to see a great superhero film, though, watch the first two and Batman Begins. Those are the cream of the crop.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Odds and Ends XI

Whew, it's been almost a month since my last Odds and Ends post, and I have a lot of great links to share with you guys.

Serious:
  • Nathan Williams at Pulpit examines the concept of God's "foreknowledge", which is very applicable to the post I will soon be writing in response to Karyn about predestination.
  • I linked to the Wilson-Hitchens debate taking place over on Christianity Today last time, but now the debate is over and someone has compiled all the arguments into one PDF. Wilson tore him apart nicely, I think.
  • Joe Thorn explains why it is good for Christians to go to the movies, an argument I have been trying to make for years.
  • Al Mohler reviews The Dangerous Book for Boys, which sounds like just what our effeminate culture really needs.
  • Centuri0n points to a statement from a top NASA official that makes one of the most critical arguments against the whole global warming controversy: how do we know that the current temperature of the earth is the best?
  • John MacArthur spent a week evaluating the Roman Catholic Church's claim to authority in interpreting the Scriptures.

Funny:

Interesting:

  • If you're like me and let your emails pile up on you, this article will be invaluable: how to clean out your Gmail inbox and keep it clean. I'm planning on implementing some of these suggestions today as I clean out the 300 emails in my inbox.
  • A fellow Na attendee posted this video recap of the conference...I almost walked in on him interviewing someone in an elevator while I was there.
  • C.S. Lewis explains why it is we enjoy reading...to which I give a hearty "Amen!"
  • Steven Speilburg and Peter Jackson are producing a trilogy of Tintin films! I grew up on those books, so I can't wait to see what they do with them.
  • I want one of these tables...will Bill Gates never stop?

Quotes:

One of my favorite humorists is Patrick McManus, who writes about hunting, fishing, camping, and all things outdoors. Reading one of his stories, no matter how many times I've read it before, never fails to bring a smile to my face. In one of his stories, "The Worry Box," he talks about an old man with whom he goes fishing, and they have the following exchange:

"Why are you always so cheerful?" I growled. "Must be because you have so few worries."

"Nope," he said. "It's because every morning this incredibly wonderful thing happens to me."

"I'm not so sure I want to hear this," I said, "but what's the incredibly wonderful thing?"

"I wake up again! Dad-gum if that don't make my day!"

If only we all had that view of life, I think we would all be a lot happier.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Graduated!


Well, my high school graduation was last Saturday, and what an event it was. I was the the senior in charge of administrating everything (I was under Mrs. Hoover and the other moms, of course), and I'll be honest: I'm glad it's over. There are a lot of details that go into an event like that which I had no idea where even issues. But thankfully, everything went wonderfully, and the worst mishap was when one of the moms knocked off one of the graduate's caps when they hugged.

Bob Donahue spoke, and gave a nice exhortation from Psalm 90:12, which was our theme verse: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Bryce and Emily, the 10:31 winners for our class, eloquently thanked our parents for all their work over the years. And I got to give the charge as the unofficial valedictorian (it's hard to figure that out objectively in a homeschool class, but they chose me since I was a National Merit Scholar...of course, all that really means is that I do well on standarized tests, but they insisted). Here's the text of what I said:

Friends, after 13 years, we finally made it. We've been invested in by our parents and by our church, and we have been entrusted with the single most important gift we will ever recieve: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, as we go forth into the world as adults, let us be faithful to live that gospel for a watching world to see. Let us seize every moment as an opportunity to glorify God, and let us pursue wisdom and maturity all the days of our lives.
Then my good friend Robby Sawyer (a fellow member of the PC crew) led the class in flipping the tassels on our caps, and then we ran down the aisle to the sounds of James Bond. What a wonderful feeling to run down the back hallway screaming at the top of our lungs. So exhilarating.

(Oh yeah, we also gave our senior pastor, Josh Harris, an honorary membership in our class, since he once mentioned that he has never graduated from anything...i.e. his parents forgot to graduate him from high school. So we gave him a cap and gown, filmed him walking down the aisle, and gave him a diploma. It was great fun, and now I can say that I graduated with a bestselling author, not to mention a prominent pastor and one of the men I greatly respect.)

Now that my life has cleared up a little bit (although not that much), I have a whole line-up of posts I've been working on that should be making an appearance in the next couple of weeks. A foretaste:

  • A meditation on Romans 3:26, inspired by John Piper's message at Na
  • A defense of the just war theory, inspired by Sergeant York
  • A critique of the "God is love" mindset
  • A fun browsing of different Narnia book covers
  • A response to Karyn's post about predestination (a continuation of this debate a few months ago)
  • A massive Odds and Ends post that has been piling up for weeks!
  • And of course the long-awaited Harry Potter post! (don't worry, I didn't forget)

So the next few weeks should be interesting as I head out on several vacations and other miscellaneous events. Tonight is my first new caregroup meeting, which I am very excited about. I'll let you all know how that goes. Hopefully this blog gets out of the personal life rut soon and back into some real meaty posts.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I'm Back!

Those were some of the best days of my life. Seriously. I am in awe of God's grace shown to us on the cross, and feel so much better prepared to live out humble orthodoxy. Well...I need help with the humble part, but I feel like I've been helped in that too. Let me explain:

On Saturday morning, the first day of the conference, I was reading in Deuteronomy, and as I read Mark Dever's commentary, I came across this passage:
When you begin to grasp the great truth of this book--that God chooses his people--you begin to realize that our fundamental posture as Christians should never be anxiety or pride, but gratitude and hope. Anxiety may look more humble than pride, but it's really just pride with no make-up on. More than anything else, a confident knowledge of God and his Word will kill our pride and fuel our hope. It was true for God's people back in Moses' time, and it's true for God's people today. If you want to kill pride and fuel hope, study and learn God's Word. Grow in your confidence in him. (The Message of the Old Testament, p. 162)
As I read that, I realized that the area in which I really wanted to grow was in humility. I'm very good at knowing what I believe (orthodoxy), but I'm a very proud person who loves to share his own opinions instead of listening to others.

During one of the times of worship, the speakers all read meditations on the cross from different church fathers, and CJ read a quote from Charles Spurgeon that pierced me to the heart:

I received some years ago orders from my Master to stand at the foot of the cross until he came. He has not come yet, but I mean to stand there till he does. Here, then, I stand at the foot of the cross and tell out the old, old story, stale though it sound to itching ears, and worn threadbare as critics may deem it. It is of Christ I love to speak, of Christ who loved, and lived, and died, the substitute for sinners, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.
That's what I need to do! I need to spend every day at the foot of the cross, because only there do I realize my own insignificance and unworthiness. In the shadow of the cross, what reason do I have for pride? As we continued to sing about the cross, I was moved to tears to think that Christ would come to die for me, an arrogant sinner shaking my fist in the face of my Creator.

Am I humble now? Nope. But hopefully I have been humbled just a little more, and a little bit more of my pride is gone. Because that's how sanctification works: slowly but surely, God is faithful to bring my life into conformity with his character. As long as I dwell in the shadow of the cross, I will be humbled.

So that was one of my key takeaway points from the weekend. But for a general recap: the sermons were amazing, all eight of them (and are available for free from Sovereign Grace), the fellowship was incredible, and I had a great time in my first "singles" event without supervision. It was so much fun, I can't even begin to describe it. However, over the next few days I plan to write up an account of my experiences over on my Xanga, so feel free to check it out. And if you want to read some other detailed accounts, there were liveblogs everywhere, including Tim Challies, The Rebelution, Boundless, Kevin, and of course New Attitude itself. (Did I mention that I met Tim, Alex, and Brett? That was pretty cool, let me tell you.) So have fun reading about it, and start making plans to come next year!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Endings...and Beginnings

Today I woke up and went to Bible class. Five hours later I walked out of my Latin final, and just like that, high school was over. Oh sure, I still have to graduate, but as of today I no longer have any assignments due for a high school class...ever again. Oh, it's a wonderful feeling, let me tell you. I've always enjoyed school, but the last week has been torture as I've suddenly been hit by a belated case of senioritis. And now that it's over, I'm free as a bird! Except for...

Ah yes, the day after school ends, I drive for 11 hours to join thousands of other singles in Louisville, KY, for four days of fun, fellowship, and growth in godliness. How cool is that? This is something I've been looking forward to all year, and it's finally happening. Things I'm most excited about:

  1. The most amazing line-up of speakers: Josh Harris, C.J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, Eric Simmons, John Piper, and Mark Dever
  2. The chance to fellowship with so many of my great friends from CovLife
  3. The chance to reconnect with many friends who live in other parts of the country (from places as diverse as California, Philadelphia, Ontario, and Oregon)
  4. The opportunity to meet many new people
  5. Most importantly, I am excited about how God is going to use this conference to strengthen me as a Christian
So please do me a favor: if you're not going, pray for those of us who are. There are so many opportunities for God to work mightily, please pray that he will. Pray for safety, and most importantly that God would be glorified.

I'm bringing my laptop, so I may be posting periodic updates...but we'll see. I'm thinking life will be pretty packed over the next five days.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Books I'm Reading

Well, Karyn has tagged me about what I'm reading, so here goes:

Just finished: A Brief History of the Western World. This textbook was pretty amazing in that it condensed all of Western civilization into 600 pages, and did it very well. I'll admit that I skimmed the last thirty years of history, which I'm already familiar with, although I did read the sections on philosophy and culture. I haven't actually finished a real book in quite a while.

Just beginning: Well, not having just finished something besides textbooks, it's hard to say I've just begun anything either. I guess I have recently begun The Gift of Prophecy by Wayne Grudem, because I wanted to understand how prophecy as practiced in my church could be considered biblical. My Bible reading did not seem to support the view, but after getting about halfway through the book, I can see the solid biblical foundations for non-authoritative prophecy. My theology now lines up with my practice, which I'm very happy about.

In the middle of: The Divine Comedy by Dante. Well, I've been trying to get through it for quite a while, but have not had much time. I'm almost finished with Inferno, and I may just stop there, which would be a real shame, but I'd rather read a lot of books this summer than be stuck in one semi-interesting one. However, I am enjoying it quite a bit, I just find it hard to pick up.

Planning to read next: The Count of Monte Cristo. It became my favorite book a few years ago when I read it, and I just want to read it again to refresh myself.

Now I tag Peter, Brielle, and Liz, plus anyone else who wants to do it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A busy week

Yes, I have been a very bad blogger. School's wrapping up, I had two AP tests last week (English Language and Economics) and a Latin final this week, plus preparing for New Attitude...basically I'm swamped. So I haven't posted all week, and don't expect anything profound until after graduation on June 2. While you're waiting, however, read Deuteronomy. That's where I've been parked in my devotions, and it has been cutting me straight to the heart. Here is one of the passagesthat has really stuck out to me, enjoy:

"For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations." Deut. 7:6-9

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!

Dear Mom,

On this Mother's Day, I want to take the opportunity to honor you. You are a wonderful example of a Proverbs 31 woman. You love your family with your whole heart, and you love us sacrificially. You give all of your time, energy, and effort to raising us and training us in righteousness.

You are one of the greatest servants I know. Day in and day out you clean the house, do the dishes, drive us to classes, and I never hear a word of complaint. On the contrary, all I am aware of is your joy in serving.

I am so aware of your love for me. You feel my joy and my pain (often you feel it more than I do), and you're always there to walk me through trials, whether that is counseling me or just listening. You take me out for lunch at random times, and I can just talk to you about life and know that you actually care. I've observed the same actions with the other kids, and I know they feel your love too.

You have a passion to see all of your children walking with the Lord, and you disciple and discipline us with that end in mind. I catch a glimpse of your heart for us when we talk about prayer, and you tell me how much you've been praying for me and for the other kids. I appreciate that so much.

You are an amazing model of a woman who loves her husband and submits to him. I know that the biblical model of manhood and womanhood is the right one because I have seen it lived out at home. You are not the inferior half of the marriage, but you offer advice and counsel and then submit to whatever decision Dad makes. It's like the mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding said: "The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head however she wants." You are like that a lot of the time, in the best possible way.

I have inherited so much from you, from my love of history to my love of reading to many of my musical tastes, and we are able to have fun together in so many ways. I treasure our memories of late night movies, hikes in the woods, and reading next to you on the couch. Life's simple pleasures mean so much.

One day I will be married, and Mom, I can only hope that the woman I find is half the woman you are. Thank you for being my mom. I love you.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Imagine

I just was listening to the classic song "Imagine" by John Lennon, and I was struck by the lyrics. Here's what he says:

Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

Now, obviously there are some pretty stark statements in that song. No heaven, no hell, no wars, no possessions, no religion, and everybody living for today. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

Honestly, no. That world, that "utopia according to John Lennon," strikes me as a terrible place. And really, it's not completely because I'm a Christian and know the value of religion (although that's part of my reason). No, the primary reason why this utopia sounds miserable is because it's a world with no purpose, no direction, nothing to live for, nothing to die for. I mean, what does "living for today" really mean? Not much besides instant gratification, which can turn into something terrible. If we're truly just focused on getting what we want when we want it, it's a very short step to widespread theft, rape, and murder.

"Imagine...nothing to live and die for"...who wants that? If you don't have anything worth living or dying for, what's the point? Existence becomes useless. We might as well be dead, because we have nothing that makes our lives important while we're alive. People can't function that way. We're hard-wired to find something that we care about. And that's not on accident; we were created that way. God created us to be passionate about things. Sin comes when we misdirect our passion to the wrong things, but that doesn't mean that we need to abolish passion. We just need to redirect it back to the only being worthy of all our passion: Jesus Christ.

So what am I imagining? I'm imagining a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. What a day that will be. That's when the world will be as one. And I'll die for that.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Odds and Ends X

Serious:
  • Douglas Wilson responded to Christopher Hitchens' new book God Is Not Great with a very presuppositional post. Now they are engaged in an online debate hosted by Christianity Today that I have found very informative. Check them both out, and be further convinced in the effectiveness of presuppositionalism.
  • Tim Challies asks the question "Is error in doctrine always sin?"
  • William Saletan writes about the impact of ultrasound to the abortion debate.
  • Pulpit makes a brief but convincing argument for the Lord's Day Observance view of the Sabbath, which goes along with this discussion here at HoldFast from a few months ago.
  • Tim Challies also addresses the atheists who try to condemn themselves to Hell by blaspheming the Holy Spirit and contemplates the nature of the Unpardonable Sin (see key quote below).

Funny:

  • This is for my fellow Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans: go to Google Calculator, type in "answer to life the universe and everything," and what do you get?
  • One of Joel Osteen's sermons gets a commentary track that is extremely revealing...this guy scares me.

Interesting:

  • People often ask me what "RSS" means. I tell them it's the best invention since the Internet. But if you actually want to know how it works, Challies gives a helpful overview. I use the built-in feeder in IE7, but Bloglines is also a great option.
  • I've been following this intriguing project from the Washington Post: onBeing, a series of interviews with all different sorts of people. This week's video was a boy with Down's Syndrome, and is well worth watching (it's short, only a few minutes long).
  • Pride and Prejudice condensed into ten minutes by two very talented NCFCA performers. John and I almost did one of these from The Hobbit, but had to drop out (remember my reference in my challenge to "having to back out of many other activities"? Yeah...).
  • This game is addicting. I've made it to 16.5 seconds.

Quotes:

"Admittedly there is some level of disagreement about what exactly constitutes [the unforgiveable sin]. But the vast consensus is this: that the blasphemy against the Spirit involves ascribing the work of the Holy Spirit, accomplished through Jesus Christ, to Satan. To commit this sin you must know that Jesus Christ is God and, despite that knowledge, ascribe the Spirit's work through Him to the devil.

"Reverend Richard Phillips, pastor at First Presbyterian Church Coral Springs, Margate, Florida, says 'There is no sin so great that the precious blood of the Son of God -- of infinite value before God -- is not sufficient to pay for it. The issue is that forgiveness comes only to those who believe on the Lord Jesus. And someone who knows who Jesus is -- who realizes that his work is by the Holy Spirit -- and yet so refuses to believe that he actually ascribes the Spirit's work to the devil, cannot possibly be saved. Why? Because that person is not just ignorant, but they willfully, knowingly, reject Jesus as Messiah, as proved by the Holy Spirit. So this passage describes not someone who in a fit of anger or temptation commits blasphemy, but someone who refuses to believe on Jesus as the Messiah, even when he recognizes the Holy Spirit at work.'

"So the great irony, based on what the Bible teaches, is that this sin cannot be committed by one who considers himself an atheist! This sin presupposes seeing and acknowledging the work of God, but then attributing it to Satan." --Tim Challies, "Challenging the Blasphemy Challenge"

Monday, May 07, 2007

Senior Challenge

This is the challenge I delivered last Saturday night. I passed out right after I talked about the ice storms. Apparently somebody got it on tape, and if they did I'll try and get it on YouTube and post it here.

I was saved at the beginning of middle school, and really got serious about God as I moved into high school. In the fall of my senior year I auditioned for Godspell. Little did I know what a major impact that show would have on my life. To start with, I didn’t get the role I had wanted and ended up as an understudy, which left me disappointed. I was having trouble relating to a lot of the people in the cast, even though I was good friends with many of them. It began to take over my schedule so much that I was forced to back out of other activities I had been interested in. It was difficult for me at first, but my parents kept bringing me back to Scripture and helping me see that God works everything out for my good, even when I can’t understand how.

Godspell progressed, and it seemed as if I had everything figured out and under control. But God had different plans for the show. Production week rolled around, and suddenly everything went wrong at once. We had rehearsals shortened or cancelled due to storms and ice. Members of the cast began getting sick left and right until we were forced to do the dress rehearsal with four understudies out of a main cast of 13. I was one of those understudies, and I ended up performing in the role of John the Baptist for most of the week, including opening night!

I am so thankful for the leadership of our director, Cathy Mays. Every time something went wrong, her first response was always, “God is in control, and he knows what he’s doing. Praise the Lord!” She kept the entire cast focused on God during a time when our natural reaction would have been anxiety and panic. And the amazing thing was, as we focused on God and trusted that he was in control, he always managed to work things out for the best.

Godspell is over now, and I’m moving into a new season of life, but I feel that this past year, and my experiences in Godspell specifically, have prepared me well by teaching me that God is always good, no matter what. A life of ease doesn’t help me to grow, but trials and sufferings do. God gives me trials and sufferings to sanctify me and to make me more like Jesus. So whatever happens to me in college and further on in life, I can trust that God is working it all out for my good, for as Romans 8:28 says, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

I’m not the only one who has or will encounter trials. Every one of you will face trials, and many of them will be much, much more severe than what I’ve just described here. If you don’t truly believe that God is good, worry and anxiety will take over your life. Instead of standing strong and glorifying God in the trial, you will not be able to stand. I once read an article by a pastor named Dan Phillips, and he said something very helpful: Christian friend, if you are going to believe what you say you believe, then there are only two kinds of situations: situations in which you will see God's goodness immediately, or situations in which you will see God's goodness eventually.

And that is why I, Sam Branchaw, challenge you, the youth of Covenant Life Church, to trust God with all your heart, because he works all things out for the good of those who love him.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

How to Pass Out In Front of 800 People

So that everybody knows, last night I almost passed out during our youth meeting. Here's what happened:

I was giving my senior challenge at our church's youth meeting (a short speech that a bunch of the seniors give at the end of the year to the underclassmen to pass on what they've learned throughout high school and exhort them to grow in some way). Mine was about trusting God even when things don't go the way you expect. I was the last person to give mine, and spent the time coming up to it crouching on the stage. When I finally stood up to give it, I started feeling nauseous, like I had stage fright. I don't normally get stage fright, but I kept on reading anyways.

As I read, I began to feel really, really sick, and suddenly I got really dizzy. I stopped (some people thought at first I was going to cry), and then stepped out from behind the podium and asked for a drink of water. As I asked, the blood rushed to my head and I staggered backwards as the world around me almost went black. My youth pastor told everyone to take a five minute break (which they were going to do after I finished anyway). A doctor rushed out of the audience, told me to put my head between my knees, but then I began feeling like I was going to throw up and they rushed me backstage to the bathroom. By the time I sat down, I was starting to feel fine, but I had at least six different doctors, three pastors, and my parents all peering in at me to make sure I was all right.

One of the doctor's called it fazo vagel or something like that, and said it happens when you stand up too fast. I think it was that combined with not enough water during the day. After resting for a little while, I was able to get up and finish my senior challenge, and I'll admit I was very happy with myself because when I got up there, I cracked a joke, and it was actually funny. I just said, "First of all, I'd like to thank the eight different doctors who came back to help me backstage. Your help was very much appreciated." It helped relieve the tension, and then I was able to finish the challenge. (I'm not normally able to be funny on the spot, so it felt good to do that.)

I found it very ironic that I would pass out during my challenge about trusting God even when things don't go as you expect. God is good, though, because I think it will stick in people's minds more than it otherwise would have. I'll post my actual challenge here in a few days. Until then, thanks to everyone who was there for your concern, and for everyone else: God is always good.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Unstoppable


Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! (2 Timothy 2:8-9)

As Paul is writing this letter, he is sitting in Rome. Within a few years he will be beheaded by the Emperor Nero for his faith. Being bound with chains means that he can no longer minister to the church in the way he loves, and must instead content himself with writing pastoral letters. But he is not depressed or dejected, moping in his cell as if it's the end of the world. On the contrary, he is joyful and energetic. Why? Because he knows the gospel is not about him and his work! He is an agent for the gospel, but the gospel does not rely on him. It continues to spread without him!

The word of God is not bound. The NIV puts it "God's word is not chained." Jesus once told this parable: "The kingdom of heaven [i.e. the gospel] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." What does this all mean? God's word is pervasive and unstoppable. All the kingdoms of the earth will try to stop it, to jail the leaders, to persecute the followers, but it will never work, because God desires his word to go forth to all the world. Observe China: it is one of the most heavily persecuted countries for Christians, and thousands of people are becoming Christians every day there. Why would people become Christians when they know they are going to be persecuted for it? Because God's word is unstoppable.

Isn't that amazing? It doesn't matter what people do, God is still in control, and his plan will not be thwarted. What a comforting thought!

Monday, April 30, 2007

III Movies

So I have to admit that I am pretty excited about several of the movies coming out this summer, even though the vast majority of them are sequels. Actually--I found this amusing--most of the blockbusters this summer will be III movies, not just sequels. For example, the one's I'm really excited about:



























































Plus there are some III movies that I might see, although I'm not expecting much from them:






































Then of course, there are a few movies that aren't III movies that should still be good:






































Why do I bring this up here? No particular reason except that 1) I don't have time for a real post and 2) I'm going to see Spidy 3 at the midnight showing this week, so it's on my mind. Hope it lives up to its predecessors!


(And guess what? Batman Begins has a sequel coming out next year, with the original cast and Christopher Nolan back at the helm, and it's called The Dark Knight. So excited!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Odds and Ends IX

There have been a lot of good links I've found in a very short amount of time, so here's the next installment.

Serious:
  • Hadley Arkes explains the significance of small steps in eradicating abortion, starting with Gonzales v. Carhart.
  • On a related note, Tim Challies examines a woman being charged with first-degree murder for killing her two-hour old baby, and ponders why a journey through a birth canal changes the killing from acceptable to murder.
  • Nathan Busenitz is beginning a series on guiding principles for Christians who blog.
  • Tim Challies also explains the Calvinist doctrine of Limited Atonement (or Particular Redemption) and its relevance to our lives.

Funny:

  • FCN writes a brilliant satire piece that declares Harry Reid's reelection bid is already lost. Really, I don't know how college freshman can write at this level.

Interesting:

  • This is a personal item, but I had what was possibly the best day of my life so far last Sunday with a bunch of friends, and the amazingly talented Lydia Jane posted pictures of our excursion here. These are the days we remember all of our lives...
  • Superchick is offering a free download of their song "Hero" in memory of the Virginia Tech Massacre. I think the song is worth the download.
  • People can even make their books into art, as this website proves. Scary...
  • For all of you who don't know the difference between your second cousin and your cousin twice removed, here is a diagram that will solve all of your problems.

Quotes:

"Although the law of sin is in believers, it is not a law to believers. Nevertheless, even when the rule of sin is broken, its strength weakened and impaired, and its root modified, yet it is still of great force and efficacy. When it is least felt, it is in fact most powerful." --John Owens, Sin and Temptation

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Matrix

If there was any movie designed for the kind of evaluations I like to write, it was this one. It's a worldview encapsulated in a film. There are, admittedly, analogies to Christianity, but ultimately it is a very New Age film. Dissecting all of the different paths this takes would be a much longer post than I have the time or the patience for, so I'll just touch on a few of them. (Once again, there are many spoilers contained in this review, and I'm writing it with the assumption that the readers are familiar with basic plot elements.)

People often point to a few different aspects of the movie to say, "Look, this is basically a Christian allegory." First, they point to Morpheus's explanation at the beginning when he says,

The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth...that you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch.
"See?" people will say. "That's a perfect description of sin. It's a prison that we can't sense, and it's universal to all humans." And those people are right. It's a good description of sin. However, I don't think that's what the directors were aiming for. As a matter of fact, I know it, and that's because of the very next line Morpheus says: "A prison for your mind." This line can certainly be interpreted to be Christian, but in the context of the rest of the film it most certainly is not. It is much more similar to the New Age thought that our minds are the only real part of our selves. The body is merely illusion, the mind is everything, and if you can properly understand your mind, you can gain great power. You can even become like a god.

Which leads me to the second evidence that people often point to: Neo as Messiah. He is the chosen one who will save the world (and it turns out he saves it through sacrificing himself, as I found out reading a plot synopsis of Matrix Revolutions, the final movie in the trilogy). Obviously, nobody says that he's a perfect allegory of Christ, but many people think it's the most Christian element of the film. And once again I agree, to a point. There are several parallels between Neo and Christ. However, these parallels are certainly not because the Wachowski brothers were aiming for it. On the contrary, as I've shown and as interviews with them demonstrate, they are much more New Age in their sensibilities.

On a related sidenote, I'd like to point out that the concept of a Messiah fits well into New Age thought, because many New Agers believe that some humans will move or evolve to a higher consciousness and that by doing so will pull the rest of humanity with them. For example, Marilyn Ferguson states "The proven plasticity of the human brain and human awareness offers the possibility that individual evolution may lead to collective evolution" (The Aquarian Controversy, p. 70). Sounds a little bit like Matrix, doesn't it?

What is my point in all this? Essentially, it's to point out something that the Apostle Paul addressed well in Romans 1: mankind knows the truth, but in his pride and self-sufficiency he suppresses the truth. Man doesn't want to believe that God is in control, so they invent their own world and force themselves to believe in it. Thus they simultaneously know the truth and don't know the truth. Yet God still loves them after that, and he pours out what is known as common grace to all men, allowing them to demonstrate aspects of his character without knowing it. He stops them from being as bad as they could be. Men still try to construct their own worlds, but because they know the truth they can merely borrow from the truth (albeit subconciously) to construct these worlds. Paul acknowledges this in Acts 17 when he speaks to the Athenians, telling them that their poets had the right idea but applied it to the wrong place. They were decieved, but they had a nugget of truth.

Matrix contains many of these nuggets of truth, possibly more than most movies. The idea of a prison that we're all trapped in and a Messiah that will come to save us from it comes straight from Christian doctrine. Yet the ideas are misapplied into a New Age sensibility. It's like a gigantic non sequitur, a logical fallacy that literally means "doesn't follow. It describes the fallacy wherein the premises are established and then a conclusion is drawn that completely doesn't follow from those premises. That's how the depraved mind works: it knows the truth, but it draws the wrong conclusions because it refuses to draw the right ones.

But there is common grace, or else this movie would be worthless. A Christian can watch The Matrix and appreciate all the nuggets of truth scattered throughout the movie. For example, at one point, Cypher, as he agrees to betray his crew, states that "ignorance is bliss." He knows what the truth is, but he'd rather have the illusion because it's easier, less painful, and he can get a juicy steak. That's how so many people are with Christianity. They are brought to the point where they know what the truth is, but they refuse to accept it because accepting it would make them lose control over their life, or because it scares them. They would rather not know at all, be ignorant of the truth, so they can go on being comfortable.

It's a beautiful analogy of responses to Christianity. Is that what the directors intended? Probably not. But the truth got through anyway. So as I watch this film, I can appreciate the common grace evident in the movie, and think about the obvious areas of deception. It's a valuable movie for prompting a reevaluation of my concept of reality. And it leads me to pray for the Wachowski brothers and the other New Agers who are still deceived. Common grace is amazing, but only saving grace will open their eyes to the whole truth.

Disclaimer: this film is rated R for language and violence. The violence is relatively non-graphic, most of it being kung-fu and gun-fighting, with blood sometimes coming through the mouth and one image of a character's face which has been severely beaten. There is also a scene at the beginning that takes place in a club that is sensual and not necessary to the plot. Please use discretion.