Monday, October 31, 2016

"The Witch" (2015)

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In 1630s New England, a man and his family are banished from a Puritan village due to some unnamed heresy. They gladly leave because they are certain that they are right and the village is wrong. They head out into the wilderness to build a farm and live the way they believe to be right. One day their teen-aged daughter is caring for her infant brother, playing peek-a-boo with him near the woods, when he is snatched. She does not see what takes him.

We do, though. It is a witch. She sacrifices the baby to make a flying ointment for herself.

This film is a spectacular exercise in period piece filmmaking. The sets, the costumes, the dialogue… it all feels like we have really been transported back 400 years. And the horror of the story lies in the isolation, the ignorance, and the religious uncertainty that the characters are drowning in. The family spirals downward after the baby is taken, but they were already doomed before the witch appeared. We never find out what heresy the father was accused of, but what we do see of his understanding of God is a scary extreme form of Calvinism where no one can ever know where they stand, and where grace and hope are replaced by fear and uncertainty.

We know that there really is a witch in this story, but we also see how the atmosphere of fear in the religion of these Puritans bred suspicion and backstabbing. Everybody was equally afraid of God and Satan, and were ready to see Satan’s work anywhere—even in their preschool children.

People wonder where God was in this story. Why Satan and the witches were able to destroy the family and God never lifted a finger to stop them. But we do see that the family had access to Scripture and could read. Perhaps the better questions are: why did the family leave the village and their church? Why did they fear the devil and the supernatural when their Bible told them they were nothing to fear? Why were they so self-assured and prideful when they clearly knew so little about their faith, or for that matter, how to survive on their own?

As stated, this family didn’t need witches to be doomed. Still, this is an incredibly well made, atmospheric, piece of drama. Not for those afraid of witches, though.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Congress

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spider                                                         in the
        spiral                                  chambers
  spinning                                       reside the
             silk                                 ilk
                  drops of           see the
dew                                                           pews
      are                                                 of
           venom                        mayhem

Saturday, October 29, 2016

"Doctor Strange" (2016)

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It is a little too early to make a final determination, but “Doctor Strange” is amongst my favorite movies based on Marvel Comics. Somewhere just above or below “Guardians of the Galaxy.” That is appropriate, because these are the least super hero films in the MCU. However, I am not sure the average movie goer will agree with me. “Doctor Strange” has two things going for it in my case:

First of all, I have been an avid reader of the Marvel Universe—especially the older “classics” that a lot of the films are dipping into. Doctor Strange is an important character in many of the important story lines, but usually in the background. And the stories that revolve around him, particularly the early work, had some of the most cutting edge and influential art-work in comic history. So, when the movie makes references to the comicbook storylines, it is rewarding to see these moments come to life. And the art direction of the film is a beautiful homage to the Steve Ditko artwork.

But even more importantly, this is a Scott Derrickson film. I have followed Derrickson’s career since the beginning, and consider myself a fan. Even though I haven’t loved all of his films, I root for his vision and the message he is trying to bring to the world through his art. Derrickson is a Christian. He is a Christian who tells stories in the horror and fantasy genres, because he sees the value those genres carry in being able to sneak messages in in a way that they will be received. Unlike preach stories that get ignored before they even have a chance to influence.

Here in Doctor Strange we don’t get an explicit message of faith. One might even have concerns with the eastern philosophy inherit in the source material. But Derrickson seems to be clearly employing the old C.S. Lewis maxim that one must first make people “good pagans” in order to lead them to the Gospel. The idea is that a materialistic, atheistic society must first regain a belief in the immaterial, the supernatural.

Dr. Stephen Strange is just such a materialist. He doesn’t believe in the supernatural nor in “the power of belief.” At one point in the film he claims that we are all insignificant bits of matter in an uncaring universe. Later in the film, after his eyes have been opened and he understands how presumptuous his understanding of the universe was, his words are thrown back at him by the villain. It serves as a powerful reminder to the viewer of how far Strange has come.

And that journey, more than anything else, was a journey to humility. The film’s most powerful message is that the pride and self-assurance of atheism, or close mindedness, or scientific genius is foolishness. Real wisdom lies in knowing that we have limited perspectives on reality, and that listening to wisdom from outside our own experiences and knowledge is the smartest approach to life.

And that is just touching the tip of all that this film offers for us to ponder.

Friday, October 28, 2016

"Clown" (2014)

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Jon Watts, the current director working on “Spiderman: Homecoming”, got his start in film with a strong dose of gumption. He and his friend wrote a screenplay for a movie called “Clown” and then produced a fake trailer for it. Without permission, they claimed that the movie was produced by Eli Roth who—upon seeing the trailer—decided to actually produce it.

It is a great concept for a scary story: Kent finds out that his son’s birthday clown has cancelled. However, Kent finds a clown costume in the old house he is preparing for sale, and saves the birthday party. The problem is that he can’t get the costume off afterwards. Slowly, he is transformed into a child-eating clown-monster!

Unfortunately for such a great concept, the art direction lets us down. The effects and make-up are good, but the creature in the end is simply a monster, and doesn’t really resemble a clown. How is such a creature ever supposed to attract its prey? The creepy thing about clowns is that they look cheerful, silly, and harmless. It is only sensitive, intelligent people who know that something fishy is going on.

In spite of that quibble, the film is well executed. There are a couple of great set-pieces—in particular the scene in the playground. And the body-horror here is top notch. Not quite at the level of Cronenberg’s “The Fly”, but still squirm inducing.

Could Kent have done something different to avoid his fate? Was he wrong in simply trying to make his son’s birthday special? I think we can all say without a hint of sarcasm: when you mess around with clowns you get what’s coming to you.


And, it goes without saying, but just in case: this film is not for everyone.  There is a little bit of cussing, but the gore and fear-factors are pretty high...



Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fearing Fear Itself

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As is patently obvious to anyone who reads this blog, I have fun with fear. I like the rush of a good scary story, but even more, I like the potential a good scary story has to enlighten and educate. And perhaps because I was so afraid when I was a child, I have taken the mission to overcome my fears a little too much to heart.

That said, though, we do need to take care not to let fear control our lives. Especially as a believer and follower of Christ. We have not been given a spirit of fear. And fear is one of the best and easiest ways to control a populace. Thus the quote “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” If you give someone the power to scare you, you have geven them the power to control you.

The advertising industry discovered this back in the sixties.

“…you're watching television, you're watching the news, you're being pumped full of fear, there's floods, there's AIDS, there's murder, cut to commercial, buy the Acura, buy the Colgate, if you have bad breath they're not going to talk to you, if you have pimples, the girl's not going to ---- you, and it's just this campaign of fear, and consumption, and that's what I think it's all based on, the whole idea of ‘keep everyone afraid, and they'll consume.’” –Marilyn Manson

Manson is crazy, but he isn’t stupid. It is true that the media has been using fear to control the culture for decades. “If your teeth aren’t pearly white, everyone will hate you!” And today this has become pervasive in a way that is almost perverse. 24 hour news channels have to skew things into their most dire interpretation lest you tire of their incessant repetition and change the station. They don’t exist to inform, they are there to sell advertising. And with mobile devices and inescapable coverage, we are almost hard wired into the messenger that whispers horror stories into our day.

A horror movie can be OK because when you walk out of the theater you won’t seriously worry about zombies or sharks, or even serial killers in most cases. But for some reason we can’t watch the news and realize that we are being fed a narrative that is less fact and more fly-trap.

This time of year in particular it would probably be great advice to turn off the news and head down to your nearest cinema.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Schwarzwald

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deep in the forest
lies a cozy little house
and every burnt orange autumn
it boasts a wrought iron lamp
that hangs on the front porch
inviting children in
promises of baked goods
waft from the chimney brick
only one or two kids
find their way there every season
but that is all an old witch needs
to have a larder filled to pleasin’

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Fright Night Part II" (1988)


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This film is a bit of a gem. Not that it is truly great. It is really just pretty good. But it is a hard to find, and not too many people have ever seen it. Only screened in around 150 theaters upon its release, it was also limited in its release on home media. It is currently out of print.

Picking up three years after the original, Charlie has headed off to college. Only now he has been convinced by the world that everything he experienced in the first film was just something his imagination cooked up to help him deal with his run in with a serial killer. Vampires do not exist. Cue another vampire moving into his (and Peter Vincent’s) life. (Don’t worry, the film gives us a reason for the plot. It isn’t as if they coincidentally have two vampire encounters.)

The film has generally the same mix of horror, gore, and humor as the first film, just not as quite of a tight plot. The director is Tommy Lee Wallace, who would later go on to direct Stephen King’s It. That gives you a pretty good idea of the tone.

The fun thing here—as in the first film—is the way the story is used to explore bigger ideas. In the first one it was staying true to what you believe even when the rest of the world rejects what you know to be true. Here we get another look at that idea with a twist. Charlie—like a lot of college students—has been exposed to a whole bigger world with clever arguments as to why he is silly to believe what he does. Again—like a lot of college students—he needs to rediscover that what he knows to be true is real even if the rest of the world can’t handle it.


Monday, October 24, 2016

The Rest of Hammer's Dracula (and Vampires)

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Hammer didn’t stop telling vampire stories with their Dracula films, and their Dracula series included a lot more films than it should have. Here is a rundown of their vampire entries:

1. “Dracula” (“The Horror of Dracula” in the US) 1958

The best of the bunch. A fairly straight retelling of the Dracula story. Dracula brought into color cinema!

2. “Brides of Dracula” 1960

An attempt to do Dracula without Dracula.

3. “Kiss of the Vampire” 1963

The Vampire metaphor comes to stand in for more than just evil, drugs and youth culture are examined.

4. “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” 1965

The formula told straight, with hints of a message about moral hypocrisy and the dangers of legalism.

5. “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” 1968

They get so caught up in their message about the nature of faith that they forget what series they are in.

6. “Taste the Blood of Dracula” 1969

How can you criticize debauchery in an exploitative horror film? They try.

7. “Scars of Dracula” 1970

With this film Hammer descends into exploitative money grabs, and begins to offer up lame horror with lame, embarrassing nudity. None of the next few movies mean anything.

8. “Vampire Lovers” 1970 Skip this.
9. “Lust for a Vampire” 1970 No, really, you want to skip this even more.
10. “Twins of Evil” 1971 Another skippable spectacle, even if it does try to tackle a religious message.
11. “Countess Dracula” 1971 Just another one of their female vampire stories, which means less horror and meaning and mere potential topless women.

12. “Vampire Circus” 1972

This one gets away from the silly nudity and tries to offer a unique take on things.

13. “Dracula A.D. 1972” 1972

Dracula is brought to the current day and gets interesting again briefly.  (But the studio's idea of "cool" feels a little lacking.  See the music below.)

14. “Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter” 1973

Another interesting (?) twist on the genre.

15. “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” 1973 Stay as far away from this mess as you can!

16. “The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires” 1974 In an effort to capitalize on the popularity of Kung-Fu flicks, Hammer tried to mix that genre into their Dracula series. It didn’t work.

17. “Let Me In” 2010

The original Swedish film is better, but this is an interesting and disturbing film.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Domhnall, The Ruler of the World

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“Hubba, hubba, hubba! Money, money, money! Who do you trust?” -the Joker

He wasn’t your typical killer clown
more of a Red Skelton tinge
white around the eyes
fly-away hair
and a madman drive for revenge

The whole world was out to get him
but he had no shortage of henchmen
disgruntled misfits feeding on power
in their eyes he was the man of the hour

Future is a mystery
no plans or preparation
improvisation is his game
Past is less history,
more nostalgia for things
that may have never been

His enemies abound
but he’ll take them out
one by one
He holds the cards
and the deck is stacked
and he has a great
novelty gun*

Some say he’s a villain
he sees a savior in the mirror
Clown Prince of Crime
America’s greatest jeerer

*baillier la trompe "blow the trumpet" as "act the fool"

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"Taste the Blood of Dracula" (1970)


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Things were never terribly strong in the Hammer Dracula series after the first film, but “Taste the Blood” is really where things fall apart. As it stands, the completed film makes little to no sense. It helps to understand that this film was not supposed to be a Dracula story, but the Count was added in when the American distributer insisted. That explains the bizarre events that have Dracula’s servant becoming Dracula after his death, and the fact that he is seeking revenge for the very thing that brought him back.

But nothing really explains Dracula’s behavior. This just isn’t a vampire movie.

The story in a nut-shell. Three Victorian “gentlemen” are the definition of hypocrisy. They play the part of respectable leaders of society. They insist that their children be as virtuous as their reputation. However, they really get together every month to participate the in the most debaucherous behavior their procurer can devise for them. Bored with sin as all hedonists become, they jump at the chance to participate in a black mass. It is more than they are prepared to face, however and they scamper when their guide is killed. Had they stuck around longer, they would have seen him transform into Dracula. Dracula sets out for revenge by possessing and forcing their children to kill them.

Everyone hates a hypocrite, even when most of us fit into the category at one point or another. And horror stories—the traditional morality play—are all about people getting what is coming to them. But you usually have more compelling innocents who are making choices that will save them in the long run. Here, Alice, (a 1970 version of Adele?) is merely a puppet. She is controlled by her father up until she is controlled by Dracula. (It is anyone’s guess why she isn’t turned.) And she is saved, to be controlled presumably, by her savior-boyfriend. I used to think this film was a flawed story with an attempted message. Now I think it is just a failed story with a mess.

Friday, October 21, 2016

"Dracula Has Risen from the Grave" (1968)


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For their next film in the Dracula series, Hammer stuck with a thematic concept. “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” is all about faith. OK, so it is mostly a silly sixties B horror flick, but it really is about faith.

The film begins in an awkward scene set during the last film where an altar boy discovers one of Dracula’s victims in a church. (Apparently Dracula did a lot more than simply pester the couples we saw in the last time, although when he found time to do so is a bit of a mystery. Also, since when does Dracula go into churches?) Jump forward to a year later and Dracula has been killed. However, the town is not at peace, as a Monsignor discovers when he comes to check up on things. The people are too scared to attend Mass because the shadow of Dracula’s castle falls on the building. And, the local priest has completely lost his faith.

The Monsignor forces the priest to accompany him climbing the mountain (didn’t the castle have a road leading to it last time?) to perform an exorcism on the castle. Unfortunately, the priest is too scared to make it all the way, and while the exorcism is being performed, the priest falls, cuts his head, and his blood revives the Count still frozen in the water where he died last time. (Yes, that is as silly as it sounds.)

The rest of the movie sees Dracula controlling the priest to exact revenge on the Monsignor for exorcising the castle. Most of his plot concentrates on the Monsignors niece, Maria, who is in love with a man named Paul. But, brace yourselves! Paul is an atheist!

In the long run, Paul’s atheism and the priest’s loss of faith both keep them from being able to stake the Count. (Turns out, you have to say a prayer to make a staking effective?) But in a second attempt, Dracula is staked with a cross and the priest says the prayer. Paul, with such evidence of God’s power, crosses himself in the end. Has Paul become a believer? Has the priest overcome his doubt with faith?

This is always the approach of horror stories that try to deal with the reality of God. The reality of evil, and perhaps its defeat by the forces of good, is seen as proof of God’s existences. Sort of a twist on the old (erroneous) “you have to have evil or good loses its meaning. But a key element of faith is that it exists where proof is lacking or, to put it another way, when something is demonstrable it does not require faith to be accepted.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Dracula: Prince of Darkness" (1965)


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“Dracula Prince of Darkness” is usually seen as a solid Hammer Horror, but one that established the clichĂ©s and tropes going forward for the series. But it is also a fascinating study of religious legalism. No, really, it is!

The film begins (after a prologue reminds the viewers of the demise of Dracula) with a monk, Father Sandor, stopping the desecration of the body of a recently deceased woman. Sandor derides the local priest for fomenting fears and encouraging such rituals when the real evil of vampires has been defeated with Dracula’s death. However, he demonstrates the wisdom of true wariness when he warns some tourists to stay away from Dracula’s castle. Legalistically buying into every superstition is foolish, and only weakens reactions to true evil, but sensible respect and caution when dealing with realities.

Those tourists Sandor warned are two brothers, Alan and Charles Kent, and their wives, Helen and Diana. Helen is seen to be a prudish, moralistic woman who disapproves of the things her husband and brother are doing on the trip. But she is so determined to be against everything that when she does voice prudent warnings—like staying away from the evil castle—her companions have become calloused to her protests. Again, we see the dangers of expanding the definition of evil.

It turns out that the Kents should have heeded Helen’s fears, because the castle is occupied by a servant of Dracula, and he kills Alan and uses his blood to bring the Count back to life. Dracula quickly proceeds to make Helen his new vampire bride.

The rest of the film is pretty standard good vs. evil, with Charles and Sandor fighting to save Diana from the Count. However, a standout, tragic scene is the killing of Helen. She has become a wanton monster in the shell of her former prudish self, but the monks stake her with such brutality that one is both shocked at the violence needed but reminded that real evil—unlike the traditional ritual that the locals seem hungry for at the start of the film—is something that must be dealt with unpleasantly and never something one would do for entertainment.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Flood (Genesis 7:1-24)

In chapter seven of Genesis we have two extremes: Noah’s faith seen in obedience leading to salvation and fallen creation’s utter destruction.

In the initial scenes of this section, we saw God decide to ruin the ruined earth, and His plan to save a remnant through Noah. There the story disobeyed the story-telling convention “show don’t tell.” God told Noah his plan and what to do, but we do not see Noah do any of it. We are simply told that he did exactly as commanded. That is bad story-telling, but great theology.

Here in the next scenes, we see God again command. “Enter the ark.” And then we get increasing detail of the fulfillment of that command. In fact, we are told everything twice:

“And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him.”

We are told Noah’s age at the coming of the flood. That he and his family got in the ark. That the animals entered with them. Two by two, just as commanded (i.e. with the extras whose purpose will come clear after the flood.) And then we are told all of that once more, with greater detail.

Then God shuts them in the ark. And then creation reverts back to the disorder before the creation week.

There we saw that God’s Spirit hovered over a dead sea of waters. In the flood, creation goes back to that state. Everything dies. It is a powerful scene. The waters triumph over the earth in complete devastation. And in all that apocalyptic destruction, we are reminded once again of the tiny boat with all the hopes of life tossed about on all that chaos and disorder. It is surely the most terrifying scene in human history.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Ministry of Prayer (John 16:16-33)

Jesus closes out this last minute teaching by preparing his disciples for the panic that will come later that very day. From our perspective these verses look too simple. Are we missing something deeper? No, Jesus is simply telling his disciples that He is about to die and will later rise from the dead. We live in the “that day” that Jesus is talking about here.

In these days, we no longer ask Jesus for anything. We come directly to the Father in Jesus’ position. We approach God “in Jesus’ name.” Contrary to the “magic formula” nature of a lot of prayer in America, praying in Jesus name is not a formulaic “send-off” that renders a prayer powerful. It is more like we have a power of attorney. When we approach God in a way and with motives like Jesus would—when we are in line with God’s wishes—we get what we ask for.

John refers to this idea multiple times in recording this last minute teaching:

The “In My Name” Passages

"Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." -14:13,14

"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name…" -14:26

"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you... You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." -15:7, 16

"…whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full… In that day you will ask in my name…" -16:23, 24, 26

These passages all talk about us (or the Holy Spirit in 14:26) acting in Jesus stead, fulfilling his will. Just as some powers of attorney spell out the manner in which the power can be exercised, God’s Word tells us what God’s will is, and it is our guide in trying to act “in Jesus name.”

In this teaching, Jesus explains where the power of prayer resides. Prayer itself is not powerful. The power of prayer lies with God. It is He who acts, and at most our relationship with Him is what gets us close to the power. God loves his Son, and through Him He loves us as well. People like to say, “There is power in prayer.” But the truth is that the power is God’s and we do not wield it. But the access we have to God is a wonderful thing! We ought never to think to highly of something like being able to talk to God, but we also ought never to take such a privilege for granted. For more than anything else, prayer gives us joy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Noah's Example (Genesis 6:9-22)

The next major section of Genesis is introduced in the customary way, “these are the records of the generations…” In the last interlude we saw sin become unbearable. Now we will see how God will wipe it all away and start anew from a remnant. But first we are reintroduced to Noah. In Adam’s genealogical interlude, Noah was born with a hope for relief from the curse of the fall. Here we see that he is a good man. In fact, he is the best of his generation. He “walks with God” as Enoch did.

By comparison, the world has turned bad under the weight of humanity’s sin. God sees creation, much like he did at the end of the creation week, but now it is not good. The word that is repeatedly used in verses 11 and 12 is “ruined.” Creation has spoiled from all the violence committed by men. God determines that He will ruin creation the rest of the way because of man’s violence. It is a perfect case of the punishment fitting the crime.

But God will not have his redemptive plan thwarted. He is still working to bring creation and humanity back into a right relationship with Himself. He tells Noah of his plan and commands him to build a boat. God will spare humanity through Noah’s family, and the rest of life through animals that He will bring into the ark with Noah.

And in one of the most powerful verses in scripture, Noah demonstrates his goodness, what later writers will hold up as an example of faith. Noah stands in contrast to his ancestor Adam. When God commands:

“Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15)

Throughout these last moments of teaching before the cross, Jesus has made references to the Holy Spirit, the Helper, who will be with the disciples once Jesus returns to the Father.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” -14:16, 17

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” -14:26

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. [27] And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” -15:26, 27

So we have already seen that Jesus is not leaving us alone on Mission for Him. We have a Helper who will be with us, teach us and remind us of Christ’s teaching, and who will bear witness with us concerning Christ.

Now, in chapter 16, Jesus goes into even more detail about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is with us to help us live the life and accomplish the task that Christ commissioned us to. He is here to glorify Christ. And, most specifically, He is about convincing and revealing.

The Holy Spirit is who convicts the lost world of sin, makes it possible for us to understand righteousness without the example of Christ in the world, and condemns the evil in the world. This is an important truth for followers of Christ to understand. We do not shoulder the major role in God’s mission to restore creation. We share, but it is the Holy Spirit who convicts. We grow in righteousness and living the way God desires, but it is the Holy Spirit who shows us and the world what real righteousness is, because we are not the example that Jesus is. And while we speak out and expose evil where we encounter it, it is the Holy Spirit who judges.

And for the believer, it is the Holy Spirit who reveals and enlightens. It is He who makes the words of scripture communicate with the meaning that God intends. He teaches sound doctrine and preserves the revelation through the ages. The way that the words of those assembled documents have been so well preserved and protected is nothing short of miraculous, but the way that they still communicate truth so clearly after all these centuries and cultural evolution is just as amazing.

Monday, October 10, 2016

That's All I Have To Say About That

What is the guiding principle of a believer’s life? I can only speak for myself, but the way I read scripture it is fairly simple. I exist to glorify God. Everything I do should reflect his character, his love, his mission of reconciliation in the world. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with my God. Exercise trust in Him and his ways, love towards others, and stand strong in the hope I have in Christ.

How does God’s mission to change hearts and minds in this fallen world work? God makes it clear in his Word that He wants to use the witness of His people to effect change. Not or ability to force change through military might or political prowess. Of course God is sovereign and will use the powers that be in this world to accomplish His purposes, but our role is to glorify God and make his glories known. It is our character, our behavior and our story that will change the world, not our legislative prowess or our ability to pharisaically impose our morality on unchanged hearts.

A lie has tried to convince us that God’s plan to save humanity goes through the institutions of mankind. And it is a more insidious lie that has tried to make us believe that our well-being as followers of Jesus lies in the protection of those human institutions. In fact, Jesus teaches His followers that the institutions of human culture will hate us and that we should expect persecution from the world—not salvation or protection.

I believe that is what Dr. Mohler is talking about when he tells the Wall Street Journal:

“Far too many evangelicals have set themselves up for a humiliating embarrassment by serving as apologists for Donald Trump. The moral credibility of evangelical Christians is on the line, and it is of far greater value than any election.”

So, as a follower of Jesus my path is clear. I will not be coerced into voting for either of the two major party candidates. Come November 9th, no matter who wins this contest, Christ will still be King on His throne. He is who I will answer to, and He will remain unsurprised at the outcome and in charge of the paths of nations. I know that my voice would have no impact on the outcome and that no one who wins can thwart a single part of God’s plan for our nation.

But I also know that I could not stand before my King and justify supporting either major party candidate in this race. I’ll be proud to know that I didn’t contribute to either nightmare option; then I will go back to making a much bigger contribution than a single vote every four years: living every single day influencing culture with faith, love and hope.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

"The Brides of Dracula" (1960)

“Brides of Dracula” starts out like so many Dracula movies. An outsider arrives and ignores local warnings as being merely ignorant and fearful. This is an important recurring message of the Dracula mythos: education and sophistication can make us forget old wisdom, and the pride of modernity opens us up to the dangers of evil. In this case it is Marianne, a young teacher on her way to an all girl’s school in Transylvania. As she gets stranded near an evil castle, she ignores the local bumpkins and accompanies an aristocratic woman back to her home in that castle.

That woman, the Baroness Meinster, has a son who is “disturbed.” Marianne is drawn to him and he explains to her that his mother is keeping him locked up to use his land and title against his will. Marianne is convinced to free him, but it turns out that he is (surprise!) a vampire. His mother indulged him too much and allowed him to run with the wrong crowd and all that carousing led to vampirism.

Hammer uses the vampire metaphor in this way a lot. It is not just “evil” outside of man that entices and destroys, it is a stand in for the evils that concerned the culture at the time: sex, drugs, and rock and roll—or whatever the young people were into in the sixties.

Marianne manages to escape the castle and is found the next day, exhausted and with no memory of the traumatic evening, by Dracula’s arch-enemy Van Helsing. He has been summoned to the area by a local priest due to several suspicious deaths. Van Helsing gets Marianne safely to her post, and returns to investigate the Meinster Castle. He dispatches the Baroness, but fails to kill the son or a girl he has recently converted into a vampire.

The rest of the movie sees more women under the thrall of the vampire, Marianne in more imminent danger, and Van Helsing confronting the evil of vampirism. The themes continue to be reinforced as well. Evil is something that must be actively resisted, but in effective ways. The school where Marianne teaches is a cartoonish bastion of legalism, where the young ladies are prohibited from seeing any men, unless the man is someone who will earn the school master more respect in society, like Van Helsing or Count Meinster. This only serves to defend the women from disgrace, but does nothing to shelter them from real evil.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sin Becomes Unbearable (Genesis 6:1-8)

The tail end of this first interlude in Genesis is one of the more fascinating passages of scripture, but beware! Just as chapter five with all of its names and ages is a pitfall for over-interpretation, we need to remember the purpose of what is being written. Here in chapter six, we see a culmination of the expanse and spread of sin. Things come to a point where God is prepared to do a bit of a system reboot. But how did it get there?

We read in these first verses that—beyond the mere multiplication of sinful humanity—the perversion of God’s creation reaches incredible levels. We see that the daughters being born to humanity become a temptation for a group called “the sons of god.” In other passages in the Bible, this term is a reference to angels—spiritual beings created by God. Some of these beings have turned against God’s plans, much in the way that humanity has. It may be these fallen angels that are being talked of here. If so, Genesis six would be talking of the mixture of fallen angels and humanity. That would certainly be—like all sin—something outside of God’s plan, but also something that seems like a whole other level of rebellion.

However, there are other interpretations of this passage, and a lot of speculation has been woven over these verses. The fact of the matter is that we simply don’t have any more information than what is in these few scant verses. And fortunately the little that there is manages to serve the purpose and communicate what we need to know. Ten generations in, things got so bad that God is about to take drastic measures to keep His plan to restore creation on track…

Monday, October 3, 2016

The "I am" Statements (John)

Before we leave chapter 15, we ought to mention that we have here the last of the “I am” metaphors that Jesus is recorded as saying in John’s Gospel. Some I have already addressed directly and numbered in commentary, while others have not been called out as such.

1. “I am the bread of life.” 6:35, 48, 51

2. “I am the light of the world.” 8:12; 9:5

3. “I am the door of the sheep.” 10:7, 9

4. “I am the good shepherd.” 10:11, 14

5. “I am the resurrection and the life.” 11:25

6. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” 14:6

7. “I am the true vine.” 15:1

In addition to these metaphors that help us understand who Jesus is and His ministry to the world, Jesus also made explicit declarations of His divinity, using God’s name (YHWH) in reference to Himself. Sometimes these are subtle in translation, but the Gospels show us that they were not overlooked in Jesus’ day and culture.

[6:20] “I am (he); do not be afraid.”

[8:24] “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am you will die in your sins.”

[8:28] “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”

[8:58] “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

[18:5] “I am (he.)”

There can be no debate about whether Jesus considered Himself to be both the Messiah and God in the Gospel of John. Whether one choses to believe Jesus’ statements or not is an individual choice. However, simply declaring that Jesus wanted to bring about a cultural change or reject the powers that be of His day is to ignore much of the history. Jesus said He is God and that He was sent to usher in the Kingdom of God by giving people an opportunity for restored relationship with God.
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