Friday, April 28, 2006

Hollywood and 9/11

This weekend marks the release of the first major motion picture about September 11, 2001. I remember talking with my film score friends from different parts of the world during that terrible day. One person mentioned that Jerry Bruckheimer was probably already planning a summer blockbuster to cash in on the attacks. Even the thought was sickening.

Thankfully, United 93 is something out of a completely different ballpark. I’ve read a lot of reviews of the movie (many can be found here, and another one here), and the general consensus is that this is an excellent film, a proper tribute to those who were the first and last line of defense America had on September 11th.

Because we are a mere five years past the tragedy, a lot of people are asking if this movie is “too soon.” Several individuals are saying (rightly so, in my opinion), “It’s not soon enough.” I happened to be in the car coming back from lunch today when NPR did an excellent review of the movie. You can listen to it here.

If I didn’t have to prepare for a wedding this weekend, I’d be heading to the theaters to see it this evening. I might be able to make a mid-afternoon showing on Sunday. At the very latest, I’ll see it Monday night. Needless to say, I’ll post a lengthy review sometime next week.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Practical Source of Repentance

Thank God for grace. Otherwise, my hard, stubborn heart would have no hope. As I have recently stated, God has been making me more aware of certain areas of idolatry in my life. Lately, though, my response has been one of callous indifference. In an effort to fight this spiritual apathy, I’ve been meditating on the doctrine of repentance. And since it is sorely lacking in my life at the moment, I need more grace to help me better understand repentance so that I might be better equipped to pursue it.

How does repentance come about? It certainly isn’t something I can just conjure up. Scripture informs me that repentance is a gift God grants us (Ephesians 2:8, 2 Timothy 2:25). This stands true for initial repentance (salvation) and the lifestyle of repentance to which a believer is called. So how does the gift of God’s grace affect repentance in a person’s heart?

Well, a precursor to genuine repentance is sorrow. We cannot truly repent for sin if we are not sorrowful because of our sin. Paul calls a sorrow that leads to repentance “godly sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Not all experiences of sorrow are godly. “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked” (Psalm 32:10). “He who sows iniquity will reap sorrow” (Proverbs 22:8). “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). Contrasted with “godly sorrow,” this “worldly sorrow” produces death, not repentance leading to salvation.

It may not always be a sin to experience sorrow, but whether good or bad, sorrow is (ultimately) the result of sin. I make such a conclusion based on verses like Revelation 21:4—“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” With sin removed in heaven, there will be no more residual affects of sin, including sorrow.

After studying about the requirement for godly sorrow to lead to genuine repentance, I dug even deeper. A quote from Jonathan Edwards (in a John Piper article entitled Sweet Sorrow) helped me see that mere godly sorrow isn’t the root of repentance. The solution to sin goes deeper still. Edwards writes,

There is repentance of sin: though it be a deep sorrow for sin that God requires as necessary to salvation, yet the very nature of it necessarily implies delight. Repentance of sin is a sorrow arising from the sight of God’s excellency and mercy, but the apprehension of excellency or mercy must necessarily and unavoidably beget pleasure in the mind of the beholder. ‘Tis impossible that anyone should see anything that appears to him excellent and not behold it with pleasure, and it’s impossible to be affected with the mercy and love of God, and his willingness to be merciful to us and love us, and not be affected with pleasure at the thoughts of [it]; but this is the very affection that begets true repentance. How much soever of a paradox it may seem, it is true that repentance is a sweet sorrow, so that the more of this sorrow, the more pleasure.

Repentance—and therefore, godly sorrow—necessitates delight in God. If there is no delight in God, there will be no grief over sin, which is a turning from God and delighting in other things. So, in order for me to respond to my sin with godly sorrow, I must see how good and glorious is the God whom I am forsaking.

This is one reason why threats of punishment and/or negative consequences aren’t enough to battle sin. They may provide temporal benefit, but on their own they cannot lastingly affect one’s life. I must grow in my love for God if I am to grow in my hatred of sin.

Now I was getting to the root of the issue. This delight in God’s goodness is the root of repentance Paul talks about in Romans 2:4. “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” If I am thinking lightly of God’s goodness, I will think lightly of my rebellion against His goodness and my idolatries will not affect me with sorrow.

My battle against sin, then, is a battle to find delight in God. Beauty brings delight, and the most beautiful thing in the universe is holiness, and only God is truly holy. My appreciation for and awe/fear of the holiness of God has been obscured.

At the end of the above mentioned article, John Piper asks some excellent application questions:

1. Have we truly repented? Are we now truly repentant? Have we seen and savored and desired the glory of God in Christ so much that we grieve over not cherishing it as we ought? Does our delight in God waken our sorrow for how easily we desire other things more?

2. Is the sorrow of our repentance a “godly sorrow” that does not produce the death of discouragement and paralysis (2 Corinthians 7:10), but produces a life of hope that God will be merciful to us because Christ died for us, and will forgive us and help us make progress in putting to death the old self with its evil desires (Colossians 3:5)?

In Conclusion (yes, I know this is a long post)

It’s one thing to view a maze from the sky and discover how to get from the beginning to the end. It’s quite another to be on the ground and discover the way out by actually traveling through the maze. In the same way, it’s good to know in a general and broad sense that the glory of God is our ultimate aim. However, I think it helps us grow in godliness when we see and experience exactly how a particular issue (idolatry, repentance, etc.) relates in all its intricacies to the glory of God.

Repentance is a vital discipline, and by God’s grace—and I mean only and totally by God’s grace—the hardness of my heart is being softened into repentance. As I have studied, the concept of repentance has brought me back to the one thing that really matters: delighting in the glory of God.

May I continue to grow in the grace of Christ Jesus so that my life more consistently resembles God-exalting, sin-despising, properly sorrowful (and yet properly sweet) repentance.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


On Wednesday, Danny took Mom, Chloe, and me to see Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. I had liked the first Ice Age, so I was looking forward to what this movie had to offer.

I’m pleased to announce that we all found it quite enjoyable. True, the animation (while vastly superior to the original) falls far below Pixar’s achievements. True, there was only a bare bones plot holding the story together. True, there were a few instances of profanity (a few uses of “ass” in reference to a donkey and one out-of-nowhere “damn”—all for comical effect) and disrespectful behavior. Even so, the film thrives on slapstick humor and funny one-liners. I love slapstick humor. Nothing gets me laughing harder than seeing someone take a spill. Needless to say, we were all laughing throughout the duration of the movie.

One snippet of funny dialogue from the movie:

Sid: Manny, who do you like better, me or Diego?
Manfred: Diego. No contest.
Ellie: Manny, you can’t pick favorites with your kids!
Manfred: He’s not my kid. He’s not even my dog. If my dog had a kid, and that kid had a pet, that would be Sid.

Chloe especially liked the scenes with Scrat, the nut-obsessed squirrel from the original. (Watching her laugh hysterically was half the fun.) The filmmakers created some truly inspired moments with Scrat—even, I might dare to say, as inspired as the physical comedy of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. If you liked what happened to Scrat the first time around, you’ll love to see him in action here.

Artistically, the film left a lot to be desired. Morally, it could have been a little cleaner for family viewing. Overall, I still think The Meltdown was far from a letdown.

Artistic Merit: 6
Personal Marks: 8

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My Savior My God

I came across another musical gem yesterday. Check out the awesome cross-centered lyrics to the hymn “I Am Not Skilled to Understand,” written by Dorothy Greenwell in 1873. Then, check out the revamped version (entitled My Savior My God) by new artist Aaron Shust. Powerful.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Reading for Pleasure (updated)

Joanna’s response to my post on House got me all fired up about good fiction writing. So, I have decided to compile a list of my favorite fiction books. Just to be clear: I am not saying these are all stellar examples of literature. Nevertheless, the following are the ten novels I have most enjoyed reading.

Note: After reviewing my reading history last weekend, I realized that my original list needed some serious editing. Now the order and number of books are a more accurate representation of my favorite novels.

(Dis)honorable Mention: The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
Several of my friends loved this book and I decided to read it because I wanted to be culturally informed. Yes, the worldview/theology behind the story is atrocious. The plot also happens to be one of the most interesting I have ever read. It just goes to show the power of storytelling—for good or evil. I have more problems with how the book has been praised (i.e., being called impeccably researched, when it presumptuously distorts church history) than with the book itself. The “explosive” element of the plot—the heresy that Christ was just a normal human (who, in this case, married and had children)—is nothing new; it has existed for thousands of years. Through his writing, Dan Brown has simply expressed the anti-God mindset that characterizes all of us apart from Christ’s regenerating work. The story basically falls apart near the end with an ill-conceived, late-in-the-game plot twist; up until that point, I was hooked.

10. And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)
Originally published with the title Ten Little Indians, this is one of Christie’s most famous stories. The official Agatha Christie website describes the book as “one of the most carefully planned of Christie’s mysteries” and explains how even Christie herself considered the plot “near-impossible.” Indeed, murder mysteries don’t get much more intriguing than this. Numerous stories have copied plot elements from this book.

9. Murder on the Titanic (Jim Walker)
Everything the blockbuster motion picture Titanic (with the actor whose name was NOT the inspiration for my hotmail address) should have been. Walker gives us a much more interesting love story and a complex and suspenseful plot. He also creates one of my favorite literary characters of all time: actor Hunter Kennedy.

8. The Last of the Mohicans (James Fenimore Cooper)
America’s first popular novelist conceives an adventure tale with fascinating characters and a story that embodies the term epic. People don’t write like this anymore. (As a side note: the movie Last of the Mohicans is a good movie in its own right, and I know a lot of people who like it, but I absolutely despise it. Why? Because it mercilessly butchers the book. Hawkeye, an icon of heroism with a strong Christian worldview is reduced to a generic, sober-faced Hollywood hero. And the plot of the film takes great liberties with the source material. The filmmakers should be tied up, flogged, pushed over a cliff into a lake, extradited to another country, and tickled to death by lions and tigers and bears. And then they should die—as many times as possible. Okay, not really…but I hope you get the point.)

7. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
The characters in this tale aren’t so much constructs of an author’s imagination as they are living, breathing personalities. To describe this novel as being filled with rich characters would be a shameful understatement. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a novel as beautifully written as this, with an incredible ending.

6. The Lost World (Michael Crichton)
This Jurassic Park sequel may not be as original as the, uh, original, but Crichton’s ability to maintain such a high level of intensity for hundreds of pages without losing momentum is astounding.

5. Deadline (Randy Alcorn)
This is a murder mystery that defies the genre by dealing with a number of social issues, all tied together by the overriding theme of eternity. The plot is interesting in and of itself, with a climactic twist I didn’t see coming. Alcorn created another one of my favorite characters from literature: detective Ollie Chandler.

4. The Cooper Kids Adventure Series (Frank Peretti)
How exactly did Peretti do it? He blended archaeology, adventure, and children’s literature and created his own little genre. Tightly written and thoroughly engaging. Of special mention is the book The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey—an adventure story with enough intrigue and excitement to kill 900 cats. If this book is ever translated to film, look out Indiana Jones (because you will be dethroned)!

3. Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
I love dinosaurs. Always have, always will. Crichton may be a staunch evolutionist, but I absolutely love this story. It is intelligent and fast-paced. When an author makes you believe what he’s writing could actually happen (especially something as outlandish as bringing dinosaurs back), he’s doing something right. This book got me hooked on Michael Crichton.

2. Nightmare Academy (Frank Peretti)
I usually despise a work of art that wears its message on its sleeve. This book is an exception—in part because the “message” is so vital to the plot that the story wouldn’t exist without it. So maybe it’s not so much a “message novel” as it is a candid look into what would literally happen if a secretive offshoot of the government literally attempted to eliminate the concept of truth. It’s a fascinating illustration of what a human being is reduced to when forced to exist apart from any absolutes. This is one of those rare occasions where the message not only doesn’t destroy the story—it makes the story.

1. Timeline (Michael Crichton)
Michael Crichton is the man. He takes the “time traveling” cliché and turns it on its head. It’s a cliché to say “I couldn’t put the book down,” but I couldn’t put the book down. Most people didn’t think much of the film when it came out. I, on the other hand, loved it. Why? Because my love for the book is so strong, it naturally spilled over into the movie like an overflowing stream of joy. Does that sound sappy? I really don’t care.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

House: good foundation, flawed floor plan

I haven’t had the chance to sit down and read a good novel for quite some time. Well, one book hot off the presses is House, a collaborative effort by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker, Christian fiction’s two most popular authors (Peretti much more deservedly so). Affected by all the hype, I purchased the book and read it last Saturday. Here’s a description of the plot:

In rural Alabama, two couples find themselves in a fight for survival. Running from a maniac bent on killing them, they flee deep into the woods and seek refuge in a house. They soon realize the killer has purposely lured them to this house and that they are now trapped. As they huddle around an old fireplace, a tin can falls through the chimney. Scrawled on its side is a message from the killer, establishing his House Rules. He claims he has killed God and will also murder them as well, unless they kill at least one of themselves. They have less than 12 hours to find a way to survive. At sunrise the game is over and everyone dies if the killer’s demands aren’t met. What they quickly learn is that the only way out…is in. But going further into this house—where unknown challenges await them—is equally deadly. The characters come to realize that the house, while real, mirrors their own heart and soul…and unless each can defeat the evil within, the evil in the house will surely claim them.

Technically, this is the first book I’ve read that squarely goes in the horror genre. It’s an appropriate approach considering the subject matter (or so I think), even though there are a few sadistic parts that made me squirm and even a little sick. Peretti’s trademarks are all over the story. In fact, if Dekker’s name hadn’t been on the cover, I wouldn’t have thought he was involved at all.

The narrative is designed to show how sin lies within each human heart. I believe it is a point well worth making. Salvation isn’t amazing if we don’t truly understand how bad the bad news really is. For years, I didn’t understand the depth of my own depravity and thus wasn’t all that amazed by grace. So I’m thankful for the message of House. It’s not very often you see human depravity displayed from a Biblical standpoint, even by most Christians. Peretti and Dekker drive home the truth that evil is not just about sins, it’s about the heart. It’s not just what you do, it’s who you are that is the problem. This point is made almost flawlessly. I say “almost” because there are a couple short sentences that slip into humanistic, “free will” thinking—i.e., you have to change who you are. The biblical standpoint is that we cannot change who we are, and that it’s not the choice of a supposed “free will” that saves us but the free grace of God. However, the overriding theme of depravity has a strong doctrinal foundation. And considering Dekker’s semi-Pelagian theology (as revealed in his other books) this is quite an accomplishment.

That being said, the story as a whole is a disappointment. It starts out fabulously. I was hooked from the first page. Unfortunately, the book degrades in quality as the story progresses. Halfway through, I was tempted to put the book down without finishing it—something I’m almost never tempted to do. At that point, there isn’t really a plot as much as there is just running around the house for two hundred pages. And I’m pretty liberal when it comes to allowing a lot of suspension of disbelief in a story, but plot elements in this book went from weird to bizarre to just plain stupid, to the point that I didn’t believe what I was reading. True, everything is explained in the end, but not before the story loses too much credibility. It also didn’t help matters that a couple of the plot elements directly copied those of Peretti’s book Nightmare Academy.

House is already being made into a movie, which will be released sometime next year. Of all Peretti’s novels, I’m not sure why they’re wasting film stock on this one. I’d rather see The Oath made into a movie (even though House does a better job of illustrating the doctrine of original sin).

“The only way to win is to lose. The only way out is in.” I’ll admit, that’s a great tag for the storyline, with deep theological implications. Too bad the story doesn’t match the strength of its theology.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Media’s New Clothes

On March 30, the Media Research Center hosted the DisHonors Awards for the purposes of “Roasting the Most Outrageously Biased Liberal Reporters of 2005.” For example, Rosie O’Donnell won the “I’m Not a Political Genius But I Play One on TV” award for a ludicrous diatribe against President Bush. During one segment of the awards ceremony, they showed several funny clips of different news personalities failing in their attempts to provide a liberal slant to particular stories. They can be found here. If you don’t want to watch all ten minutes, the really good stuff starts at 4:15. Enjoy!

[Disclaimer: I do not endorse the belief that dedication to Christ equals dedication to Republicans and/or conservatives. To say all liberals are out to destroy America is preposterous. However, a liberal media bias does exist, in spite of denials from the media. Seeing them getting caught in the act on live television is fun.]

Monday, April 03, 2006

Food: the Dangerous Duty of Delight

Those who know me well know I love food. If I had been cast in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I probably would have gotten the part of Pippin. Why? Consider the following snippet of dialogue from The Fellowship of the Ring:

Strider: “Gentlemen, we do not stop until nightfall.”

Pippin: “What about breakfast?”

Strider: “You’ve already had it.”

Pippin: “We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?”

[Strider continues to walk.]

Merry: “Don’t think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.”

Pippin: “What about elevensies? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?”

It should come as no surprise that I’m referred to as The Hobbit at Love 89. Yes, I love food for the glory of God.

Well, yesterday evening my brother brought home some food from Ali Baba’s. I’ve eaten Ali Baba’s before and it has been wonderful. Last night, it was not.

The food smelled like puke. Literally. Nevertheless, because Danny offered me some of the rice and chicken, I tried them. (Turn down free food samples? I don’t think so. Besides, I thought, it can’t taste as bad as it smells.)

Guess what? The food tasted like puke. Literally. You know how certain edibles taste weird after you’ve brushed your teeth—like there are rival flavors battling it out on your taste buds and your mouth isn’t sure what the heck is going on? Well, that’s what I first thought of when I put the food in my mouth…only I hadn’t just brushed my teeth. As the sickening taste affected my mouth, a sickening thought entered my mind: this food really is as awful as my nose and mouth are telling me.

Guess what I felt like doing with my mouth full of culinary crud? Yep, I wanted to puke. Literally. I almost threw up right in front of my brother, who had graciously shared his bounty with me. Not the best way to show gratefulness, I know.

I’ve decided that not all food is a gift from God. Most of it is, but some of it is the direct produce of Satan himself, and last night I was subjected to food from the Devil’s own nasty garden. It ruined my appetite for the rest of the evening. Literally.