Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cappuccino: Culinary Learnings of Starbucks for Make Benefit Glorious Mocha of Raspberry.

At what is now the tail end of the Christmas season, I am reminded of another Manspeak blog “man law” inconsistency. The law states a supposed rule about men drinking coffee: “if it ain’t black, take it back.”

Some background information is pertinent to our discussion. Manspeak is a product of several members of Cornerstone Church of Knoxville (of which I am a member). Cornerstone, in turn, is a part of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a family of churches in six countries. Bill Kittrell is the senior pastor of our church. CJ Mahaney is the head of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Both of these men are godly, wise, and humble leaders. Both would be considered by anyone in SGM to be real men.

Both of these men get their coffee from one place: Starbucks. If you’re familiar with our group of churches, you will know that church leaders in Sovereign Grace have a strong affinity for Starbucks (to put it mildly). Now, one of CJ’s favorite Starbucks concoctions is the raspberry mocha. His has declared that the combination of raspberry and chocolate exploding in his mouth has radically changed his life (yes, his words). Read what he says elsewhere: “Every week, on Sunday evening or Monday morning, I get away to the local Starbucks…[and order] a cup of steaming raspberry mocha.”

If Starbucks is the pinnacle of coffee providers, it is most illogical to say that the majority of drinks Starbucks creates is unacceptable. As the book of James says, “Can both freshwater and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” It is against the laws of nature and nature’s God to say that Starbucks is the greatest provider of coffee there is and then say most of what Starbucks offers is unfit for men to drink.

On a couple occasions this Christmas season, I enjoyed a delectable holiday drink: a gingerbread latte from Weigels. (Just kidding, it was from Starbucks.) This piping hot “winter beverage” helped me get into the Christmas spirit. Now, to those who would argue that gingerbread flavored anything is not masculine: have you forgotten that timeless tale of the pastry character made of gingerbread? What is this character’s name? The Gingerbread Woman? The Gingerbread Kid? No, he is The Gingerbread Man. Yes, even the great storytellers of ages past recognized that masculinity and gingerbread are two sides of the same coin.

So, here’s the appropriate man law regarding coffee: “If your java ain’t got flavor, you are doing yourself no favor.”

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

I’m signing off until after the holidays, so here’s my (early) Christmas post...

In the last few days, I’ve heard from several people who are experiencing major difficulties in their lives during this holiday season. I know that suffering and Christmas cheer don’t seem to mix too well.

Then again, the very fact that we have Christmas points to the darkness that clouds human history. After all, the reason a Savior came to us is because we needed saving in the first place. A dark Christmas (or any other dark holiday) may provide a context for us to appreciate God’s grace all the more, albeit in a painfully unwelcome manner. To borrow a quote from my last post, “it is in the darkness where the light is most appreciated.”

The reason Christ’s birth is an occasion for joy is that He came into a dark world to save sinners. And by “sinners” I mean people radically depraved and spitefully opposed to their only source of hope. The “good news of great joy” proclaimed by the angels paved the way for us to see God do the unthinkable: He now “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). The birth of innocence enabled the death of guilt. Or, to put it another way, Christ was born when we were dead in our sins so that through his death we might be given new life.

So, our holiday get-togethers may be less than perfect. Friction and strife will probably be mixed in with merriment and laughter. We might even experience outright suffering. Regardless of our circumstances, may we all experience joy in the knowledge that “there is born to [us]…in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

The Christian Hedonist’s Playbook (Part 4)

Today, let’s look at Psalm 130.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.

If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.

Letting go of idols isn’t easy. Sometimes God makes things even harder by simply taking away an idol even as we try to keep from losing our grip on it. For example, when I lived in California I placed too much importance on my best friend, Peter Bogosian. He and I did everything together. I treated him better than I did my own brother. His friendship meant the world to me.

Then my stepfather decided that we were going to move halfway across the world (or so it felt) to East Tennessee. The process I went through of losing my best friend wasn’t pretty, and much of it was the result of making Peter an idol in my life.

Situations like these have weathered my heart unlike anything else. When a false security is stripped away, I am led to see how desperate my situation really is. I only thought I couldn’t live without such-and-such idol. The truth is, I can’t live without only one thing: God. During these trials, the Lord has offered Himself to me in place of my fragile illusions.

Psalm 130 is one such example. It starts with a desperate cry for God’s aid—a recognition that a believer’s help comes from the Lord alone. Then it shows me the real problem my soul has and the real solution God has provided: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” I can stand, not because my idols provide me with strength, but because the cross has appeased the wrath that once weighed me down.

And then we come to my favorite verse in this chapter: “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning—yes, more than those who watch for the morning.” I love the imagery of this verse. It reminds me of those movies where the characters are caught in the darkness surrounded by deadly creatures that thrive only in the absence of light. The protagonists are waiting and fighting and hoping for one thing: the daybreak. They aren’t bored insomniacs trying to pass the time until morning. No, their very lives depend on the coming light.

My situation is no different. More often than I can remember, God has brought me to such inner turmoil that my prayer has been, “Lord, if you don’t save me I will perish.” It’s not a fun place to be, but it’s a place where God loves to show the glories of His grace. After all, it is in the darkness where the light is most appreciated. And it is when I am most aware of my sin that I am most desperate for God.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB (2006)

From the trailers, it really looked like the filmmakers had gotten it right. The classic children’s story was about to get an upgrade. But as it turns out, the live action version of Charlotte’s Web is a disappointment. The 1973 cartoon is far superior in almost every way—especially in plot, voice talent, and character development. Only when it comes to the musical score does the new film come out on top.

Charlotte’s Web is supposed to be a family film, the main thematic element being the importance of friendship and keeping one’s word. However, most of the promises the main characters make are rash, without much thought given to how they will follow through. (Not the best illustration of genuine commitment.)

An even bigger problem is an implicit message that runs through the film: in the case of rebellious children, parents are usually wrong. At least in the cartoon the parents didn’t allow any disrespect from their children, including headstrong Fern. In this new version, Fern repeatedly scolds her doormat of a father whenever she feels injustice is taking place. And near the end, her father tells her how proud he is of her. How nice of him. Heaven forbid that he ever correct his daughter, for that would have squelched her personality. (I’m probably coming across as more negative than I mean to be. The sympathetic view of rebellion in this film never comes anywhere near the toxic levels of, say, that anti-family bile-fest called Lilo & Stitch, which I will never ever ever ever ever let my children watch. If I could burn every copy of that wretched movie and FedEx the remains to hell itself, I would be more than happy to pay the postage.)

Various character motivations and plot points have been altered, taking away much of the dramatic impact of the original story. (The two crows are an exception, but while I found them entertaining they never actually contributed anything to the overall story.) The cartoon made its audience weep; this film merely puts a lump in one’s throat.

As stated before, the one place in which the movie shines is the music, composed by Danny Elfman. He wonderfully captures the spirit of E.B. White’s classic tale. Whereas the music for the web-spinning sequence in the 1973 cartoon was too dark and somber, the musical accompaniment here is nothing short of magical, hearkening back to the glory of Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands score. (Similarly, and ironically enough, the only good thing about Lilo & Stitch was the wonderful score by Alan Silvestri.) And while the ending song departs from Elfman’s thematic material, Sarah McLachlan’s soothing vocals make it somewhat appealing. I’m not a big fan of the title, though (“Ordinary Miracle”)—maybe it’s the theologian in me.

Anyway, I’ll stick to listening to the score (which is what I’m doing right now, actually) and steer clear of the movie. The cartoon will suffice for future viewings.

Artistic Merit: 5
Personal Marks: 5

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Lights – Knoxville Edition

Fellow blogger Gabby Dalton recently posted a link to a rather impressive Christmas lights display. Well, if you’re in the Knoxville, TN area and want to witness such spectacle firsthand, check out the Johnson Family Christmas Display. They have set up a gazillion lights in their yard that blink on and off in sync with a variety of songs. Simply drive up to their house, tune in to 93.7 FM and enjoy the show. You can get more information (and watch a short snippet of the show) at their website.

Actually, there are two separate displays. I’ve visited only Mark’s display, and it was amazing. I still need to check out Everett’s display.

Special thanks to Michael Claytor for letting me know about this spectacular Christmas treat.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Christian Hedonist’s Playbook (Part 3)

One of my greatest temptations as a single has been to place my hope in the promise of a spouse and not in the God who designed marriage for His glory. That, of course, is only one struggle among many in which idols of the heart have attempted to usurp the rightful place of Jesus Christ. It is in the midst of struggles like these that reading and memorizing the Psalms has become invaluable. They speak to the heart of my problem and call me to seek refuge in God alone.

We’ll limit ourselves to just one verse today:

One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple.
(Psalm 27:4)

I love how David’s example encourages me to have singleness of heart. There are, of course, many good things I can desire from the Lord. However, when all is said and done what I really need is nothing less than God Himself. If I can just see and savor the beauty of His glory (which we now know is most clearly revealed in the crucified Savior), I will be satisfied “all the days of my life.”

In the course of this life, suffering is a certainty. During these times of trial, all other false gods will fail me (whether they be people or situations or possessions or anything else). I will need something much more trustworthy to carry me safely through the storm. And that’s what dwelling in the house of the Lord and beholding His beauty does for me, as the next verse explains: “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.”

I love the imagery of Christ being the rock of my sufficiency. That’s one reason why The Solid Rock is one of my favorite hymns. I’ll end this post by quoting verse 3, which I am particularly fond of:

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

Friday, December 08, 2006

POTUS and SGM

This is what it might look like if President Bush visited a Sovereign Grace Church. Hilarious. (And there I go with that word again.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Christian Hedonist’s Playbook (Part 2)

One of the passages from Psalms that I have most benefited from memorizing is Psalm 62:5-8:

My soul, wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation;
He is my defense;
I shall not be moved.
In God is my salvation and my glory;
The rock of my strength,
And my refuge, is in God.
Trust in Him at all times, you people;
Pour out your heart before Him;
God is a refuge for us. Selah

When I am tempted to trust that something other than God will bring fulfillment in my life, I often recite this passage. In these four verses is found a plethora of nouns used to describe God: rock, salvation, defense, glory, rock of my strength, and refuge. These vivid descriptions reveal God as the idol-antidote, the Original that makes all substitutes look pitifully insufficient to bring me joy.

I especially like the first two lines because they speak to the future-oriented nature of faith. My hope (whether it is placed in God or something else) is not a backward-looking expectation but a forward-looking expectation. I trust in whatever I believe offers the most promising future. In this passage, David reminds me that the best promises come from God: “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.” Any hope that is not God-centered is a false hope; it is trusting a promise that will never deliver as advertised.

These Quizzes Are Really Fun

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

The Midland
Boston
North Central
The South
The Inland North
Philadelphia
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Indelible Grace – Free Preview

For a limited time, Matthew Smith’s new album, All I Owe, can be heard in its entirety online. The album consists of ten hymns, including “None Among,” “Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing,” “My Lord I Did Not Choose You” (an excellent song!), and the title cut. Visit Indelible Grace’s website here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

And You Think YOU’RE Having a Bad Morning?

Suffering from Mondayitis? Check out this video. Quite funny. (I’d say the video is “hilarious”—which it is—but I use that word too often. Of course, now I used it again. Dangit!)

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Christian Hedonist’s Playbook (Part 1)

First, a little background information. I used to think Psalms was one of the most boring and useless books in the Bible. I didn’t get what the writers were whining about because I couldn’t identify with their struggles. That was before God decided my life was too comfortable and that my sinful self needed an extreme heart makeover. (Ugh. Sorry, that was lame.) He helped me identify with the Psalmists by allowing my family to go through some serious trials. During that time, the Psalms became a lifeline to me and taught me how to cry out to God for mercy.

Fast-forward several years. As God began to deal with me on the topic of idolatry, the Psalms once again spoke truth to my heart. They helped me see more clearly the root of my sin. Idolatry is not just a sin of the human heart, it is the sin of the human heart.

Focusing on specific sins is important in pursuing holiness, but it also helps to know the underlying problem that leads to those specific sins. David Powlison explains it well in the following case study (the top of page 7):

***************

I remember the time I counseled a man who habitually escaped life’s pressures into TV, food, video games, alcohol, pornography, antique collecting, sci-fi novels. Where to begin? Could I find a passage to focus his problems? I wasn’t sure what to pick up on. Then it struck me: Try the Psalms—as a whole! Almost every single Psalm, in some way or other, portrays the Lord as our refuge in trouble. The Psalms implicitly and explicitly rebuke taking refuge in anything less; the Psalms offer steadfast love and mercy; the Psalms spur us to know and obey God in the trenches of life. This man felt vaguely guilty for some of his bad behavior. But he didn’t see the pattern or the seriousness. His efforts at change were half-baked and unsuccessful. Conviction of the specific sin of his heart—turning from the living God in order to seek idolatrous refuge—woke him up, and made him see his behavioral sins in a fresh way. He even began to identify little escapist tricks he hadn’t even realized he did—ways he (mis)used humor or made subtle excuses for himself. Christ’s grace became very real and necessary. He became motivated to practical change—to face pressures and responsibilities to God’s glory.

***************

This is the start of a short series on why I love the Psalms so much. Stay tuned for further installments…

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reading Quiz

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

Book Snob

Literate Good Citizen

Fad Reader

Non-Reader

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Overcoming Sin and Temptation

Many of you are familiar with the Puritan John Owen, whose works are still read today. Well, just recently a new book has been released: Overcoming Sin and Temptation. Compiled and edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, this book combines three of Owen’s works on the topic of overcoming sin. For right now, I will limit my comments to the first book in this three-part volume: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers.

The Mortification of Sin is divided into three sections. Part 1 deals with the necessity of mortification, in which Owen stresses the seriousness of the battle. “There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so while we live in this world.” In fact, “not to be daily mortifying sin is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who has furnished us with a principle of doing it.” One cannot think he is growing in the Lord if he is not seeking to kill the sin in his life: “Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who does not kill sin in his way takes no steps toward his journey’s end.” Owen basically says the same thing over and over again in several different ways, which helps the reader fully ingest just how serious the battle with indwelling sin really is.

Another concern Owen has is that mortification be sought only by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are several means appointed by God to assist the believer in mortification, such as “praying, fasting, watching, meditation, and the like. These have their use in the business at hand; but whereas they are all to be looked on as streams, [some] look on them as the fountain.” Legalism—a self-wrought mortification that depends on fleshly effort—is not the answer. (Owen refers to it as “will-worship.”) Instead, Owen wants us to fight sin with what he calls “a vigorous gospel attempt for its mortification.”

Part 2 begins by clarifying what mortification is not, then moves on to explain what mortification is. After describing some applicable principles, Owen takes his time in exploring the dangers of having a hard heart. He does not quickly rush in to speak peace to a soul that is not properly and thoroughly convicted of its sin, for he recognizes that only godly sorrow leads to genuine repentance (see 2 Corinthians 7:10). Mere human remedies cannot conquer sin, and Owen lingers on the despair that is necessary for breaking one’s hardness of heart.

For example, we must (by God’s grace) develop a heart of universal obedience. Seeking to mortify one sin while leaving other sins untouched is self-destructive and dishonoring to God.

“Cleanse yourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). If we will do anything, we must do all things. So, then, it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.

This point I found especially poignant. As I read, the Holy Spirit began to reveal to me areas of hardheartedness of which I had become completely unaware. I had wondered why I was struggling to experience genuine sorrow over certain sins and the Lord began showing me where the fallow ground of my heart had been neglected and unplowed.

It is worth noting that there are four chapters on the necessity of mortification (Part 1), nine chapters on the nature of mortification (Part 2), and only one chapter on the means of mortification (Part 3). Owen knows that we are prone to approach sin with a self-sufficient mindset: “what are the steps I need to take in order to overcome this problem?” Overcoming sin and temptation, however, is not a twelve-step program. In fact, the answer to sin is not a program—it is a Person. And only one act leads to victory over sin: an act accomplished by God Himself, namely, the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. The death of sin can only be found in the death of Christ. “Live in this,” says Owen, “and you will die a conqueror.”

Admittedly, John Owen is not always the easiest person to follow. But thanks to Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, these three classic works are made much more accessible to the modern reader. (And there is an overview of each of the three books that alone is almost worth the price of the entire volume.) You’ll still have to concentrate hard as you read, but Owen’s material is well worth digging into. After all, when was treasure ever easy to find? Real treasure with real value requires real work to obtain. With the aid of great men like Owen, may we persistently and passionately pursue the mortification of sin—for the glory of God and the well-being of our souls.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Feet—er, Thanksgiving

Gratitude isn’t an attitude I find easy to cultivate. Too often I think I am entitled to God’s goodness, and when troubles litter the road ahead of me my inclination is towards self-pity.

Sometimes God shows His goodness by igniting our hearts with a delight in Him so passionate that our joy almost seems effortless. Other times He shows His goodness by revealing our sin and calling us to fight for the refreshing spring of joy in a seemingly endless desert of depravity. I’m not a fan of being in the latter category, especially during the week of Thanksgiving.

Nevertheless, God’s goodness remains true and constant. I must not think of God as being good only when pleasant circumstances come my way. Primarily, God’s goodness is revealed to me through the cross, not the lack of adversity in my life. The Psalmists explain God’s goodness like this: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (See Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 29 and 136:1-26.)

How do I know God is good to me? Because He has shown me mercy. And what is the appropriate response to God’s goodness and mercy? Thankfulness. “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”

The mercy of God and the goodness of God are inseparable. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6). Therefore, regardless of how pleasant or painful the future looks, God is still good and His mercy will stay hot on my trail for all of eternity. How good of God to pursue me with so great a love!

If you’re struggling with ungratefulness, or if you just have a few extra minutes this holiday weekend, check out this Thanksgiving-themed sermon by John Piper. It is most excellent.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I see some pumpkin spice cake doughnuts calling my name…

Monday, November 20, 2006

Choral Magnificence

I hope your musical appetite was whetted with last week’s film score clip from Edward Scissorhands. Yes, I love choral music more than just about any other form of aural enjoyment. There are numerous musical instruments that bring delight to my ears (strings—especially the violin and cello—come to mind), but none of them compares to the emotional power of the human voice. I’m particularly fond of female and boys choirs, both of which emanate an innocent aesthetic beauty.

Danny Elfman has written some of the best choral work I have ever heard. He’s a film score composer (surprise, surprise) who has used choral elements in numerous films, the standout being his masterful work in Edward Scissorhands. I simply cannot explain how wonderful the music is; you must hear it for yourself.

So, below you will find an eight-minute suite from Edward Scissorhands. Sit back and enjoy! (And as an added bonus, there’s a short-but-sweet segment featuring some kickin’ violin work.)

Edward Scissorhands Suite

As a side note, this week’s music clip is also by Danny Elfman.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Emoticons: Cultural Learnings of Technology for Make Benefit Glorious Nuances of Communication

(Note: the above title is not an endorsement of the Borat film.)

Some friends of mine (most of them from the Manspeak blog) have criticized men’s use of emoticons. Evidently, they believe the utilization of technology to enhance communication is somehow unmanly. I find their stance disconcerting, especially since they purport a pursuit of genuine masculinity. I have been repeatedly persecuted by them for using emoticons and have decided a refutation is in order.*

Before the invention of computers and cell phones, modes of communication were simplified. People conversed with each other face to face. Phrases like “Thou milksop,” “A Pox on thee,” and “Thou art a misbegotten son of Beelzebub” were easily understood.

Nowadays, words aren’t always enough. In some cases, signs and symbols must be added to words to clarify their meaning. How much more important are signs in the technological age in which we live, when many forms of communication lack necessary elements of physical expression (posture, vocal tone, articulation, gestures, facial contortions, and so on)?

Emoticons are signs; they constitute a form of paralanguage (the non-verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion). When social interaction takes place electronically (in emails, message boards, instant messages, etc.) emoticons can be a helpful aid in implying a writer’s tone and clarifying one’s intentions.

It is interesting to note that the first emoticon was introduced to the world by (you guess it) a man: Scott Elliot Fahlman. He believed the smiley face would help people on message boards to distinguish serious posts from jokes. Fahlman’s creation wasn’t the result of an empty mind; he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1973 from MIT, and his Ph.D. in 1977 (also from MIT).

Emoticons can even act as a social faux pas safeguard. I once read about a woman who thought “LOL” meant “Lots of Love” and wrote the following message to an unbeliever:

Jesus loves you. LOL.

That didn’t exactly convey the message she intended. Instead, this woman could have used an emoticon:

Jesus loves you. :-)

(Actually, the woman probably should have started with something along the lines of, “God is holy, you are sinful, and the wrath of the Almighty rests upon you,” but that doesn’t serve the purposes of my argument.)

Effective communicators communicate effectively. And how can they be effective while avoiding clarity? Emoticons enable us to be more emotionally honest with others. Are we to eschew emoticons simply because it makes one more vulnerable? I think not. Such a stance is quite unmanly.

A technological tool such as an emoticon is amoral; what makes it proper or improper is the context in which it is used. Indeed, the use of emoticons can be a means of grace in electronic communication. A man’s refusal to use emoticons, therefore, is nothing less than a refusal to be a conduit of the grace of God. Now, what does the Bible say about a person with a prideful posture? Hmmm… Oh, I remember! “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Emoticons enable us to pursue humility for the glory of God.

In fact, I propose that when writing electronic messages, we men keep in mind the following acronym: WEWJU (woo-joo). It stands for “What Emoticon Would Jesus Use?” This way, we can be ever mindful of our position as stewards of the gift of communication.

In closing, here is my “man law” proposal: if your emotions are coy, you’re no man—just a boy

So let’s communicate like mature men. And to any male who refuses to do so, I have one more thing to say to you:

:-b


* Disclaimer: a bit of hyperbolic jest is used in this discourse. Like the use of emoticons, hyperbole and jest can be beneficial practices in communication. Dismissing the above discourse on the grounds of said use of hyperbole and jest is the moral equivalent of dismissing Braveheart as a chick flick because the actors wear kilts.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Read the Sandwich

I just stumbled across a great website: The Sacred Sandwich, a “periodical for small town Christians in the big bad world.” The mock news headlines are creative and entertaining. For example, check out WARREN UNVEILS THE R.I.C.K. PLAN ON HUMILITY.

Here’s a quote from the disclaimer page: “Despite the tongue-in-cheek style, The Sacred Sandwich’s main objective is to herald the sufficiency of Scripture as one of the surest means in which the visible Church might humble herself to God’s will and enjoy true spiritual revival.”

Other sections of the newspaper include the following:

  • Food for Thought, with numerous articles by authors—living and dead—that call the church back to sound doctrine.
  • The Twin Theologians, where Maruice and Emmett answer questions sent in by readers (and yes, hilarity ensues).
  • The Bohemian Baptist: Correspondence from a Postmodern Heretic, a column with articles such as, I DON’T BELIEVE THAT ANYONE CAN BELIEVE IN A NON-BELIEF SYSTEM.
  • Photo Gallery. You have to see the comic brilliance of these pictures/captions to believe them. This is one of my favorites. And it seems that no one is safe from parody—not Tim LaHaye, Dan Brown, or even VeggieTales.

So-called “holy humor” oftentimes has the unpleasant distinction of being dumb (at worst) and corny (at best). Kudos to The Sacred Sandwich, which bucks the trend and makes “clean” and “clever” practically synonymous.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Capster’s Dictionary / Word Entry: “Lunch”

Kris Love (evening DJ at Love 89.1 FM) and I have come to a realization: “Lunch” and “Copper Cellar” are synonymous. To call any other meal at any other restaurant “lunch” would be a gross insult. Lunch just doesn’t get any better than this. I need not recount the myriad of culinary pleasures that accompany eating the Copper Cellar hamburger because I have already done so here. Suffice it to say there is no better lunch than that of which we partake every Wednesday at Copper Cellar (“we” being half the staff at Love 89).

Therefore, I have resolved to refer to any other mid-day eat-out excursion as a “meal” or glorified “snack.” The term “lunch” has been redefined by the life-altering succulence of the Copper Cellar hamburger. Eden has come to Knoxville, Tennessee—just a small foretaste of the restored created order described in Revelation.

I remember one Tuesday when I passed Kris in the hallway at work. All I said was, “Tomorrow.” He just nodded and replied, “Tomorrow.” No other words were needed.

The reason I am discussing this topic again is because it has been nearly a month since I’ve had the pleasure of eating a Copper Cellar hamburger. I had partaken of several other burgers from several other restaurants during that time, but none of them fully engaged my taste buds. And having just come back from another great lunch experience with the Love 89 crew, I am once again content. (The withdrawal symptoms were starting to get serious.) I know I’m beating a dead horse—or in this case, a dead and tasty cow—so I’ll bring this to a close.

Copper Cellar is lunch. Really, no other words are needed.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Measure of a Man

Another aspect of the men’s conference that stood out to me were the videos shown that honored specific men from the different churches that had come. One person honored was Jeff Hutchison, a member of CrossWay Community Church. As I watched the video, I was reminded that I have too often thought of marriage in selfish terms (i.e., what is my future wife going to bring to the table to serve me?). Like many of the events of the conference, this video was a grace-filled slap in the face. Jeff Hutchison is a real man. You can watch the video by going here.

(And for those who don’t know, the messages from the conference are now available for download here.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Summit

I joked about going to the Sovereign Grace men’s conference and coming back a man. Well, the joke was on me. To say the conference was a means of grace would be both an oversimplification and an understatement. It was, in fact, a milestone in my Christian walk.

God used the messages (especially the first one, which dealt with denying yourself and following Christ) to point out certain areas of sin in my life—you know, those areas where you think you’re doing well and then you realize once again that you’re a complete sinbag dripping with depravity. As the light of God’s truth exposed selfishness and pride in my life, my heart fought to hold onto its illusion of autonomy. There were a couple of times where I freaked out at the prospect of relinquishing my “right” to organize my life according to my wishes and not God’s will. But by His grace I was able to see the folly of refusing to submit to the Lordship of Christ. After all, self-denial is not an end in and of itself; it is simply the means to finding true and lasting joy. “Whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

Let me express a heartfelt thanks to those of you who prayed for the men who attended The Summit. Your supplications were answered in amazing ways. I know that experiences similar to mine happened in the lives of many other men from Cornerstone. (Dash even went so far as to say that the conference affected him more than Vision Quest did.) How good of God to give His Spirit to wrath-deserving, blood-bought sinners and affect grace-saturated change!

Oh, and the use of film scores as background music before the meetings was an extra nice touch. You know you’re at a men’s conference when you hear the Barbarian Horde from Gladiator as you take your seat.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Brief Sabbatical

I’ll be heading to Charlotte, NC tomorrow for Sovereign Grace’s mid-south “Making of a Man” conference. Hopefully, I shall come back a man.

But seriously, please pray that this time will be a means of grace for those of us who are going.

Let Dead Men Feed You

In an age of theological ambiguity, it’s refreshing to sit at the feet of saints long gone. One thing I appreciate about dead theologians whose works are still read today (Martin Luther, John Owen, etc.) is that they centered their lives on the gospel. Nothing on which they taught strayed from the cross. Even topics like discipleship and the pursuit of holiness were firmly grounded on the finished work of Christ. For example, here’s a quote from Scottish preacher Horatius Bonar (1808 – 1889):

Every plant must have both soil and root. Without both of these there can be no life, no growth, no fruit. The root is “peace with God”; the soil in which that root strikes itself, and out of which it draws the vital sap, is the free love of God in Christ. “Rooted in love” is the apostle’s description of a holy man. The secret of a believer’s holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety, and his daily intercourse with a crucified and risen Lord. All divine life, and all the precious fruits of it, pardon, peace, and holiness, spring from the cross. All fancied sanctification which does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross is nothing better than Pharisaism. If we would be holy, we must get to the cross, and dwell there; else, notwithstanding all our labour, diligence, fasting, praying and good works, we shall be yet void of real sanctification, destitute of those humble, gracious tempers which accompany a clear view of the cross.

Now that’s what I call a feast for the soul. Yep, dead saints are good theological cooks.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Holiday Causes Moral Dilemma for Area Teen

KNOXVILLE, TN Halloween is upon us again and 13-year-old Knoxville native Martin Erasmus Hinn is in turmoil. “I always hate this time of year,” he told the Doxology Press during an interview on Sunday afternoon. “Each year, I face the same problem: how can I get through October 31 without offending at least one of my parents?” You see, Martin’s procreators are both confessing Protestants, but while Mr. Hinn adheres to Reformed doctrine, Mrs. Hinn is a staunch Arminian. “Opposites attract, alright,” Martin mused. “They attract controversy. I mean, my parents couldn’t even agree on what name to give me. The anomaly they came up with is a twisted compromise that haunts me to this day.”

Named after Desiderius Erasmus (proponent of free will) and Martin Luther (proponent of free grace), Martin Erasmus Hinn (who prefers to be called Mr. H) has been plagued with identity issues ever since he can remember. “My father wanted me to attend the local Lutheran school, while my mom preferred the more Arminian-friendly Christian school,” he recalls. “But because they couldn’t come to an agreement, they finally just threw me into a public school, where secular heathen children made fun of my name every stinking day. My schooling experience was a nightmare of purgatorial proportions.”

The present, Martin says, is no better than the past. “How can I be expected to follow in the footsteps of two men who went in opposite directions?” he said, throwing up his hands in frustration. “My desire to please both my parents in how I grow spiritually is a constant battle. One minute my father is encouraging me for growing in my understanding of the doctrines of grace and the next my mother is chiding me for using grace as an excuse to not try harder. You think the Apostle Paul was conflicted in Romans 7? Let him try writing that chapter after walking in my shoes.”

All of this leads to the controversy surrounding October 31. “Mom wants me to be culturally relevant by participating in the customs of our day. That includes Halloween. She thinks I can be a light to the world by wearing a Bibleman or VeggieTales costume. One year, she made me dress up like Jesus and had me read from a script at each door. Instead of the typical ‘Trick or treat,’ I had to say, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone gives me candy, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.’”

“My father, on the other hand, doesn’t even want to hear the word Halloween in our house. He calls it the ‘h’ word. He prefers that I celebrate Reformation Day with him. After all, October 31 is the date on which Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg [in 1517]. Most Christians don’t even know Reformation Day exists, but my dad says that’s because they’re a bunch of ignorant Semi-Pelagians.

“So what do I do? My mother claims I may lose my salvation if I rebel against her wishes, and my father says my eternal security is in jeopardy if the spiritual fruit in my life keeps reaping nothing but rebellion against the head of the household. I’m literally darned if I do and darned if I don’t!”

Martin’s one attempt to provide a solution to the problem resulted in disaster. “I had just turned seven,” he said, his lips quivering in pain at the memory. “I convinced my dad to let me go trick-or-treating dressed as Martin Luther. The stipulation was that I was to exchange copies of the 95 Theses for the candy I received. Well, as it turned out, the first house I visited belonged to a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic. I swear, the guy must have been bipolar, or drunk, or both. He was so infuriated that he grabbed me and nailed my hood to his front door, along with the stack of 95 Theses I had with me. I escaped by slipping out of my monk’s robe and running home in my underwear. I hate this holiday!”

No one from The Associated Press contributed to this report
© 2006, Taung En Chiek

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Appreciating Film Score Music

Film scores are usually composed in a matter of weeks and the most ambitious films contain no more than 20 or so major themes. Composer Howard Shore, however, spent a minimum of twelve months on each of the Lord of the Rings films. In translating the rich tapestry of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth into musical expression, Shore also incorporated more than 50 different themes and motifs. The amount of research that went into creating this superb music defies comprehension. Consider this one excerpt from the “Music of The Lord of the Rings Films” booklet:

Gollum’s wretched theme is intertwined with the music for the History of the One Ring, which sighs the films to life with two prolonged rising pitches, a half-step apart. This same rising half-step can be heard in the Evil of the Ring/Sauron theme and, inverted, in the martial, clangorous music of Isengard. Isengard, however, inverts the figure, dipping down a half-step, then returning upwards, a figure that dead-sets it against the Fellowship theme, which begins with the same down-up-down shape transformed to a more stable and heroic whole-step. This circular sense of interconnectivity permeates Shores score not only to reinforce the cultural relationships present in Tolkien’s world, but also to highlight the most important dramatic concepts: dedication, seduction, purity, good and evil.

Now, imagine reading over forty pages of information like that (and this booklet only describes the first film!) and you’ll begin to understand the depth and creative intensity of Shore’s work.

The music in the trilogy contains a healthy dose of magnificent choral writing: several choirs and soloists were used to represent various characters, cultures, geographical locations, and situations. You can go to this web page to listen to selections from 19 of the more popular themes from the films. I’ve posted the links to my favorite samples from this list (most of which include choral elements).

Rivendell

The Nature Theme

Arwen

Lothlorien

Gondor

Ring Wraiths

Why the resurging excitement about LotR music? Well, next month the 4-disc Two Towers album will be released. (The 3-disc Fellowship of the Ring album—which I own, of course—was released last year.) Yes, it includes every second of music used in the film(!), in addition to some cues that weren’t used for the final cut(!). That’s over four hours of orchestral and choral beauty!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sola Scriptura, Part 2

In chapter 8 of When I Don’t Desire God, Piper discusses how to “wield the word” in the fight for joy. One key strategy is Bible memorization. He quotes author Dallas Willard:

Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our mind with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization.

Piper then says,

The joy-producing effects of memorizing Scripture and having it in my head and heart are incalculable. The world and its God-ignoring, all-embracing secularism is pervasive. In invades my mind every day. What hope is there to have a mind filled with Christ except to have a mind filled with his Word? I know of no alternative.

A few pages later, Piper explains why he places so much emphasis on this practice:

I spend this much time on Bible memory because I believe in the power of the indwelling Word of God to solve a thousand problems before they happen, and to heal a thousand wounds after they happen, and to kill a thousand sins in the moment of temptation, and to sweeten a thousand days with the “drippings of the honeycomb.”

Like chapter 7, this chapter is acting as a catalyst to increase my passion for God’s Word. And since I’m not the greatest at memorization, I think I’m going to work on a relatively short passage: Psalm 86:8-13.

I’m rather excited about memorization as a whole and this passage in particular—for reasons that I will explain in a future post. For now, suffice it to say that it’s exciting and humbling to see God’s grace at work. And a great means of this grace that I’m receiving is When I Don’t Desire God. If you’re like me—naturally apathetic to God’s Word and disinclined to memorize portions of Scripture—I encourage you to check this book out!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

How Hopeless Are You?

For a period of about three years (back in the mid-90’s), Bob Kauflin woke up every morning with the same thought: Your life is completely hopeless. Click here to discover what God showed him about hopelessness.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Spam: the Silver Lining

I think we can all agree that spam is evil. If Adam and Eve had been created in our age, the first result of the Fall would have been Adam’s inbox being flooded with spam.

Well, I recently received an unsolicited email that is well worth reading. It is filled with garbled sentences that make absolutely no sense, albeit in a hilarious fashion. I have posted a few examples below for your reading enjoyment.

  1. When an orbiting buzzard trembles, a wheelbarrow hides.
  2. When a garbage can is ridiculously feline, another chessboard over a wedding dress graduates from a highly paid carpet tack.
  3. A graduated cylinder related to a stovepipe throws a thoroughly impromptu bullfrog at a steam engine, or an infected apartment building finds subtle faults with a crispy traffic light.
  4. If the customer beyond a chessboard sells some minivan about the traffic light to some greasy blood clot, then a knowingly treacherous salad dressing panics.
  5. If a non-chalantly incinerated insurance agent plays pinochle with an often-fat tornado, then a scythe inside a dolphin gets stinking drunk.
  6. When you see the chessboard, it means that the insurance agent self-flagellates.
  7. Furthermore, the class action suit related to a microscope hesitates, and the familiar senator accidentally negotiates a prenuptial agreement with an avocado pit.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

“Together for the Gospel” This Is Not

In a unique display of symmetry, John Piper and Michael Jackson have teamed up to espouse the Biblical doctrine of total depravity. Okay, not really…but kind of. Check it out.

(Thanks to Tony Carter for providing the link on his blog.)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Sola Scriptura

Over the past few weeks, God has been working on my heart in a couple of areas. One of them is a growing appreciation for Scripture.

I think it started when I picked up John Piper’s book, When I Don’t Desire God, which I’m still working through. This book is phenomenal and I would highly recommend it. (And if you’re completely strapped for cash, you can read the book online at the above link.) Chapter 7 is entitled, “The Worth of God’s Word in the Fight for Joy.” In this chapter, Piper details ten reasons why Scripture is so valuable. I don’t think I have ever read any other work that has so impressed upon my heart how valuable God’s Word is—and how desperate I am for it. (I won’t share the ten points here because I think you would most benefit from reading the chapter—and book!—yourself.) For it is in Scripture where God most clearly reveals Himself to me as my ultimate goal and my ultimate joy. As Piper says,

God can and does show himself in other ways, especially through the works of believers (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12; 1 Cor. 12:7). But none of them reveals God with the clarity and fullness of the Bible. All of them orbit around the sun of God’s written Word. And if the central gravitational power of the sun is denied, all the planets fly into confusion.

Then, Tony Carter spoke about the centrality of Scripture at church last Sunday. The Bible is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for, among other things, “instruction in righteousness” (see 2 Timothy 3:16). Well, if we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), then it stands to reason that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) seek Scripture. They consider it a great treasure. And like any treasure hunter does when he finds treasure, they store it up (i.e., in their hearts) for later use. They realize, with the Psalmist, the great worth of the law of the Lord: it revives the weary soul, it makes the simple wise, it rejoices the heart—in part because it enlightens the eyes of the heart (see Psalm 19).

As God reveals more and more sin in my life, I find Scripture to be an essential tool in cutting me loose from the dead weight of despair. May my joy in God increase as my delight in His Word increases.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Back to the Future—er, Past

I have been consistently and notoriously behind the times since, well, forever. (Maybe that’s a contradiction in terms.) I have yet to purchase an iPod or any form of portable audio device, unless you count the Walkman I owned a couple hundred years ago. The only reason I have a DVD player is because someone gave it to me for free. I still do my writing on a glorified Etch-A-Sketch. (Granted, it’s a bona fide computer, but not much of one.) And as you all know, I recently—or finally—purchased my first cell phone. I guess you could say I’m stuck in the past.

It may come as no surprise, then, that I bought my first video game soundtrack only last week. I’ve loved film scores for over a decade but I haven’t dabbled in any related subgenre. So yeah, purchasing my first game score was pretty exciting. I felt like I had burst onto the stage of the Modern Age.

The CD is Mercenaries, composed by Michael Giacchino and Chris Tilton. And yes, it rocks. Great themes and orchestration, and some magnificent choral writing as well. (Click here to listen to a five-minute suite from the score, the second half of which includes a sampling of the choral work.)

Admittedly, the album has been out for a couple of years. I could have been one of the first to preorder the CD and get a copy autographed by Chris Tilton himself. I mean, I listened to the online suite at the La-La Land Records site and really liked what I heard. So why did I wait until now? Well, it was on sale for the month of September only. You see, money talks. More appropriately, the prospect of paying less money is what did the talking. So did word-of-mouth praise for the album (and the fact that I’ve had some interaction with Chris Tilton), but the reduced price is what did it for me. Money well spent, let me tell ya.

So, that’s my music plug for the month.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Doctrine of (Political) Election

I’ve been finding it hard to decide on who to vote for in the upcoming elections. If you are a registered voter (and if you’re 18 or older you should be) and are struggling with the same dilemma, here are some thoughts from Robert P. George. Keep in mind that he grew up Democrat and “still feels twinges of nostalgia” for the party.

So, however much one might dislike Republican policies in other areas, it’s clear that the death toll [of unborn children] under the Democrats would be so large as to make it unreasonable for Catholic citizens, or citizens of any faith who oppose the taking of innocent human life, to use their votes and influence to help bring the Democratic party into power.

I find no cause for joy in this. I wish that it were possible for pro-life citizens legitimately to support Democratic candidates. I wish that the party of my parents and grandparents had not placed itself on the wrong side of the most profound human rights issue of our contemporary domestic politics. I wish that the killing of embryonic and fetal human beings by abortion and in biomedical research were resolutely opposed by both parties so that we could cast our votes based on our assessments of the candidates’ and parties’ competing positions on taxation, immigration, education, welfare, health-care reform, national security, and foreign policy. It is hardly satisfactory that pro-life citizens—representing a variety of views on the range of issues in economic, social, and foreign policy—find themselves bound to the Republicans because the only viable alternative is a party that has abandoned its commitment to the weakest and most vulnerable members of the human family by embracing abortion and embryo-destructive research.

Make of that what you will. But whatever your political leanings, please vote.

Spreading the Love

Many of you have probably heard the news, but Love 89’s Sharathon was the most productive Sharathon in the radio station’s history. Our goal was $560,000. By the final evening, listeners had pledged over $590,000. This means we not only have our budge for this year, but we can also begin the process of building two new transmitters (one in Morristown and one in Lenoir City), with a possible third tower sometime later. Everyone on staff has been greatly encouraged by God’s abundant faithfulness.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It’s That Time of Year Again…

Love 89’s 3-day Sharathon is in full swing, which is especially good for me. Why? Well, because my one responsibility is food quality control. (Technically this is a self-appointed responsibility, but it is a burden I willingly bear.) In other words, I officially test all the catered food that comes in. Nothing is left untouched—er, untasted. Even the Krystal burgers brought in this morning by Krystal Meyers herself were not above inspection. So far, all the food has been approved—even Krystal’s Krystals. (As a side note: try having a conversation about Krystal burgers with someone with Krystal Meyers standing a few feet away; she’ll keep looking over at you, wondering why you’re calling her while not looking at her.)

Here’s to two more days of fabulously free foraging.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Wisdom for Today (or However Long it Takes)

Below are Charles Spurgeon’s thoughts for the day. Quite an encouragement to me, being the impatient person that I am.

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Let Trials Bless

Knowing that tribulation worketh patience. (Romans 5:3)

This is a promise in essence if not in form. We have need of patience, and here we see the way of getting it. It is only by enduring that we learn to endure, even as by swimming men learn to swim. You could not learn that art on dry land, nor learn patience without trouble. Is it not worth while to suffer tribulation for the sake of gaining that beautiful equanimity of mind which quietly acquiesces in all the will of God?

Yet our text sets forth a singular fact, which is not according to nature but is supernatural. Tribulation in and of itself worketh petulance, unbelief, and rebellion. It is only by the sacred alchemy of grace that it is made to work in us patience. We do not thresh the wheat to lay the dust: yet the Rail of tribulation does this upon God's floor. We do not toss a man about in order to give him rest, and yet so the Lord dealeth with His children. Truly this is not the manner of man but greatly redounds to the glory of our all-wise God.

Oh, for grace to let my trials bless me! Why should I wish to stay their gracious operation? Lord, I ask Thee to remove my affliction, but I beseech Thee ten times more to remove my impatience. Precious Lord Jesus, with Thy cross engrave the image of Thy patience on my heart.

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“Lord, I ask Thee to remove my affliction, but I beseech Thee ten times more to remove my impatience. Precious Lord Jesus, with Thy cross engrave the image of Thy patience on my heart.”

Yes! Let that be my prayer.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Vacation, Part 3

After a couple days at Rose and Dale’s house, we set out to visit my grandmother in Yakima. Dale was quite gracious in lending us his car for the round trip. (He and Rose were unable to accompany us.)

In between us and our destination was Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier is an active Cascade volcano encased in over 35 square miles of snow and glacial ice. As you can tell from these pictures, the mountain is a wonderful example of God’s creative splendor.

We drove up to Sunrise, the highest point in the park accessible by car. The road was precariously dangerous, with a steep drop to one side that threatened certain death should the car veer off the road even a slight bit. I had made the mistake of drinking a lot of water during the first leg of the journey, so by the time we began the windy trip up the mountain I had to use the facilities. Badly. Of course, there were no facilities—well, other than nature itself. We couldn’t really stop by the side of the road, though, because of the steep incline. (Besides, I didn’t want to be the guy on national news who fell to his death in a tragic bathroom accident.)

At long last, we made it to Sunrise. Danny and I were excited about hiking the mile-long trail that took us from Sunrise at 6,000 feet to Dedge Peak at 7,000 feet. We had hiked the trail once before and the view from the top is absolutely incredible.

There was one problem: my out-of-shape condition. I walk to the mailbox several times a week and that’s about all the exercise I get. My brother, on the other hand, can jog several miles with a fifty-pound bag of sand on his back. It wasn’t too long before I started breathing hard. I tried to mask the sound by breathing through my mouth (I didn’t want my brother to think I was a complete wimp). Pretty soon I didn’t care if the whole world heard me; I gasped for lungfuls of air like God was rationing it out. My legs couldn’t understand why the ground kept going up; they attempted to alert me by throbbing with atrophy-induced pain. Somehow, I made it to the top. Danny felt quite good; I wanted to drop to the rocky ground and die.

Two factors hindered us from viewing a crystal-clear panorama. One, we reached the top late in the day and the sun was on its downward arc behind the mountain, making it hard for us to see. And two, there was a forest fire in the park, which created a lot of smoke that obstructed our view of the mountain even more. But even with these factors, the view was still incredible. When I could breathe normally and appreciate my surroundings, I used my cell phone to call several friends and share the experience. (Yes, I had reception. Evidently, Verizon’s “Can you hear me now?” dude had been there.) All the pain was well worth hiking Mount Rainier. (David Ash has said that I didn’t actually hike the mountain itself, only part of the mountain. I think that’s just a matter of semantics.)

When we were done visiting the mountain, we headed down the windy road toward Yakima. On the way out of the park, we were alarmed to find ourselves driving into the smoke from the forest fire. There were no other cars, and we began to wonder of the road had been closed due to danger from the fire and we somehow missed the warning. We made it through without dying, though, and continued on our journey.

The Path to 9/11

My apologies for not posting about this earlier. I really should have.

A five-hour ABC movie entitled The Path to 9/11 recently aired over two nights of commercial-free broadcasting. It’s a docudrama based on the 9/11 Commission Report, as well as a few other sources. It begins with the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and ends with the events of September 11th. The movie details the numerous failures of both the Clinton and Bush administrations in the investigation of the growing terrorist threats against the United States.

The film is outstanding. Kudos to everyone involved on the project, both behind and in front of the camera. John Cameron’s score is especially effective—what little there is of it. (Most of the music in the movie is source music and not original score.) The main theme hauntingly and powerfully accents the film’s final act. As I have said elsewhere, I think this is the best film music theme for 9/11 yet.

If you missed the movie, you can view it online! (You may need to download some software to play the movie file, but it’s well worth it.) All you need to do is watch the opening credits to realize the artistic excellence of the movie. This show deserves Emmy nominations all across the board. Highly recommended!

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Vacation, Part 2

My sister’s house is the flipping bomb. Let me explain.

We arrived late at night, so we couldn’t see much of the scenery. The next morning, I was the first to wake up and wander into the living room, which has a couple large windows looking out at Hood Canal. The vista that met my eyes almost took my breath away. The house is right on the beach, overlooking the mile-and-a-half-wide canal and the mountain ranges on the other side. The other three sides of the house are nestled in the woods. Yes, the house is on a beach in the middle of a forest—a little snapshot of Heaven itself. (You can view a live-cam shot of the canal here.)

One day, Dale (my brother in law—although not the Dale in the website above) took Danny and me out in his little motor boat to go crabbing. We baited and set the traps and took an extended tour of the canal, stopping short of the restricted waters that surround the nearby naval base. (Although Dale tells us the military is very friendly—they’ll come out and visit you if you ignore the warning signs.) We caught, killed, and cooked some absolutely delicious crab. In fact, all the food we ate at the house was extraordinary. A neighbor brought over some of his smoked salmon, which is the best fish I have ever eaten in my entire life. He’s actually a professional caterer. I mean, this dude can COOK!

My sister also took us on a hike through their land (which comprises some seven acres of unspoiled West Coast Wonderland). There’s even room for a potential additional house (with another awesome view—this time from a cliff overlooking the canal).

Of course, the house is especially special because it’s where my sister lives. Rose is a dentist who was recently interviewed for a cover article in Catalyst, a dentistry magazine. Her husband (Dale, of course) is awesome as well, as are their two daughters. My nieces are avid soccer players and we got the chance to attend a couple of their games as well.

We also got to visit another sister in Tacoma—Marlene (who is a Dental Hygienist and worked with Rose for a while). It was great being able to see them and hang out with the newest addition to their family, Russell Stuart. (Here’s a funny thing. Rose has red hair, although none of her children have red hair. Marlene does not have red hair, and all three of her children have red hair. Yes. Genes are funny things.) They are currently working on completely renovating a house a few blocks away from where they live. Much of the house has been gutted and the new insides are beginning to take shape.

Scott and Marlene had a cookout the evening we arrived at their house, so we got to see even more family as well. We had a fantastic time—short though it was.

As a side note: at the end of our vacation, Scott was the one who drove us to the airport at 4:30 in the morning before he went to work. He has quite the servant’s heart. (Yes, Rose and Marlene married quite well.)

The next installment of the Vacation Chronicles involves a mountain, a fire, and a lot of pain. Stay tuned…

Mural in Smoking Area

I’m sorry, but this is funny.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sensational Southern Sweetness

As y’all know, I ain’t no Southerner. I was a (forced) transplant. One thing I’ve had trouble understanding is how the words “sweet” and “tea” can go in the same sentence. When I think of tea, I imagine Oriental music and herbal aromas, not Rocky Top and mounds of sugar.

[Insert David Crowder’s I Saw the Light]

Well, I have had a “beverage epiphany.” Mcalister’s Deli catered a meal at work a couple days ago. Among other things, they provided a hefty amount of sweet tea. With one sip, I became addicted. This drink is gloriously delectable. In fact, there are several containers of tea still in the fridge in the break room…and I’m drinking the stuff by the gallon.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go visit John (or, as he is often called, The John).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Vacation, Part 1

My recent vacation was so outstanding that I must share the experience. So, here we go…

The trip became memorable even before we took to the skies. My brother, mother, and I made it through security and to our gate with a couple hours to spare. (My philosophy is simple: if you’re not early, you’re late.) Mom decided to go on a walk through the airport and ended up gaining a reputation with the security folks. She absentmindedly passed back through the security checkpoint and realized her mistake a few seconds too late. Having crossed the checkpoint by only a few feet, she asked the nearest guard if it was necessary for her to go through the entire security procedure again. Well, it was. As she went through the process a second time, one of the guards said, “Ah, Mrs. Stewart, coming through again I see.” Thankfully, she got back to our gate before the plane left.

It surprised us to find that our plane from Nashville to Denver wasn’t very large—somewhere around thirty seats. Small planes aren’t as comfortable as large ones: the ride is typically bumpier, the seats are smaller, the noise is noisier, and there are no in-flight meals or movies. However, there were two consolations. One, terrorists probably weren’t going to bother with a dinky plane like ours. And two, we had the most entertaining flight attendant in the entire world. He was basically a stand-up comedian masquerading as an airline employee. Here are some of his comments during the flight (yes, I took notes the entire time, so some of what you read below is verbatim):

  • The bathroom is in the back, although it’s broken so I hope you used the one in the airport.
  • Today’s in-flight movie is The Invisible Man. I will also be serving a Peter Pan lunch. If you can imagine it, then imagine eating it.
  • If you want more light, push the white button above your seat—not the orange one. That’s the ejector button.
  • I’ll be coming through with the cart soon [to pass out snacks] and I have not received my cart license yet. So if you want to keep your extremities, please keep them out of the aisle. That is a disclaimer.
  • If you need anything else, just let me know. I’ll be doing origami, but only by request. I’m serious.
  • This is my first day.
  • [After we landed] Be careful when opening the overhead compartments because shift happens.

Yes, we were off to a good start.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Go West, Young Man

So many words could describe my trip to the West Coast. Stupendous. Amazing. Thrilling. Chronological. In short, my vacation was AWESOME! I’ll be posting about my experiences next week, dividing my trip up into different sections/posts. I carry pictures and video from the trip with me on my trusty cell phone, so ask me to show them to you.

As stated before, I haven’t visited my sisters and grandmother in Washington State in almost a decade, and I forgot how much I absolutely LOVE the West Coast. Real mountains. Real forests. Real oceans. I’m convinced that when God created North America He began on the West, and as He moved farther East He started running out of ideas. (That’s just my opinion, but it’s true.)

One thing I’d like you guys to pray about. One of my sisters has been trying to get me to move out there for quite some time. Until my trip, I hadn’t really considered that an option. Now, I have to say it’s officially on the docket as a possibility. In fact, if Sovereign Grace had a church near the Hood Canal, I would be sorely tempted to call the move a no brainer. You’d understand better if you saw pictures/video of where my sister lives.

If I did move, it wouldn’t be right away—no sooner than six months, at least. Such a decision would need to come only after much study, prayer, and receiving a lot of counsel. In the meantime, I am also struggling with discontentment. In fact, the whole issue might not really be whether or not I should move; it could very well just be me needing to be content with my current circumstances. Whatever the case, any and all prayers would be much appreciated.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Laborious Weekend

Okay, not really. I’m finally getting the chance to fly to Washington State after about a decade of absence. I was born there, much of my family is still there, my father’s ashes are scattered on Mount Rainier (which I will be visiting/hiking). It’s going to be great! See you guys next week.

Friday, September 01, 2006

What Makes a “Christian” Video Game?

I’m becoming more and more familiar with the Biblical doctrine of vocation, especially since I started reading the Lutheran blog Cranach. In the words of Gene Edward Veith:
Luther’s doctrine of vocation says that God gives each of us different gifts, interests and capabilities. He also gives each of us an external calling to a particular avenue of service. We are to use all that in love and service to our neighbor and service to God…. In addition, the doctrine of vocation tells me that I don’t have to be a pastor or missionary or always doing church activities to be effective as a Christian. I’m called to live out my Christian faith in my calling in the secular world.
The doctrine of vocation helps us see the danger of creating a Christian subculture. For example, what makes a video game “Christian”? Blog poster Pastor Matt has this to say:
Where does the doctrine of vocation fall in all of this? I say a first person shooter about a US (or any nation's soldier for that matter) marine fighting for his nation is Christian enough. This is also true for the sports game - where you pretend to live out the vocation of an athlete and entertainer. Thinking that a “Christian” video game means fighting evil spirits with “swords of the spirit” encourages a false dichotomy between spirituality and “real” life. Being Christian is being a baker, a bus driver, and a father. Games that allow me to escape to another vocation are as Christian as it needs to get!
Dr. Veith wrote a recent post about using Labor Day to celebrate the Doctrine of Vocation. I think it’s a good idea.

Happy Labor Day, everyone!

NOTE: This article’s title has been adapted from the original (and less interesting) title of Vocation – A Doctrine Worth “Laboring” For.

Christian Hedonist Upgrade

John Piper’s website, DesiringGod, has been revamped. Now, all his sermons are available in audio format for free—yes, all of them. On the main page, there’s also a Resource Highlights section, which includes audio files of “Today’s Radio Broadcast” and “This Week’s Question.”

On a related note, a couple spots have opened up on Joy 62’s programming, and I’ve asked if John Piper’s radio show could be one of the replacement programs. We are in negotiations to see if that is a possibility. Would it not be awesome to have Piper on a Knoxville radio station every stinking day?! Nevertheless, please pray for the Lord’s will to be done in this matter.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Movie Trailer Music Euphoria

The group Immediate Music has created a lot of original music for movie trailers, including Lord of the Rings, Spiderman 2, King Kong, Superman Returns, The Chronicles of Narnia, and X-Men: The Last Stand. Until recently, this increasingly popular sub-genre of music has not been made available to the general public. Now, the CD “Epicon” has been released for all to enjoy. This is from the official press release:

Ever since director John Boorman had the brilliant idea to track Carl Orff’s rousing ‘O Fortuna’ piece from ‘Carmen Burana’ into his 1981 film ‘Excalibur’, the sound of movie trailer music has never been the same. “Back-end music”, as it’s often called, follows a formula that any moviegoer will instantly recognise: a eclectic mix of orchestral music underscores an often dizzying array of moods steadily building to an overpowering sonic explosion that stirs audiences into a near-euphoric state of anticipatory frenzy.

The Globus Music MySpace page has several samples from the album, my favorite being the track entitled “Preliator.” It beings with an unfortunate O Fortuna rip-off of an introduction (nice but clich├ęd), then segues into a progression of intriguing choral, orchestral, and rock elements. If you like the music from movie trailers, you might like this album.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Piper Quote for the Day

“…The strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours.”

(Future Grace, pg. 174)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Monday Morning with Mike Moeller and Miracle Morgan

(Yes, one of my mottos is “avoid alliteration always and allow alternative articulations.”)

As some of you know, I had the privilege of helping produce a documentary about Morgan Moeller, a Knoxville girl who suffered from DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) with cerebral edema in 2001. Well, this morning I got to join Morgan and her father Mike on the Bob Bell Show (on Joy 62, WRJZ). Mike and Morgan shared some of their family’s story, which Mike has written about in his book Above the Clouds.

One area of the story Michael Cummins and I chose to omit in our film (because of thematic and time constraints) was Morgan’s interaction with the spiritual realm. During her coma, she went “above the clouds” and met her three guardian angels: David, Jacob, and UM. Yes, the third angel’s name was UM.

During one of the breaks, Mike explained to us a recent development of Morgan’s story. Mike got a call from a stewardess who had read his book. She told him, “I know who UM is.” She explained that when young children are traveling alone on an airplane, they can have an escort from the airline watch over them during the flight. These children traveling alone are classified as Unaccompanied Minors, or UM’s.

What makes this revelation even more interesting is that after a particular period of time, Morgan’s angel UM disappeared, while David and Jacob stayed around. Mike believes UM was the angel charged with keeping Morgan safe during her critical time.

Yeah. That’s a pretty cool aspect to the story if you ask me.

On a side note: this week’s music clip is from the documentary. Brendan Anderson, my longtime film scoring collaborator, did an excellent job with the score.

Dude, Where’s My Post(s)?

Sorry for the lack of updates (and the bad grammar above). Sometimes real life happens real fast, and last week was one of those times. I’m going to try posting a lot this week, especially since I’ll be taking an extended Labor Day weekend to go on vacation. Speaking of which, isn’t it funny how we celebrate Labor Day by not working? It should be called Lazy Day.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hollywood Heavies Publicly Condemn Hezbollah

With Tinseltown’s current propensity to excuse and even dismiss terrorist actions, it’s encouraging to read this report. Way to go Nicole Kidman (et al)!

Puritans with Mad Skills

Last night, I watched the season finale to America’s Got Talent. (Evidently, America’s talent doesn’t include grammar). Among the finalists was a juggling team comprised of two guys named John and Owen. I found them amusing, and not just because of their names. Their act was quite funny.