Friday, December 30, 2016

A Look Ahead to 2017 on NonModernBlog

Here are some of the things I might be looking at next year here at NonModern:

Continuation of Genesis Commentary
Commentary on the Epistles of John
Revisiting film, music and cultural milestones of 2007, 1997, 1987, and the earlier decade’s 7s.
Finishing out Quantum Leap, Enterprise, and further Star Trek
More film reviews
More poetry

I will continue to be casual about posting, not worrying about hitting every day. Especially as I hope to tackle some other writing projects.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

NonModernBlog in 2016

Blogging was more of a challenge this year than others. Coming up with things to write about, and finding the time to engage with the culture was tough. Plus, the topic that dominated culture in 2016 was not my cup of tea.

Breaking things down into my most touched on categories, five emerge:

Bible 41%

Film 24%

Politics 16%

Poetry 13%

Television 12%

(Yes, that adds up to more than 100%, but some posts delve into more than one category.)

The following 20 posts are a selection of the most read ones this year:

On Living Cross-Culturally:

Ten Years

Culture Shock Thoughts

Bible Issues:

Genesis Introductory Issues: Structure

The Tragedy of Unbelief

A Cautionary Word Regarding the Word: Day

Avoid Distractions Genesis


Dear Stampeding Herd,

My President

A Political Beef

The Frustrating Math of American Politics


2015 in Film

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

O Brother Where Art Thou?


Communication Comedones

Y Counts



Quantum Leap


Doctor Who

X Files

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Trusting in One Stronger than Our Belief (Genesis 12:10-20)

“When Faith is strong, we dare cut ourselves adrift from the moorings which coupled us to the shore; and launch out into the deep, depending only on the character and word of Him at whose command we go. But when faith is weak, we dare not do it; and, leaving the upland path, we herd with the men of the world, who have their portion in this life, and who are content with that alone.” –F. B. Meyer

No sooner has Abram arrived in the land promised to him it suffered a famine. We rightly tout Abram as a great example of faith—blindly following God to an unspecified destination—but we also see here that he is no giant. At the first sign of a problem he scampers. Perhaps not back to the safety of the “known,” but certainly to the safety of what the world can provide.

Perhaps it is a test. Maybe he should have stayed and trusted God to provide. But there is no real indication that that is what God wanted. After all, God has promised this land to Abram’s descendants. He has never indicated that Abram will possess it quickly or without difficulty. Or maybe the test was one that God had planned and intended. Not something to be avoided, but to be faced in Egypt. God will often send His people into Egypt as a layover on their path. Israel will later spend centuries in Egypt. Joseph was told to flee with Jesus into Egypt until the danger of Herod the Great was past.

Either way, we see that Abram is a man with failings just like the rest of us. He trusts God enough to follow Him into the unknown, but not yet enough to defend him against powerful men. Abram has Sarai claim to be his sister instead of his wife, and she is claimed by Pharaoh for his harem. Hardly the heroics we might expect from this hero of the faith. But that is the point of these stories. We are going to repeatedly see that the Patriarchs are not particularly great men of action, courage, or extraordinary abilities. Their one claim to success is that they have faith. They know God. They trust God even if it isn’t an unfailing trust.

The beauty of faith is that it does not depend on our capacity to trust in order to work. We do not trust our ability to trust, but God’s faithfulness to be trusted. God intervenes and saves Sarai, and we would like to think that Abram learns and grows in his faith as a result. Ultimately that is what we all want: to grow in our faith. We know we can do nothing but rely on God, but we know our capacity to trust is weak. Perhaps with Abram we share the sense of the father in Mark’s Gospel, who when asked if he had faith in Christ, answered, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

In Defense of a Maligned 2016

My father-in-law is a geologist and a meteorologist. He spent his career using science to help companies make decisions involving millions of dollars. He was good at his job. Even in retirement he has a passion for the earth sciences. He keeps up with the data and the advances in the field. He gave me a concrete, scientific validation of something I had long suspected.

It turns out that there is not a real increase in volcanic and seismic activity on the planet. There have probably always been a consistent average number of eruptions and earthquakes similar to what we see today. It is just that we now have an ability to track world-wide events from satellite, and we have much more sensitive instrumentation. We don’t miss anything anymore. A similar truth holds for things like tornadoes and hurricanes.

And a similar truism is behind the seeming increase incelebrity deaths in 2016. Oh, there may indeed have been more famous people dying this year, but it is not an anomaly. It is likely that the years to come will see even buzz-worthy deaths.

Think about it. There are a whole lot of factors feeding our awareness here:

-We have more people walking around the planet today. Even without an increase in the death rate across the globe, more people will be dying each year.

-We have a lot more celebrities today than past generations. Fame, on a smaller scale perhaps, is something much easier to achieve. And celebrity watching is much more of an industry than it was even a decade ago.

-The Boomers are getting OLD. If you combine the fact that they were last generation of huge, world-wide, celebrities with the natural limits to longevity, well, it is only a matter of time till we have multiple world-wide famous people dying every week.

So, give 2016 a break. It wasn’t a horrible outlier. It is just the first of many to come.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Epilogue (John 21:1-25)

Much in the way that films today have a “post-credit” scene, John adds an additional event to his story following the conclusion. Much like those film scenes, this story serves to give additional insights and to look ahead to the continuing story of the Gospel.

After the resurrection, but before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples are coming to terms with life without Jesus leading and teaching them. Several of them naturally revert to what they know and head out fishing. After a fruitless night, they are headed into shore when Jesus calls to them from the shore. He tells them to try one more time and they hit pay dirt. They realize that it is the risen Lord.

As they eat together, Jesus offers another teaching moment. The last time they were eating together, Peter had claimed that he would stay true to Jesus even if it cost him his life. He had then denied Jesus three times. Jesus asks Peter about his love three times. Peter is humbled and grieved over his failing. He does love Jesus.

Jesus’ command for Peter is that he should care for the other followers of Jesus. Loving Christ entails doing what God has planned for us, the things that He expects from us. In Peter’s case this involves caring for and encouraging other believers to fulfill their calling. That is a responsibility a lot of Christians have in the Kingdom, and not just leaders. We have all be commissioned to make more disciples.

However, each follower has unique responsibilities in the Kingdom. When Peter is told that he will indeed die for his faith, he asks about John. Jesus reprimands Peter and says that his business is to stay true to his own calling. We are not to compare ourselves to others. Our calling is unique, our path with Jesus will be so as well. John’s calling and path will look very different than Peter’s. We don’t measure our faithfulness against anyone else’s.

At this moment, I imagine John looking at the camera and breaking the fourth wall. He lets us know that he has been the one telling the whole story. We can trust the veracity of his account because he was there the whole time. If he were to write down everything he saw and learned it would be too much for us to read. He has simply told us the stuff we need to know to follow Jesus ourselves.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Most Anticipated Films of 2017

Next year looks really good. Here is an attempt to narrow the offerings down to a mere 30 anticipated:

30. “The Darkest Hour” Dir. Joe Wright 

I’m a sucker for the drama surrounding WWII.

29. “Murder on the Orient Express” Dir. Kenneth Branague 

I love this story and tend to like this directors films.

28. “The Lost City of Z” Dir. James Grey 

I love the era of exploration.

27. “Life” Dir. David Espinoza 

Mars hard scifi.

26. “Ghost in the Shell” Dir. Rupert Sanders 

This one feels obligatory.

25. “Dunkirk” Dir. Christopher Nolan 

Not usually a fan of these sorts of war stories, but your can’t count Nolan out.

24. “Spiderman” Dir. Jon Watts 

This is my least anticipated Marvel for 2017.

23. “The Coldest City” Dir. David Leitch 

I’m even more of a sucker for Cold War drama, and Cold War Berlin ups the ante.

22. “Kong: Skull Island” Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts 

Another obligatory offering, but it does look impressive.

21. “Table 19” Dir. Jaffrey Blitz 

My chick-flick selection for the year.

20. “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” Dir. Andre Ovredal 

One of the few horror on my list this time around.

19. “Alien: Covenant” Dir. Ridley Scott 

Hoping he can do better than last time, but honestly it wasn’t too bad.

18. “The Lego Batman Movie” Dir. Chris McKay 

I am contractually obligated to watch all Batman films.

17. “The Circle” Dir. James Ponsoldt 

One of three intriguing films based on books I haven’t read.

16. “Red Sparrow” Dir. Francis Lawrence 


15. “The Snowman” Dir. Tomas Alfredson 

And the other.

14. “War for the Planet of the Apes” Dir. Matt Reeves 

I have liked the new Apes stories, just not as much as the original.

13. “Bladerunner 2049” Dir. Denis Villaneuve 

I hope they don’t screw this one up.

12. “Flatliners” Dir. Niels Arden Oplev 

Another continuation of a beloved (for me anyway) film from the eighties.

11. “Wonder Woman” Dir. Patty Jenkins 

Should we give the DC cinematic universe another shot? Should we?

10. “Star Wars VIII” Dir. Rian Johnson 

Rian Johnson has only made films I have liked a lot. Here’s hoping he does Star Wars well.

9. “A Cure for Wellness” Dir. Gore Verbinski 

This one was on my list when it was supposed to come out in 2016. It looks even more amazing than I hoped. Verbinski has so far done no wrong.

8. “Coco” Dir. Lee Unkrick 


7. “Logan” Dir. James Mangold 

I like Wolverine and I like Mangold.

6. “The Dark Tower” Dir. Nikolaj Arcel 

I really hope this ends up being good. I haven’t red past the first book, but want to. Also, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey.

5. “It” Dir. Andrew Muschietti 

This is a risky film in so many ways. I hope it doesn’t bomb; and I hope I can sleep afterwards.

4. “Thor: Ragnarok” Dir. Taika Waititi 

Thor has been a weak aspect of the MCU, but Waititi is amazing.

3. “Baby Driver” Dir. Edgar Wright 

I will still watch anything Edgar Wright does.

2. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Dir. James Gunn 

The first might have been my favorite entertainment of the decade so far.

1. “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” Dir. Luc Besson 

This looks like what I wish Star Wars was more like.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Children of Men" (2006)

One of the best movies from ten years ago is increasingly more relevant a decade later. And, in a way it is a Christmas movie, albeit one with a lot of cussing and a lot of disturbing violence. (Probably a lot more like the events surrounding the real Christmas than the sanitized versions we imagine today.) That film is “Children of Men.”

The story involves a future in which humanity has lost the ability to have children, and with that loss comes the loss of hope. The whole world has fallen apart and in the film only Britain has managed to “soldier on.” The film gives us—way back in 2006—an apocalyptic version of Brexit. Refugees are being rounded up, cages and killed or deported.

In this dire future, we meet Theo, a man recruited by his revolutionary, pro-refugee wife, to help get a refugee woman to safety outside of Britain. He is supposed to deliver her to a (possibly mythical) group called the Human Project. They are supposedly looking for a solution to the infertility project. The reason Theo needs to help the woman get to them is because she is pregnant.

Things go very wrong early on, due to political intrigue and conspiracy within the revolutionary group. Theo ends up on the run with the pregnant girl; running from the government, the revolutionaries, and people trying to take advantage of them. Along the way, the baby is born in a refugee camp.

None of this is exactly the Christmas story, of course. However, it is a good mirror to hold up to that story to help us understand what happened better. In today’s climate of anti-immigrant, pro-nationalistic, hardline populist sentiments it is interesting to see the hopes of all humanity rest on a baby being born in impossible circumstances. It reminds us of just how scary, impossible, and trying the real Christmas events were for those involved, as well as the level of stakes we are talking about.

Today we live with the benefit of Christmas and all it represents being ancient history. And yet it should still be relevant and ever present in our daily lives. Do we simply celebrate a sanitized story that justifies our comfortable existence, or are we aware of the fact that Jesus’ birth changed everything and demands everything from those who would follow Him?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Call (Genesis 12:1-9)

If you were to make a list of all the most important, influential Bible passages, Genesis 12:1-9 would be near the top of the list. In particular, verses 1-3 are vital in the overarching story and theology that the Bible is communicating. It is here where we clearly see that the Creator is a missionary God and His people are to be a missionary people.

God calls Abram (as he is called at this point) and Abram follows his calling. That is the essence of this passage. It is this act of obedience, signaling a trust in God, that the Bible highlights as what God wants from people: faith. Do we trust God enough to live as He asks us to, or do we insist on doing things the way we see fit? That is the question at the heart of the Gospel.

More precisely, God calls Abram to GO. This cannot be overemphasized. All the verbs in God’s call to Abram hinge on this first verb. Abram is to GO so that God will bless him, and through him, the rest of humanity. And the GOing is not just the thing God wants of Abram. It is what God calls all His people to as well. The key calling that Jesus gives all His followers later in the New Covenant is also to GO. Here in Genesis we will be focusing on just three key characters: Abram (Abraham), Jacob (Israel), and Joseph (Zaphenath-Paneah). All three of them leave their home and family. All three of them undergo a loss of culture and a dramatic change of circumstances orchestrated by God. God wants His people to GO wherever He leads them, and that is rarely (if ever) to stay where they are.

God’s promise to Abram in return for his trust is four fold:

God will make Abram into a great nation.

God will bless Abram.

God will make his name great, so that he will become a blessing.

God will bless all peoples through Abram.

These are the sorts of things that humanity—in it rebellion—is striving to attain. These are the things that humanity is continually failing to attain. These are the things that only God, and a life with Him as He intended it to be lived, can give. The whole Bible is written and assembled to tell the story of how God accomplished this blessing through Abram and his descendant, Jesus.

Perhaps the second most important and interesting aspect of this calling and blessing, aside from the faith-GO issue, is the idea that Abram will be God’s blessing. The issue of blessing is hugely important in Genesis and in Biblical theology. It is the idea that God helps His people and shows them favor. Success in life is blessing. And yet, the idea here is that Abram will be blessed in order that he will in turn be a blessing to others.

It is common practice in some branches of Christianity to invoke the blessing of Numbers 6:24-26. Perhaps it would be better to look to Genesis 12. Rather than praying for God’s blessings on us, it is more in keeping with God’s calling to pray that God will use us and make us into a blessing for those around us.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Branching Memory

I see all the way back to the day I was three
Snapshot memories, snippets, and vivid moments
I used to see if I could run the yard to the tree
Before our little schnauzer, McDuff, could run it

That was the first tree I ever climbed. Felt the sting
There on my ear from a fuzzy caterpillar

We buried McDuff under that very same tree
There have been other dogs and have been other trees

But those were my first.
My first pain,
my first death…
A fear

Another tree, another house. We used to chill
In its branches with popsicles or IBC
That tree died years ago; my children never will
Get to climb it. Even the stump was pulled out clean

But that house is an album of stories to fill
Someday soon it too will be a recollection

Some days I’m transported to that old oil town hill
I’m reminded of stories by a taste or smell

The same doorbell tune
Bedtime songs
Loved ones

Monday, December 19, 2016

Conclusion / Purpose (John 20:30,31)

When John sandwiches the effects of the resurrection (how grief, fear, and doubt are changed) with stories of it producing belief, he is simply continuing a theme that he has been working on throughout his whole account. John wrote his experiences and observations of Jesus’ ministry to bring more people to faith in the Messiah.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

If you missed it the first time around, this is where you go back and reread the book again. But really it has been rather plainly presented. Jesus is the Messiah, promised of old, sent to save the world from their sins. Trust in Him and you too can live life as God intended, in a restored relationship with God, in His Kingdom.

John hasn’t been giving us an account of Jesus’ life from cradle to grave (and resurrection). He tells us here that he has left a lot of stuff out. He chose events and moments that reinforce the theme. John is only concerned with conveying Truth, and a sampling of what Jesus did suffices. Anything else he could have chosen to tell us would have simply reinforced what is already here. Nice, but unnecessary.

So, as you might do when you get to the end of a movie or a book where a central truth is revealed in a shocking ending, you might really go back and revisit it with that idea in mind. It could change everything.

Friday, December 16, 2016


We all lament the advent of a “post-truth” culture.
The news of the day is whatever we choose
When truth is rejected and facts are butchered
Never mind the fact that it isn’t fact, isn’t news
Then again, such a thing used to be called a lie
“Post-truth” seems like a polite way to say false
It’s gotten to where you can’t even call a confused man a guy.
Afraid of offending, untruth is our default

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Story of Abraham: Introduction (Genesis 11:10-32)

In the genealogical interlude after the Tower of Babel story, we leave the primeval history behind. Here we have the last mention of the flood, and we race through the generations to get us to Abraham. Unlike in the interlude in chapter 5, there is no mention here of details about the lives of these generations. We simply read about fathers and sons.

We again have ten generations here, between Shem and Abraham. And you can again get caught in unimportant details if you are not careful.

(Like what does it mean that there are 365 years between the first birth after the flood and the time when Abraham will leave for the promised land? Or what is the significance behind the fact that Abraham is 75 when he will leave for the promised land and would go on to live another 100 years but then he was 100 when Isaac was born and would go on to live another 75 years?)

We do not want to camp out here or look for messages that aren’t there. This interlude is just here to anchor us in real history. And while we can trust the names and the lineage here, the numbers given are by no means exact or even significant.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Resurresction, part 2 (John 20:19-29)

(Part 1)

Fear (19-23)

Even though John tells us the moment he believed, the disciples still did not know exactly what had happened. And there were still concerns about what would happen to them as followers of Jesus now that the Jewish leaders had killed Jesus. So the evening of that Sunday found the disciples cowering in fear, locked hiding in a room. That is when the risen Jesus showed up!

Just as Mary’s grief evaporated when she saw the risen Lord, the disciples rejoice as well. All of their wildest hopes following the disappearance of the body were realized! Jesus speaks peace on them and sends them out to continue His mission. Even though we do not see this commissioning become effective immediately—just as the announcement of the coming of the Spirit here does not immediately empower the disciples—we will discover as we read on that the disciples do overcome their fears and carry out their mission very effectively.

Doubt (24-28)

Thomas was not with the others when they saw Jesus, and he is not ready to accept their report. He needs to see for himself before he will be convinced. So, in a scene that even the smallest of children sees coming, Jesus appears to the disciples again. This time Thomas is there and seeing Jesus squashes any doubts he was still entertaining. Jesus’ appearances dissolve all of the grief, fear, and doubt that His followers experienced following His sacrifice.

Belief (29)

However, today we do not have the luxury or privilege of seeing Jesus in the flesh to convince us. Jesus knew that this was going to be a key factor in the movement of God expanding beyond these initial followers. The fact is that faith is more powerful than knowledge. That is why he answers Thomas’ confession with the, “blessed are they who have not seen and yet believed.”

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Why Christmas? (3)

3. In Christmas we understand our role in God’s plan.

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” -Galatians 4:4,5

In Christ we are no longer little children. We are sons and daughters of God who have come of age. And as His children we work in His business, we have responsibilities. We take on a role in His mission. The mission of Jesus is to save creation, and He has given us a part in that mission. At Christmas, the Son of God came into the world. He came as one of us. And as He returned to the Father, He left us here in His place. We are the body of Christ in the world. We carry on His mission.

Everything we read that Jesus told us, tells us that life in this world with Christ will not be comfortable. We should even expect danger. Salvation is freely given, but it will cost us everything. When we read the accounts of great Christians past they are never boring, comfortable stories.

In the words of David Platt:

"Biblical Christianity is not a nice, decent, cozy, Christian, spin on the American Dream—as we wait for heaven. Biblical Christianity is about laying down your life and your rights for the spread of the Gospel. It is about embracing suffering. It’s about going to hard places, needy places, dangerous, difficult places, it’s about forsaking possessions and pleasures. It’s about sacrificing comforts. It’s about taking risks in faith."


At Christmas, we don’t merely celebrate kitschy traditions or comfortable holidays. We see in Bethlehem God’s Kingdom powerfully breaking into this fallen world. And that is something not just to celebrate; it changes everything!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Why Christmas? (2)

2. In Christmas we learn who we really are in Christ.

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” -Galatians 4:4,5

Here in Galatians, Paul speaks also about what Christmas means for us as followers of Jesus. Not just for the whole of creation, but for us as individuals.

He clarifies for the Galatians the difference between, on the one hand, human attempts at salvation—permanent and constant failures, the religions of the world—and on the other, God’s true plan to save us. Here he also clarifies that the Law was just one part of that plan. The Law saves no one.

Paul’s argument begins back in chapter three where he asks the Galatians where their hope rests. Is it in fleshly works, or in spiritual faith? He explains through the story of Abraham—who lived long before the Law—that truly being made right with God depends on faith. Then in verse ten Paul begins to show them the true role of the Law. It both places us all under a curse by exposing our sins and, it teaches us the kind of holy life that God desires from His people.

The sort of life that we can never accomplish.

Jesus, however, did live that sort of life.

True Christianity is no mere religion—man’s attempts to heal what has been broken—it is a restored relationship with God, won for us by Christ. The way of the Christian lies in trusting God and following Jesus; in being changed by God’s Spirit and not our works.

For an illustration of how this concept works, see the post on Jenga from a couple days ago.

So, do we want to continue to live a life following moral rules that we can never fulfill, or do we want to experience life being transformed into true, good, as God intended us to be, humanity? Jesus is offering us the choice to become the later.

Paul closes out this part of his argument in verses 8 through 11 of chapter four. How can the Galatians, set free from the curse of legalism, go back to it? We even see that Paul tells the Galatians they should not celebrate days and seasons religiously. That doesn’t mean that holidays and celebrations are bad. We just need to remember that pleasing God does not revolve around such things.

When you saw people struggling to come up with the meaning of Christmas is yesterday’s clip did you feel a hint of pride? Are we any better than them because we know what Christmas is all about? We have no grounds for boasting. We should merely feel thankfulness towards God and perhaps a concern for the people who do not yet know the love of God that we celebrate.

Because when we truly experience the meaning of Christmas, we can’t keep it to ourselves and simply enjoy it. To truly grasp the meaning of Christmas drives us to join God in His plan…

Friday, December 9, 2016

Why Christmas? (1)

I apologize if you don’t understand German. The video above is one of those “man on the street” interviews done at a Christmas Market in Hamburg Germany back in 2012. The question they are asked is simply, “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” Even though they are likely cheery-picked, it is astounding to see just how many people have no idea what Christmas is about.

It is a bit funny or possibly embarrassing to see just how bad the understanding of Christmas is in a land famous for the way they celebrate Christmas. But we must ask ourselves, are we any better? Sure, you can likely answer the question, “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” in your sleep. It’s all about Jesus birth, right? (and Santa, and family, and a big meal, and lights…) But Christmas really is not simply about Jesus birth.

“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” -Galatians 4:4,5

1. In Christmas we see the pinnacle of world history, the pinnacle of God’s plan of salvation.

We read in the Bible—in all the different books and all the diverse dramas, poems, and letters—an overarching story. It is the story of Jesus. It is the story of God’s plan to rescue creation from the sin of mankind’s rebellion.

Way back in Genesis 3:15, right after sin entered creation and God is cursing the tempter, God reveals His plan for a Messiah. A few pages later, God is telling Abraham about that Messiah. We repeatedly see God working in Creation to save His people—from their enemies and from their own rebellion.

And here in Galatians, Paul writes that Jesus, the Messiah, came at precisely the right moment in time. Experts agree. There was never before that moment in history a time when the Messiah could have so impacted the cultures of the whole world. The Roman Empire had conquered so much of the world that for the first time since Babel there was a commonality, a network of transportation and a common language spoken everywhere, that enabled a movement to spread across the whole of human culture.

It is precisely in this moment in time—the best possible time for God‘s plan—that Christmas occurred. It was no coincidence.

This is no small miracle. According to the source of all modern knowledge, Wikipedia: “In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The name, coined by Edward Lorenz for the effect which had been known long before, is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a hurricane (exact time of formation, exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier.”

All that is a bit of an extreme speculation of how complex our world and our history is. But the idea here is true. No man can hope to control the world and bend circumstances to their will. But the Bible tells us, and even demonstrates to us, that God as Creator of the universe outside the universe does have that ability. He holds everything under His watchful care, in His controlling hand. He can even use our free will and the choices we make for His own perfect purpose and plan.

Some call this providence. I don’t like the term because it is too often misunderstood or misused. But I recently heard a sermon by Drew Stephens where he defined the concept quite well:

”God is working connecting our lives together in the weaving of world circumstances to bring as many people as possible to eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.”

All of this means for us that we are not merely celebrating a birthday at Christmas. Even if it happens to be the most important birthday in history. We see in Christmas the fulfillment of all of our hopes, the salvation of creation, the love of God. We should celebrate Christmas, but we should also be continually changed by Christmas. Because Christmas isn’t just for the world, it is for us as well…

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Jenga Lessons

Jenga distorted

Jenga is a game involving the stacking of wooden blocks, higher and higher, by pulling blocks from lower in the stack and adding them back on to the top. It also is a good illustration of the role that the Biblical Law plays in salvation history.

According to the Bible, right after sin entered the world through mankind’s rebellion against God, humanity has been creating religious ways to try to get back into relationship with God. Cain and Abel, the first generation after the fall, already had religious ideas. In one of the more colorful stories about human culture trying to reach the heavenly realms, men after the flood try to build a literal tower.

That is a good picture of what religions and cultures do. They “build” towers or ladders trying to recover a place with the Creator. It is a futile endeavor.

Later in the Bible, God Himself gives His chosen people a religious system called “The Law.” As far as towers or ladders go, it is the Jenga of religions.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, describes the Law as being both something that places all of humanity under a curse by exposing their sins and as a means of teaching us life as God intends it to be lived.

Like a spiritual round of Jenga, the Law teaches us truth about the world. In Jenga one learns about gravity, weight, balance, and structural integrity. The Law teaches us about sin and our inability to avoid it. And, in Jenga, we learn that ultimately the tower is going to fall. The Law curses us because the breaking of a single rule in the Law brings the whole weight of guilt under the Law crashing down upon us.

However, Paul goes on to tell us about the wonderful hope found in the Gospel. Jesus—the Son of God—came into our world as one of us. He lived under the system of the Law. But He played the impossible game of Jenga. He fulfilled the Law. God, through Jesus, built the only tower reconnecting mankind with God. All we have to do is trust Jesus and follow Him.

The picture is getting stretched to the breaking point here, but the illustration carries on. Living the life of a follower of Jesus is like climbing the Jenga tower Jesus built. It can be scary at times. We are tempted to think that the whole thing is going to topple over. But that is what faith is all about. Trust.

We don’t build the bridge to God. It has been done. We simply follow. Some people still cling to religious thinking. They feel the need to fulfill the Law. The constantly try to prop-up the way forward in their own ability. They grab blocks from bellow and pile them on ahead. That is—again—a futile effort.

If they are somehow doing that while truly trusting God there is no way for the tower to crumble. God is faithful and true. If, however, they are not trusting God at all but just relying on their own efforts, they are lost climbing the tower of religious Jenga again. It is all going to come crashing down on their heads.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Tower of Confusion (Genesis 11:1-9)

Sandwiched between two genealogical interludes, we find the shortest of episodes in Genesis: The Tower of Babel.

After the flood, all of mankind was together and they began to build a culture. They all (obviously) had the same language; they had the same culture. When they developed the ability to build bricks, they set out to build a great city (Babel) with a giant tower. They wanted to make a reputation for themselves. (A reputation amongst whom? They were all together.)

Genesis tells us that God visits the tower and puts a halt to the prideful project of mankind by confusing their language. After this we see mankind scattered as the previous genealogy indicated. We now see a planet populated by a variety of nations with a variety of cultures.

Even though this is the shortest of stories, it is an important moment in God’s plan. A popular story for children, we tend to look at this event in a folkloric sense. It is an origin story. Where did all the languages come from? God confused the people’s speech to prevent them from building a tower to heaven.

However, I think there is something much more profound in the story of Babel. God was certainly not threatened by a tower. We see much larger buildings being built today and we know that there is no danger of anyone reaching “heaven” in this way. Also, God is not threatened by mankind attempting to make a reputation. People have been doing that throughout history. Certainly God wants to glorify Himself and will give people a reputation to that end (see Abraham), but God hasn’t gone to great effort to prevent people achieving fame.

I think the thing God is working to prevent here is a universal culture amongst men. It is best for God’s plan of salvation that there be many competing cultures. As we know today, according to the work of Ernest Becker and the developers of “Terror Management Theory”, cultures exist to deny death. As long as all of mankind was allowed to develop a single culture—a single mythology denying death, there would be no serious reflection about death. We need for there to be many competing “lies” about life and death to compete for dominance so that the questions and explorations on the subject of death would continue. That way, when God reveals truth there are people looking for answers who will be reached.

As we saw back in chapter 3, death is a merciful gift from God. It prevents people from living eternally in sin without any hope of reconciliation with God. However, death is also an enemy. All of our efforts at culture, religion, science, and even the development of a reputation that will live on after our death is a way that we try to defeat death. And if our cultural answers never encounter competing views, we can conceivably live out our lives and face our deaths lulled into the comfort of denial.

Now, however, when we hold God’s revealed truth up to any other competing view, objective consideration shows us that it is the single consistent and logical answer to life and death. In Babel the way is paved for God’s truth to defeat the variety of inconsistent competing alternatives.

(The picture above is "The Tower of Babel" from Marten van Valckenborch the Elder, hanging in the Old Master's Art Gallery in Dresden, Germany)

Monday, December 5, 2016

"Krampus" (2015)

My favorite film of all time is a Christmas movie. And I have several other Christmas films in a steady rotation each holiday season. Then there are the non-Christmas flics that make it onto a lot of people’s annual traditions. Movies like “While You Were Sleeping” or “Die Hard.” Well, I may have stumbled onto a genuine Christmas gem that will be out of bounds for some because it is a horror movie. (Albeit a horror comedy.) The movie in question is last year’s “Krampus.”

For those who don’t know, Krampus is a traditional Christmas creature in the Alpine areas of Europe. Even people in Germany who don’t live near the Alps don’t generally know who he is. On December 6th, when St. Nicholas goes around rewarding good children for their good behavior, in the Alpine areas he is accompanied by one or more devil-looking creatures. These Krampus snatch the bad kids in a sack or a basket, or in more forgiving areas they simply beat the bad kids with a stick.

“Krampus” takes this concept, mixes it with healthy doses of Christmas family comedy a la “Christmas Vacation,” eighties lighthearted horror a la “Gremlins,” and a strong hint of the preachiness of “A Christmas Carol.”

Things open with a shot that could have started any number of zombie movies from the past several years. A crowd storms a building, knocking over guards and trampling anyone in their way. People are fighting and yelling at each other. But this is not a zombie apocalypse or even a riot. It is simply people doing their Christmas shopping. Scenes are interspersed with parents coaching kids into the perfect smile for perfect Santa pictures, and money being methodically paid out for all amounts of material junk. All the while “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” plays on the soundtrack.

After this we see the Engel family arriving home from this chaos. The Austrian grandmother, Omi, makes cookies with “A Christmas Carol” on the television in the corner. Max, the son, has been in a fight with a classmate who was telling younger ids that Santa isn’t real. He tries to get the family to join him in traditional holiday fun, but they are all self-involved and anyway… the cousins are about to show up.

When the cousins do arrive, they discover Max’s letter to Santa and embarrass him by reading it aloud at the dinner table. His wish list is simply for things to be like they used to be, when the family loved each other and everyone enjoyed the special holiday traditions. Later in his room, he tears up the letter and tosses it out the window. That night a blizzard rolls in and renders the entire town powerless.

It seems that Max was the last person in town holding on to the true meaning of Christmas. When he gave up, that opened the door to Krampus. Omi will later explain that Krampus is Santa’s darker side, and when people forget the true message of Christmas, LOVE and SACRIFICE, Krampus shows up not to reward and give, but to punish and take. The first evidences of the change (aside from the power outage) are a creepy snowman in the yard and a bag of unaddressed presents on the stoop.

A particularly important conversation occurs later once things have come to light. One of the cousins asks if they can fix things by being good and honoring some traditions. Omi tells her: “It isn’t about what you do, but rather about what you believe; about what you’ve given up in [your heart.]”

One by one the family is picked off by Krampus or one of his toy-minions, until Max is the only one left. When his grandmother experienced this tragedy as a child, she was left as a lone survivor and reminder of what forgetting the meaning of Christmas will do to a community. Max refuses to face the same tragic fate. He chases Krampus down and demands that things be set right. He offers himself in trade for his family; to be a sacrifice.

Krampus seems to consider this, and then laughs. He tosses Max into the underworld along with his family, but then Max wakes up and it is Christmas morning! He goes downstairs and finds the entire family waiting on him to open presents. Things are different, and better. As the presents are passed out, Max opens one and it is a Krampus bell. As everyone sees it, they pause and remember. It wasn’t a dream at all. They have been given a second chance. The camera pans out the window and then out from a snow globe where we see Krampus is keeping watch on the family. Credits roll as “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” begins to play…

You better watch out.
You better not cry.
You better not pout.
I’m telling you why.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

It doesn’t quite get the real meaning of Christmas, for sure. But it does a good job of indicting what we currently celebrate for the many shortcomings that have crept into its place.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Resurrection, part 1 (John 20:1-18)

When Jesus uttered “It is finished!” things were thankfully not quite done. The cross without a resurrection would hardly be a solution. Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of His people, but a dead savior is not a solution to the curse of death. He had to rise victorious over death after sins had been covered in order for there to be any hope or future for creation.

In the resurrection of Jesus, though, we also find more. We see the foundation for faith. We see the end to sorrow and grief. We see victory over fear. We see the silencing of all doubt.

Belief (1-10)

After the Sabbath, on the first day of the new week, Mary heads out to the tomb where Jesus had been quickly buried. When she finds it disturbed and opened. She runs to inform the disciples. Peter and John rush to the tomb to see what has happened. Finding the empty tomb, John tells us that it was in that moment that he believed. This is a huge statement about our faith. Notice than John did not yet understand exactly what had happened. Much less did he understand why what had happened had happened. And yet he believed. All he needed to see was the empty tomb and the possible resurrection.

It is important for us today to grasp this aspect of faith. We need not understand completely. What we need is to trust completely.

Grief (11-18)

Mary had returned to the tomb as well. We can fill in the scant details and assume that she took longer than Peter and John and arrived after they had left. Alone at the tomb we see that she is overcome with grief. It is bad enough that the man she had followed and trusted was dead, now his body has been robbed or lost. In her grief, she encounters two angels at the tomb. They almost reprimand her for her grief. Why is she crying? Doesn’t she understand what has occurred?

When Jesus arrives, Mary does not recognize Him. She asks him, as she had the angels, where is the body of her Lord? All it takes is Jesus saying her name for her eyes to be opened and she goes from sorrow to joy. In a moment, she is transformed from despair to rapture. But Jesus commands her to stop clinging to Him. He is not yet about to leave. He needs her to go and tell the disciples what she has seen.

When the sorrow of despair is transformed in the joy of hope, we are given the mission to share it.

(Part 2)

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Black Brown White" (2011)

Certainly a thematic cousin to 2009’s “Sin Nombre,” “Black Brown White explores the challenging issues surrounding immigration, the refugee crisis, and the desperation that causes people to break laws with no real hope for an improvement to their situation.

The beautiful cinematography and slow pacing of this story invite the viewer to absorb all the questions and implications at play. This is a movie with a message, but unlike the director’s other films—which tend to be documentaries—this one avoids providing easy answers.

I don’t know if there is an English dub of this film out there, but unlike most movies that mix English, German and Spanish, I really struggled to understand all of the heavy accents. I felt better that most of the Germans I watched it with only got about half of the Austrian accent being spoken. Then again, I would only have understood half of the English had it not been for the German subtitles!

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