Sovereignty, Sovereignty, Sovereignty

BEAUTIFUL picture of God’s sovereignty at work in Luke 3: 23-38.

23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel,[e] the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32  the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34  the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

 It looks just like a long list of names, because it IS a long list of names! But what do those names signify?

1)    It’s only possible to see God’s entire plan when it’s finished. Each name is a story (Adam, Abraham, Noah, David, Boaz/Ruth) which, in themselves, cannot show how God is sovereignly working to produce salvation through Jesus. At the end, we can see how He was paving the way for Christ. It’s a beautiful mosaic of lives, experiences, success, failure, and emotions that all end in Jesus Christ!

2)    God fulfills all His promises in Jesus. He promised Adam and Eve that their seed would crush the Serpent’s head; he promised global blessing through Abraham; he promised an eternal throne to Kind David. In other words, “all the promises of God find their ‘yes’ in Him [Jesus]” (1 Cor. 1:20). There are many more promises that are fulfilled in Jesus, but these ones stand out as you read over the list of names.

3)    The Old and New Testaments are intimately connected. This removes all doubts that God was somehow was “different” in ancient Israel’s time. The same God was working the entire time to fulfill his purposes in this location, at this point in time, in Christ.

 Sovereignty, sovereignty, sovereignty, basically sums it up!

Pixar’s Brave – Animation: Awesome, Plot: Meh.


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Friday night, my roommates and I saw the newest edition to the echelon of Pixar movies, Brave. It’s caught a lot of attention for the fact that it is the first Pixar feature with a female protagonist, a young, fiery, red-headed girl named Merida.

The animation (as usual with Pixar films) was superb, and the sweeping landscapes of ancient Scotia were beautiful. The music from Patrick Doyle was, all in all, very well done. Additionally, the movie had some very entertaining and humorous scenes that at least got me laughing pretty hard. A few of the characters had well-developed personalities, like the king (Billy Connolly) and the triplet princes. Also, as a proud Ginger, it was good to see my kind represented! As a ‘good’ movie, that’s about all I can say for it.

Unfortunately, the plot wasn’t too creative (I’ll try to not give too much away!) Basically, it involves a young princess, failing to meet the strict expectations of her mother, the queen. It’s pretty much the old tune of the parents keeping the kid ‘down’ with tradition and strict guidelines, while the child wants to be ‘free’ to choose her own course. The central problem of the entire story is a “failure to communicate” between the daughter and the mother. Put simply, the message of the film is to “follow your heart” and pursue your own destiny, even if your family expects something else from you; not always the best advice to send out to the next generation of young minds.

 It was definitely a ‘pro-female’ movie (which I don’t think is necessarily bad). All the men were basically idiots, who couldn’t wait for the next chance to start another brawl. In the relationship between the king and queen, you definitely see how it was the queen running the show, as the king was fairly incompetent in doing anything else besides fighting. It was also only the queen that discussed the “important things” with their daughter. I know it’s supposed to be a comedic portrayal of men, but all movies comedically exaggerate what is already at least partially a reality in societies. That’s a cause for fear concerning the state of guys in our time.

 The films understanding of reality was also pretty questionable. Basically, you can alter your fate, but, as is usually the case, it would have been better if you hadn’t tried. Merida succeeds in altering her destiny, but we can always ask if it was her destiny to alter the course of her destiny! I know, ten-year-olds aren’t supposed to think about such questions, but if I met a ten-year-old thinking about that question, I would definitely give them a high-five.

 Of course, the experience wasn’t a total waste of time. I got to see the new Monsters Inc. and Hobbit trailers on the big screen. The film also gave my roommates and I an excuse to talk in Scottish accents for some time afterwards (even thought its arguable that no excuses are ever needed) That alone made it worth it. I’d probably give the film a C, one of those movies to see on DVD when it comes out.

Disgruntled Platypi

 I wonder if some animals would feel insulted by the names we give them. What if they had a say in their original labeling? You can just imagine all the animals getting in line before Adam, awaiting their names. The bear wobbles on up, and Adam says “Berken!” Instead of submitting, the bear shakes his head quickly. “Hmmm” says Adam, “Hurfy!” Understandably, the bear shakes his head again. “Bear!” Yep, that one hit the spot, and the newly-christened bear wanders off content, in the full knowledge that ‘bear’ perfectly hits the spot. If animals had our level of consciousness, I think a lot of them would hold formal committees to decree new names for themselves, thus usurping man’s God-given task of naming creatures. The House of Platypuses (Platypi?) would sovereignly decree that their new name would henceforth be Beaveducks!

I wonder if animals would form inter-species confederations or would their governments consist solely of members of their own species? Would different species have a tendency toward certain forms of government? Wouldn’t it be ironic if lions (who, as we all know, are the “kings” of the jungle) were the staunchest of democrats (little ‘d’)? Oh, and who might be the tyrants, you ask? Most definitely house cats. They’ve already made significant progress to world domination. If there DID arise an inter-species confederation, the military would consist in rhinos supplying the heavy armored division,   all birds supplying air support and scouting. For ground forces, squirrels could do some heavy damage. Even if only the squirrels concentrated around the Michigan State area were to unite into several regiments, just imagine the carnage they could inflict! Cats, of course, would be the commanding officers, riding their dog-slaves.

Others, like the great philosophers Simon and Garfunkel, have already attempted to “anthropomorphize” various species. Take, for example, some lines from At the Zoo:

The monkeys stand for honesty,

Giraffes are insincere,

And the elephants are kindly but

They’re dumb.

Orangutans are skeptical

Of changes in their cages,

And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.

 Zebras are reactionaries,

Antelopes are missionaries,

Pigeons plot in secrecy,

And hamsters turn on frequently.

What a gas! You gotta come and see.

 Should we be thankful or sad that animals aren’t like us? I guess it depends. If we’re looking for more conversationalists, I think we’re fine. But if we’re in need of some more corrective criticism, it might benefit us to have some more constructive input from our Golden Retriever.  

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Evangelism from the Master

The goal of Robert Coleman’s, The Master Plan of Evangelism can be condensed into a short passage from his preface, “[This book] is an effort to see controlling principles governing the movements of the master in the hope that our own labors might be conformed to a similar pattern.”

 It’s an effort as relevant now as it was when the book was first published in 1963. Dr. Coleman does his best to present the core principles that define biblical evangelism, all from the life and words of the master evangelist, Jesus. Each chapter focuses on a different stage of Jesus’ plan to “conquer” the world with his message, such as selection, consecration, and delegation. He expertly uses prodigious amounts of Scripture to demonstrate how Jesus, with a small band of dedicated disciples, multiplied himself, so that when he ascended, his church could continue the great work of the Gospel he set into motion.

 With the many well-meaning evangelism programs that abound in the modern church, these principles are a breath of fresh air. This mission of the church to spread the Gospel can become quickly obscured when men and women with good intentions, forget the means by which Jesus multiplied his ministry. His ministry focused on pouring into individuals, not merely on offering altar calls to large crowds. It didn’t consist merely in classroom sessions, where those with “gifts” of evangelism shared with those ungifted the five points of successful evangelism; it involved sharing all of life together, so that Jesus’ disciples could see evangelism not merely as a task to be performed every week, but as a lifestyle to be imitated. Each chapter lays out the case for each stage of Jesus’ ministry from Scripture and shows how these principles can be applied today.

This is an honest book that should be read by any and all who would want to see more personal evangelism in their own lives, and especially by those who want to train others to follow in Christ’s footsteps. I was given a copy of a recent, heavily abridged edition (New Spire, 2010), which made it a more manageable read, but presented the author’s main points wonderfully.

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It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, it’s a Super-Pastor!

“Pick your favorite four or five. Listen to only their sermons, only respect the words that come out of their mouths. When you visit other churches coming from different traditions, look down on them, although they’re preaching the same message. Elevate the man, not the message. Be impressed by their super-size churches, their books, and their conferences. Look down on older people who might not appreciate the preaching style of your favorite pastors. Consider that the best way to gauge the health of a church is by observing the charisma and public speaking ability of the pastor of that church.”

If you’re looking for a sneaky, hidden path to idolatry, just follow the above directions.

 This might be an exaggerated description, but I have done a little of all those things since being in college. I have found myself looking down on my family’s home church whenever I visit, because they don’t have the “right” music (in reality, they say the same things), or the pastor didn’t use the right words in his preaching, or the preaching seemed less “captivating.” I  oftentimes elevate the pastors I appreciate on a pedestal where they do not belong, to the point that they are the only authoritative interpreters of Scripture I know. I find myself wanting to be just like them, with their popularity, speaking skill, writing ability, and productivity, forgetting that if any of them found out I was thinking these things, they would properly rebuke me.

Satan’s not an idiot. He knows all the “soft spots” for Christians, and just like anyone can idolize politicians, athletes, or celebrities, we can idolize our “super-pastors.” This is an area in which I need to take Jesus advice in Luke 17:3:

“Pay attention to yourself!”

Villain or Hero?

I was walking past the magazines in my local library and I though it was hilarious that both the conservative magazine National Review and the liberal Progressive were featuring articles on governor Scott Walker, and his upcoming recall election.

 

The National Review displayed a victorious, armor-clad Governor Walker, the head of Medusa help up triumphantly in his hand, with a battle-cry pouring from his mouth. The title of the piece was Can Scott Walker Slay the Beast?

 

The Progressive had a different take on Governor Walker. On the cover page, we have a very green-faced Walker, portrayed apparently as either a zombie or Frankenstein’s monster (or both), about to attack and devour a helpless young woman in her car. Their article title was Walker Lurks Over Recall.

 

So, Governor Scott Walker is probably somewhere in between a victorious monster-slayer and a monster.

 

We’re pretty funny.

What hath Jerusalem to do with Broadway? Well, a lot, actually.

I really enjoy musicals. I love the amazing acting (skillfully synced with great singing), the stage effects, and yes, the sappy, often cheesy, show tunes. Yeah, this is probably weird for a college-age male to admit, but I’m hooked on Broadway. For example, if you come across me dusting shelves or sorting books at my job at the library, tasks that allow the use of headphones, I will more than likely be listening to the Les Mis or Show Tunes channels on Pandora. I am not ashamed!

                                                                                              

But honestly, who can resist the catchiness of Wicked, the nostalgia of The Sound of Music, or the depth and complexities of Les Mis or Phantom of the Opera? Ok, maybe some can, but the point is that there is a quality about these productions which continues to grab audiences around the world, to the point that people are spending millions on tickets, soundtracks, and merchandise. Clearly, something is being done well to make people come and watch again and again. It’s unlikely that we can isolate the one thing that ensures the popularity of the musical. Some combination of catchy tunes, a colorful plot, and amazing stage design can be offered as an answer, but I want to focus on what I think to be the most important part of any successful musical, the resonance of the story with the deep questions in our own lives.

Take Wicked for example. Although I could hardly describe this production as “deep,” (It just seems more fun to me), it does challenge its audience in probably the most famous line of the show, “are people born wicked, or do they have wicked thrust upon them?” The whole production forces the viewers to reexamine what they thought they knew about the “Wicked Witch of the West” (the protagonist of the musical), who in reality, seems not to be very “wicked” at all, but really a victim of a corrupt, manipulative system. What is this if not the classic “nature vs. nurture” question? Are we born evil, or are we made evil by an evil society? Even more than that, what is “evil” or “good”? Do moral questions depend wholly on perspective, and are they therefore merely subjective? Behind the witty and catchy songs like “Popular” and “Defying Gravity,” there’s a worldview which audiences are forced to grapple with, whether they choose to or not.

My favorite at the moment is Les Mis, based on Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables (a brilliant and enjoyable novel for any serious connoisseur of literature). As the title suggests, this is in many ways a very dark story, grappling with issues like prostitution, excessive penal justice, and abject poverty. But there are also numerous sparks of hope, and if it can be described as a story of the failure and inadequacy of a society’s institutions, it is also a story of redemption. It centers on several complicated and vibrant characters, such as the ex-convict Jean Valjean, struggling to wipe away the stain and misery of his past, or Fantine, a young mother abandoned by her lover and forced into prostitution to pay for her daughter, Cosette. These deeply personal stories are masterfully woven into the larger context of the 1848 French Revolution, giving the overarching plot both macro- and micro- elements. While the captivating and deep humanitarian flavor of the story can be considered the most popular element in this production, the music is incredibly stunning.

Take this set of lyrics from the number, “At the End of the Day”:

 “At the end of the day you’re another day older

And that’s all you can say for the life of the poor

It’s a struggle, it’s a war

And there’s nothing that anyone’s giving

One more day standing about, what is it for?

One day less to be living.”

source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/soundtracks/l/lesmiserableslyrics/attheendofthedaylyrics.html       

This song tackles a deep question which affects everyone, what is it all for? What are we working towards? Or take song made more famous by Susan Boyle, “I Dreamed a Dream,” sung by a distraught and dejected Fantine as she looks back on the dreams she had for her life in earlier years, and compares them to her current state of poverty and prostitution:

“I had a dream my life would be

So different from this hell I’m living

So different now from what it seemed

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

We hear in Fantine our own struggles and failures to find true joy in this life. We sympathize with her as she examines the wide gap between reality and the ideal. With the futility of life portrayed in songs like these, it’s almost like the songwriters plagiarized directly from the book of Ecclesiastes!

And this is just the point: Like many other mediums within American culture, including cinema, art music, etc., musicals force audiences to engage with questions and problems we all face as human beings.

  • With Wicked, we ask: what is the root of evil?
  • With Les Mis, we ask: what are we living for? What do we turn to and hope in when all our dreams are destroyed?

The Bible is incredibly relevant here! It is an honest, trustworthy book that shows the problems and solutions to the human condition. While musicals are better, I think, at raising the questions and powerfully displaying humanity, the Bible doesn’t just raise the questions, but also gives the solutions.

Yes, there are aspects of every culture that will diametrically oppose the truth of Scripture. This is definitely the case in musicals. For instance, we are led to the conclusion in Wicked, that the concept of “evil” is really just based on one perspective (ie., there is never a clear-cut good vs. bad dichotomy). In this sense, it is a very “postmodern” musical.

Even so, we must be willing to point out what important issues our media addresses, as we attempt to engage with this culture in a way that more and more people can understand.

So next time you sit down in your comfy theater seat in New York or Chicago (or even in your local high school auditorium!), ask the Lord to teach you something through this enjoyable production. Don’t let it pass as an opportunity to learn more about society, and as an opportunity to share the hope you have with those around you!