Saturday, May 31, 2014

Creation to Restoration 4

Jesus Christ: True Instruction, Power, and Sacrifice

When the correct point in history and God’s plan came; God the Son became a man and lived amongst us. This was the pivotal moment in God’s plan. In Jesus, we find everything we need to find restoration with God:

Jesus Is God’s True Message of Love
Jesus proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom. A restoration of the created order that came in Him and that will be fully realized in God’s time. Jesus taught us God’s plan for humanity. The way we are intended to live in God’s Kingdom. The way relationships are supposed to work. The way we can live the life that pleases God. The way we can endure in this broken world while we wait for God to fully repair creation and society. The things to avoid like sin and religion systems of mankind. He didn’t bring a list of rules, but rather a new way to be human.

Jesus Is God’s True Power over Sin and Death
Jesus backed up His teaching with impressive demonstrations of God’s power. The sick were healed, the oppressed were freed. Needs were met, and even death was defeated. Most importantly of all, Jesus forgave sins. People who saw their need and trusted Him were changed. Faith was the trigger. Not the intellectual idea of belief that we think of today, more of an opinion than something we truly believe. Faith is a belief so strongly held that we entrust our lives to it. Surprisingly, people who were unwilling or unable to have such a faith failed to believe what they saw in Jesus. Even miracles fail to convince in an absence of faith.

Jesus Is the Only Effective Sacrifice
Ultimately, Jesus did what the religious system never could. He—the perfect Man who lived exactly as God desired—was sacrificed for the sins of the world. In Him, the full payment for the sins of man was made. We don’t merely trust and hope that God can overcome our problem. He has declared our debt “paid in full” on the cross. In Jesus, our faith has its foundation.

Friday, May 30, 2014

"About Time" (2013)

“About Time” is a cute little movie full of syrup and sugary emotion. It uses a tricky little sci-fi device known as time travel to explore questions like: What is really important in life? How can you successfully navigate all the challenges like love, helping others and making the right choices? Is all the regret and second guessing we struggle with really worth it?

The reason this is a tricky device to use in a story is that you run the risk of having your audience completely bog down in incredulity or worse, become so busy trying to make the plot line up correctly that they miss the real point you are trying to make. But, truly, this film struggles with that issue on more fronts than just the time travel. Like, how can a character criticize her friend for being “a bit of a prostitute” and then invite a man in for sex after knowing him for two hours tops?

If you manage to set aside all those issues, however, there is a really good—if somewhat obvious—reminder to simply enjoy the life we are given. If a man gifted with the ability to go back and change any moments in his life decides the true secret to happiness is to not go back and make things better, then our one go around has got to be awesome, right?

The real treasure of this “romantic comedy” though, is the side story of the man’s relationship with his father. Bill Nighy has got to be one of the best actors of all time in my opinion and he really delivers here. This is one to recommend to your dad for father’s day, if he can handle some of the questionable behavior and language that is.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Creation to Restoration 3

Religion: A Product of Man’s Pride Was Used to Instruct Mankind

Religion is an Invention of Sinful Mankind
The Bible consistently teaches that religion is NOT the answer. Jesus’ main opponent, and the group He most regularly condemned in His day, were the religious leaders. Paul writes that the purpose of the law and the sacrificial system in the Old Testament was never to solve humanity’s sin problem. It was to highlight our predicament and point us towards the true solution to rebellion.

God Redeemed Religious Law to Teach Us about Unattainable Holiness
God delivered a law to His chosen people that communicated what He required of His people. As a holy God, He requires a holy people. The only problem is, that standard is totally unattainable for sinful people. The law is set up for us to fail. Not in a cruel way, but in order to highlight that our religious pride will never, ever provide a solution to our problem. The law is intended to show us the astounding holiness of God, and to compel us to throw our hands up in surrender. We will never be as good as God created us to be.

God Redeemed a Sacrificial System to Teach Us about a Unpayable Debt
In response to the inevitable failure the law would produce, God prescribed a costly system for us to pay for our mistakes. Sacrifice. Something must die as a result of our rebellion. Ultimately it should be us, but God adopted the practice that humanity had sensed was needed, a system of substitution. Once again, the system only serves to highlight the failure of our attempts to fix our problem. There is not enough blood on earth to pay for the mistakes we blunder into, the mistakes we willfully make. Ultimately we all must die in defeat. If we are relying on religion to make things right, we will never be made right. THAT is not a good piece of news.

Religion is not the Gospel.  And the Gospel does not point to religion.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hoarfrost

(Poetry Scales 9)

consider the church
so shiny and bright
she sits on that hill
broadcasting her light

but often that white
just isn’t so pure
not even ivory
more like freezer burn

all about staying
institutional
superstitional
no incarnation
more like…
hell frozen over

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Creation to Restoration 2.1

(Excursus: Was sin a required, and therefor good, aspect of God’s plan?)

Many versions of the “sin is actually good” argument exist. Ultimately they are the worst sort of exercises in speculation. (How can anyone intelligently talk about alternative versions of reality in a way that have any real impact on our circumstances?)

At their core, they claim that sin is necessary, because for free will to truly exist—for people to have a choice to make—they need two alternatives. The idea is that we had to have this whole mess—humanity choosing rebellion against God, God setting the plan of salvation in motion, people accepting and trusting in Jesus Christ, etc—in order for there to be a people who have chosen to follow God’s plan for creation. Therefore, sin is good.

Nonsense.

A choice was offered, and humanity failed. The fact that God was willing to exercise grace and mercy is something for which we can be thankful, but it might have gone differently. As speculative as it may be, I think the choice could have gone differently. To say how that would have looked is a thought exercise that makes my head hurt, so I won’t. However, C. S. Lewis had an interesting take on it in “Perelandra.”

Ultimately failure, i.e. making the wrong decision regarding a choice, is not a prerequisite for a choice being made.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Gojira" (1954) A Mini Review

I remember seeing a couple Godzilla movies on Saturday afternoons as a kid, syndicated on television with other “horror” flicks involving giant ants or colonies of tarantulas. It was never a case where I sat down to watch them, and I don’t know that I ever sat through one in its entirety. They just weren’t good enough to capture my vivid, childhood imagination. The three-foot-tall toy model of Godzilla a friend of mine had demanded that they come up with a better film. The 1998 debacle Hollywood attempted was not that film. And, while this year’s effort appears to be more promising, I always had a desire to go back and see the original film. Something had to be right in it for it to spawn 30+ sequels, right?

Well, it turns out that it is a great film, considering the time and what Japan had to work with back then. The themes are serious. The imagery, especially in 1954 so close to WWII had to be tremendously impacting. And, the filmmaking is very well done. There are a pair of sequences, where a promise of secrecy is made and we are initially not shown the secret that has to be a pioneering moment and something that more directors should study and imitate in their storytelling.

Things fall apart and get a little too preachy at the climax, but this is a classic that more people should see. Especially before they jump into the current version in theaters.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Creation to Restoration 2

Creation and Free Will: Restoration Was Preferable to Robots

God’s Plan is a Picture of His Love
The full Gospel starts with God, eternal, all powerful, and wise. In His wisdom, He created the universe and all that is in it, including humanity—the aspect of His creation that reflects Him and can have a relationship with Him. Whatever other motivations God had in creating, most of which we cannot hope to grasp in our limited intellectual capacity, God was motivated by love. He created humanity for relationship. And in spite of the fact that we know that God foresaw the way things would go, He had a plan that tells us our existence was valuable enough for God to set things in motion that would require such a high, costly price on His behalf.

Why Did God Allow for Evil and Sin?
To ask why God created evil reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what evil is. The first thing we see God create in Genesis is light. Some point out that the darkness was already there, not created by God. To put a finer point on it, the darkness first became a concept when light was created. It is not a “thing” but the absence of a thing: light. In the same way, evil is not a creation of God, but a concept that represents the absence of the good things that God made. Sin is a similar concept in that it is simply the choice of humanity to reject God’s good and loving plan for creation in favor of our own flawed, failed plans. The reason why God allowed for evil and sin, however, is that His desire, His plan, was a relationship with beings who freely choose to follow His plan. He does not desire automatons who follow programing with no ability to reject Him. [For whether allowing is the same a requiring, see the excursus in the next C2R post.]

Religious Effort is More Evidence of Sin…
The first reaction to sin seen in the Bible is religion. Mankind in its lost, cast out, purposeless state, tries to build a way back into relationship with God. Every culture in history has had religion. It is an invention of man; a proud attempt to solve the problem it had created by turning away from God. It has been trusted, used and abused ever since. Not to solve humanity’s problem, but rather to control people, to wield power, or to make people feel a little bit better about their state. It is not the answer, even though a huge percentage of the world—including the Christian world—think that it is.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Elapidae

I’ve never been a big fan of the Elapids. They tend to be big, drab and very dangerous. But, they have fascinated cultures for centuries and inspired a lot of neat stories. Here are 7 worth mentioning:

7. Peter’s Cobra (Naja samarensis)

 

Don’t know anything about this guy, but he may be the prettiest cobra.

6. Red-Headed Krait (Bungaris flaviceps

Another pretty snake.

5. Banded Krait (Bungaris fasciatus

This is a bad, bad snake.

4. Indian Cobra (Naja naja

The Indian Cobra is responsible for more snake-bite deaths every year than any other snake. It doesn’t help that they live in close proximity to a lot of bare-feet… or that people feel a religious need to kiss them on the hood.

3. Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis

I will be fine never seeing one of these in real life. Scary snake.

2. King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah

The largest poisonous snake has to make the list. My granddad apparently killed one in Burma during WWII when it wouldn’t yield the road to his convoy truck.

1. Western Coral Snake (Micruroides euryxanthus

One of the prettiest snakes going, and I do hope to see one of these one day.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Creation to Restoration 1

The Gospel: The Full Story is Good News Indeed

The Meaning of Gospel
In the Bible, the Story of God’s plan to save mankind from its sin and restore them in relationship to Him is called “The Gospel.” In Greek, euangelion, means good news. More than one Christian leader has mentioned to me in the past few months that they have a hard time finding “Good News” in the Gospel. They think there is too much emphasis on sin and the fact that we are helpless on our own. However, euangelion meant good news in the context of a victory. The victory of a good kingdom over a dark, oppressive, hopeless one. The Romans saw Caesar bringing hope to the world. In the Bible, the Kingdom of God is the true hope. You have to have an evil, a bad situation from which you need saving, for such a good news to make sense.

No Simple Sales Pitch of an Ideology
Perhaps it is the way we have oversimplified our message over the past couple generations that is to blame. In the past a sales culture combined with a largely Christian context led people to short-hand the Gospel in a way that worked at the time… perhaps. Today, in a post-Christian culture where people have also become skeptical of everyone trying to sell them something, it is not so successful. The question that has to be asked is: were the shortened, bullet point Gospel presentations ever enough? Does the current state of Christianity in the Western world really reflect a Biblical understanding? Is ticking notches in belts representing “converts” really the same thing as “making disciples”? Perhaps not.

The Most Wonderful Story Ever Told…
The fact is, the true Gospel is the whole, complete message of the entire Bible. When reduced to four sentences, or even coaxed out of a single verse, it is missing something. Those methods are fine as a part of a larger effort, but the story of the Gospel should be told in its entirety. It is too beautiful to be converted into a bumper sticker or a billboard.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gormandizer

(Poetry Scales 8)

No one would ever accuse him of being a gourmet,
but he loved more than anything the feel of giant mouthfuls
of sugary starch churning around in his mouth.
So, what started as a single case of “rescuing” a mostly whole pastry
off the top of a pile of garbage in a bin
(that wasn’t as great as it had looked, but quite satisfying enough, thank you very much)
became a lifestyle choice that supplemented and even saved his budget in the long run.

Now instead of shopping for all his sugar addiction needs
he trolls the alleys behind donut shops and bakeries
subsisting on the rejects, the refuse, and the trash.
Had he been more selective he might have been sad,
but the stuff in the dumpsters is really the same as on the shelves
and he is managing a nice healthy obesity on his new diet.

No one would ever think of him as a great friend,
but he did love to talk at people; and occasional supportive interaction is nice.
So, since his dumpster-diving is less than socially acceptable,
what started with the sense of obligation—accepting virtual invitations
to virtual relationships on trendy web-based networks
(that aren’t as great as had been promised, but quite satisfying enough, thank you very much)
became another lifestyle choice that replaced and even improved his society in the long run.

Now instead of interacting with real people for his relational needs
he trolls the boards of online networks and communities
living to spout opinions, sell exaggerations and lies.
Had he been more honest he might have realized he was sad
but the illusion that people are waiting with bated breath on every post
is better than trying to interact with people who aren’t as obsessed with him as he.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Fig Tree/Temple Recall (Mark 11:12-21)

In modern societies like ours we have things like “Lemon Laws” and we are thankful that they exist. If we buy a product and it doesn’t work as we were promised, we can return it and get our money back. What is the point of buying something that isn’t going to work?

In God’s economy, the purpose of His Church is to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If a church isn’t going to do what it was intended to, God will work—and bless—another group of His followers. He is not helplessly dependent on our obedience.

In this text, we are not shown the Church’s purpose directly, but by way of the Old Covenant’s failure we can infer that message. Jesus begins with an illustration in the manor of the Old Testament prophets:

Friday, May 9, 2014

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (2013)

This film came and went without much fanfare, and was dismissed by a lot of critics as being too much of a Hallmark commercial sentimentality, as well as having way to much commercial product placement to boot. All that may be true, but in this particular case I am one of the suckers who was manipulated and liked it.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Classics Spin

A comment on yesterday’s post sent me down a blog rabbit hole that led me to a sight called “The Classics Club” where they are doing something called a Classics Spin. You can see the details of what they are up to over there, but I always need extra motivation to read a good book from my “to read” pile. So, here is my list of 20 of the titles I need to get around to reading. I will (hopefully) post thoughts on the book I read in July (or soon thereafter?):

1. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
2. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
5. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
6. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
7. The Woman in White (or The Moonstone) by Wilkie Collins
8. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
9. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
10. The 39 Steps by John Buchan
11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
12. Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
13. Bestiario or Final del Juego by Julio Cortazar
14. Middlemarch by George Eliot
15. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
16. Winnetou I by Karl May
17. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
18. Emma by Jane Austen
19. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
20. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"The Host" (2013)

At our most recent monthly film evening used to introduce and discuss spiritual issues, “The Host” was shown. It is a bit of a silly story based on a book by the author of the “Twilight” books, and isn’t really worth recommending. That being said, it had an interesting premise that illuminates some aspects of the Biblical world-view.

In “The Host” aliens have invaded and overtaken Earth. They are non-corporal beings, and have inhabited the bodies of humans, overtaking them while retaining access to the memories of the hosts they inhabit. Some humans remain, but they are on the run and in hiding, because when found they will be converted. Once you are overtaken, you are gone. Your spirit is killed, I guess. In all of this process, the world has become a perfect place with no war, violence, crime or hatred. The aliens are really good people. It just sucks for any humans, because they are either dead or being hunted. In this story, one human doesn’t die in the process of being inhabited, and the struggle between the two wills in her body make up the basis of the (rather cheesy and unfulfilling plot.)

Plot and story weaknesses aside, the metaphor here is great.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Triumphal Entries of the King (Mark 11:1-11)

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem for the Passion Week is highly symbolic and significant and all, but the way we commemorate and highlight this event in the Gospels has always been a bit mysterious to me.

It is a strange scene. Not because of the symbolism, which is understandable, but more because of the crowds. There is no reason to assume that this was a huge event. Jesus attracted crowds and caused a sensation everywhere He went, but one could assume that Jerusalem, the big city, may have been harder to impress. It could have been as simple as the people who were traveling with Jesus shouting the hosannas. It almost certainly wasn’t the same people who would later in the week shout for Jesus to be crucified.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Seven Years of NonModern

Seven years ago today, I started this little project.

The First Post

This little cheat of a post marks the 1786th entry.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Placebo Faith

Then there are the snake oils that actually work. Not because they are effective or in any testable way proven, but simply because people believe that they will. Perhaps it is something else that a person who believes and uses a product does (like abstaining from sodas in the chitin example) or some other coincidental variable. The fact remains, however, that belief produces effects, albeit small and usually minor ones. It seems a certain percentage of peoples’ problems are largely mental blocks, and believing they can overcome them is enough for them to actually do so.

This is where the postmodern approach to faith can present a problem for people of faith interested in truth. Faith has a placebo effect, and when we look to faith simply as a source of happiness and fulfillment any faith may do.

Ever since sin has existed so have religions, supplying people with ways to appease their guilt, shame, and fear and—temporarily at least—solving their problems in life. So, when someone today cherry-picks from a spiritual buffet with a little Buddhism here and some animism there and a little pop-culture modern religion to top things off… it sometimes works. At least so far as happiness in the here and now are concerned.

Even “Christianity” in the postmodern world isn’t much better. There has always been a segment of people claiming to follow Jesus who are simply being religious. They have the sort of belief that sees Faith as a magic power. They look to Jesus to fulfill their needs, dreams, and desires. To give them the American dream. To make their life easy. They see prayer as a magic incantation, praying Bible Verse like formulas and attending a service for their weekly dose of power to succeed in the week in their own kingdom.

There is no reason for a postmodern world to look at this form of Christianity and conclude it is any different than Buddhism or Hinduism. In fact, too much of the world, those other beliefs would clearly be more noble and admirable.

True faith—not the placebo type—is tested in the difficulties in life. Placebos don’t cure cancer, and true faith that survives the reality test is seen when life is not happy. When suffering comes. When there is no success, no power, no health nor wealth. When all you have left is the cross of Christ and it is enough.

Is that the Christianity you know?

(Source of graph above here.)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Snake Oil

Years ago there was a promise being advertised on radio stations across the country. People who wanted to lose weight effortlessly were told they simply needed to take chitin and that, along with a couple very simple habit changes, would cause their weight to simply melt away.

Two things always bothered me about those commercials.

The first was that chitin is found—in among other places—bug exoskeletons. Where was the proof that bug skins would cause weight loss? (Back then there were no tests to look to, but all studies done since seem to show that chitin does not do what was being promised.)

The second problem I had was that this program claimed to work when the consumer cut out sodas and quit eating three hours before bedtime. You could eat anything you wanted and as much as you wanted but as long as you took chitin and followed those other two rules you would lose weight. My contention was that the chitin had nothing to do with the weight loss. And, even though I wasn’t overweight at the time, I tried a little experiment.

When I cut all sodas and quit eating three hours before bed time I lost as much weight or more than the ads claimed I would, all without buying and taking their bug pills. The key to success was healthier habits and not some easy fix.

Since those days the chitin claims have gone away, but there are more and more claims every day of products to which we should look to replace healthy choices and hard work.

When I was a kid I used to see movies and TV shows about the “Old West” days where charlatans sold some sort of snake oil to gullible crowds promising to heal all sorts of ails. I used to pity those poor crowds. They couldn’t see a list of ingredients or results of careful studies to help them evaluate the claims of the salesmen. They didn’t have the mobility to chase the men down once they left town or to warn others about their lies. I used to think how glad I was that those days were over. How naïve I was!

We are told that in our current postmodern world people decide what they want to believe and then ignore all evidence on the subject. Truth is no longer about reality, but simply about what makes us feel good. The current state of medicine and nutrition science demonstrates this so clearly. From demonized vaccinations to magic supplements that fix all our problems, it seems we live in a modern day wild, wild west.

(More thoughts along this line here.)
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