Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sin, Sorrow, and the Savior

God hates idolatry. This should be no surprise, since serving anything but God is to show a hatred for God Himself. When I pursue other things in place of Him—when I, in essence, spit in the face of holiness—it is an insult of the grossest kind.

In Scripture, God doesn’t mince any words about idolatry. For example…

“They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger.” (Deuteronomy 32:16)

“They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; they have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols.” (Deuteronomy 32:21a)

“You shall not bow down to [idols] nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” (Exodus 20:5)

“(for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God).” (Exodus 34:14)

“I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images.” (Isaiah 42:8)

Recently, I was freshly made aware of idolatry in my life. But God’s purpose in showing me the abundant evils of my heart was not condemnation (driving me away from Him) but conviction (drawing me to Him).

My natural response to sin is not to repent, but to beat myself over the head, as if the pride of legalistic self-abasement could somehow provide penance for my sin. On the contrary, it only adds to my sin. In fact, penance is a lost cause. If penance is my only hope, I have no hope.

On this particular occasion, I received grace to respond with brokenness and grief. As God once again showed me how good He is, I saw how evil my sin is. I had forsaken the fountain of living waters and had hewn for myself broken cisterns that hold no water (see Jeremiah 2:13). In that moment (as in every moment of every day), I deserved to receive God’s just condemnation, and yet God lavished on me His grace to seek repentance and reconciliation in his eternally-satisfying arms.

Based on the seriousness of my sin, it is amazing that I am not consumed by the Lord’s displeasure. That I am looked upon in mercy and not wrath is a testament to the efficacy of Christ’s finished work. How good God is, as expressed in Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Depth of Mercy,” printed in its entirety below. (Go ahead, read the whole thing; it’s awesome!)

Depth of mercy! Can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear,
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face,
Would not hearken to His calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

I have spilt His precious blood,
Trampled on the Son of God,
Filled with pangs unspeakable,
I, who yet am not in hell!

I my Master have denied,
I afresh have crucified,
And profaned His hallowed Name,
Put Him to an open shame.

Whence to me this waste of love?
Ask my Advocate above!
See the cause in Jesus’ face,
Now before the throne of grace.

Jesus, answer from above,
Is not all Thy nature love?
Wilt Thou not the wrong forget,
Permit me to kiss Thy feet?

If I rightly read Thy heart,
If Thou all compassion art,
Bow Thine ear, in mercy bow,
Pardon and accept me now.

Jesus speaks, and pleads His blood!
He disarms the wrath of God;
Now my Father’s mercies move,
Justice lingers into love.

Kindled His relentings are,
Me He now delights to spare,
Cries, “How shall I give thee up?”
Lets the lifted thunder drop.

Lo! I still walk on the ground:
Lo! an Advocate is found:
“Hasten not to cut Him down,
Let this barren soul alone.”

There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

Pity from Thine eye let fall,
By a look my soul recall;
Now the stone to flesh convert,
Cast a look, and break my heart.

Now incline me to repent,
Let me now my sins lament,
Now my foul revolt deplore,
Weep, believe, and sin no more.

Monday, June 26, 2006


I just hurt my ankle playing Nerf basketball.

Before my injury, I was on fire. Actually, so was Angela. In fact, she’s still on fire. Shaun, on the other hand, can’t sink a shot to save his life.

Anyway, I’m going to see about workman’s comp…

Monday, June 19, 2006


The statement I am about to make isn’t grounded on objective observation (I can’t see into the future), but I’m going to throw caution into the winds of personal feeling and say it anyway: The Lake House is the best movie of 2006. I know, we’re not even halfway through the year yet. I have no right making such a claim. But make it I will. Romances like this simply don’t come along every day…or year…or decade.

I’m not a big fan of chick flicks, for two main reasons: (1) typically, they center around immorality, and (2) they are extremely unrealistic. As such, most modern romances could be appropriately filed under the category of “fantasy.” For me, fantasy and romance aren’t usually the best combination. (I have a hard enough time as it is viewing romance from a Biblical perspective without subjecting myself to Dr. Worldly Love’s advice.) The Lake House, interestingly enough, is a fantasy—and yet it reaches heights of relational realism that other films only dream about.

Though it isn’t perfect, the budding romance between Alex (Keanu Reeves) and Kate (Sandra Bullock) is refreshingly and amazingly Biblical. Mature masculinity and femininity are on glorious display here. Alex is the initiator and Kate responds to Alex’s advances. That’s not to say Kate just sits around and does nothing (she initiates in certain areas as well), but Alex is clearly the leader in the relationship. And his leadership is marked by a servant’s heart. (The planting-the-tree scene shown in the trailers is one example.) Biblical views on romance are not only discussed—they are praised. Themes of self-control and waiting on romance (i.e., not rushing it) are poignantly woven into the story—especially during the third act (with a statement and plea from one of Kate’s last letters that almost had me in tears).

One aspect that gives the film a healthy dose of reality is the genuine and solid performances of its two lead characters. (Yes, even Keanu Reeves is believable.) When either of them feel an emotion, we feel it right along with them. Supporting roles are expertly performed, but the film rests squarely on the capable shoulders of Reeves and Bullock.

My biggest problem with the movie is a particular plot point (which I can’t explain without ruining the story) that takes place in the film’s first few minutes. It blatantly reveals the climactic twist near the end. They might as well have put up a glowing neon sign saying, “This is where the movie is going.” I wish the filmmakers had found a more suitable—and subtle—plot point. (The problem might be with the original 2000 South Korean film Il Mare, on which The Lake House is based.) After seeing how the film is resolved, though, that problem becomes a minor distraction.

Film critic James Berardinelli thinks the ending has a tacky, tacked-on feel. I disagree. The resolution, while not airtight, is fitting and satisfying. Unlike the ill-conceived plot point mentioned above, the running themes (many of which revolve around the characters discussing Jane Austen’s book Persuasion) foreshadow the ending quite well. In fact, if the film ended differently, much of the dialogue and thematic thrust would have become meaningless.

Speaking of Jane Austen, I have never had a desire to read any of her works. But the use of the storyline from Persuasion was so effective that I decided to check the book out and see if it's something I'd like to read.

The Lake House is the newest addition to my list of favorite movies. If all romantic dramas were this good, I’d watch every single one of them. This is the must-see movie of the year. Forget big budget blockbusters. Go see The Lake House.

Artistic Merit: 9/10
Personal Marks: 11/10 (no, that’s not a typo—it’s numeric hyperbole)

On a side note: One of the trailers before the movie was for Lady in the Water. Having already seen it, I knew there was a jump scene coming up. The person sitting to my right was Michael Cummins, my long-time filmmaking collaborator. As the jump scene drew closer, I moved my hand down near his knee…and when a sudden and vicious movement onscreen scared everyone in the audience, I viciously grabbed Michael’s leg. Trying to describe his response wouldn’t do it justice. Suffice it to say, I scared the living daylights out of him. As a result, everyone else laughed hysterically—and Michael proceeded to punch me repeatedly…which didn’t stop me from laughing at all. Ah, good times.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Euphonious Everwood

As is true with all television shows, Everwood couldn’t last forever. After four seasons, it has ended. Not only did the show involve splendid writing (in particular, the banter between Doctors Abbot and Brown was priceless) and superb acting (especially by Emily VanCamp), it included a wonderful musical score by Blake Neely. You can listen to the Season 1 main theme here. Great music. (In fact, we used the score from episode 306, “Shoot The Moon,” as a temp track for the documentary A Weakness Worth Boasting.)

At the end of the season—and show—finale, we got to see Ephram and Amy together…again…forever…finally. It took them long enough—like, foreverwood. (You might think that’s just a bad pun, but it is actually the title of the final episode. So, it’s a bad pun with thematic significance.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

CARS (2006)

Cars is the longest Pixar film to date (beating The Incredibles by a scant sixty seconds), with a sometimes-sluggish and less-than-original storyline, a small amount of surprisingly racy humor (pun intended), a mediocre musical score, and less funny/witty moments than are found in typical Pixar fare…and it is still better than anything else recently released by Hollywood.

Through a series of unfortunate events, a self-centered racecar, Lightning McQueen, is stranded in a tiny mid-western town on his way to California to compete in a race for the Piston Cup. Through his interaction with the local inhabitants, Lightning learns important lessons about life’s priorities. True to Pixar originality, the climactic sequence ends in a decidedly anti-Hollywood way, giving the film’s somewhat clichéd message a large does of moral potency.

There aren’t enough effective adjectives to describe Pixar filmmaking. Compare the “cow tipping” jokes in Cars to those in the Open Season trailer. One makes you laugh your head off, the other makes you barf your intestines out. Cars may fall behind the pure brilliance of previous efforts like Toy Story and Monster’s Incorporated, but even bad Pixar is still good filmmaking.

Artistic Merit: 9
Personal Marks: 8

Friday, June 09, 2006

Movies with the Muppets

Do you ever get tired of movie critics taking themselves so seriously? Well, I don’t—but that’s beside the point. Check out “From the Balcony,” a hilarious Muppet version of Ebert and Roeper. Here, film critics Statler and Waldorf review spoofs and parodies of the latest movies. There’s nothing quite like Muppet humor, and these shows are consistently funny. In a recent episode, “Mutants Professor X Rejected,” they deal with the third X-Men, including scenes from “mutant auditions”—where we get to see mutants like “The Blimp” who didn’t make the cut. Priceless!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Check This Out—It Really Works!

The prophetic power of chocolate

It takes less than a minute. Work this out as you read ...

Be sure you don’t read the bottom until you’ve worked it out!
This is not one of those “waste of time” things, it’s fun.

1. First of all, pick the number of times a week that you would like to have chocolate (more than once but less than 10)

2. Multiply this number by 2 (just to be bold)

3. Add 5

4. Multiply it by 50

5. If you have already had your birthday this year add 1756 .... If you haven’t, add 1755.

6. Now subtract the four-digit year that you were born.

You should have a three-digit number

The first digit of this was your original number (i.e., how many times you want to have chocolate each week).

The next two numbers are

YOUR AGE! (Oh YES, it is!)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Morning Meditation

Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
Lamentations 3:22-24

I’ve been meditating on Lamentations 3:23 today. In the context of the passage, we see that God’s mercies are new every morning—but not because there’s an automatic “reset” button at the beginning of each day, by which all our previous sins are somehow overlooked. We don’t deserve to start the day with a clean slate simply because it’s a new day. No, “we are not consumed” only because “Great is [the LORD’s] faithfulness.” And what is the cornerstone of God’s faithfulness to sinners who deserve to be consumed by His displeasure? That cornerstone is the cross, where Christ was consumed in our place. Therefore, we are free to say, “The LORD is my portion…Therefore I hope in Him!”

Mel Gibson Needs Grammar Lessons

Friday, June 02, 2006

Random and Peripheral Thoughts on New Attitude

See me near the front right? (I can’t either.)

The ride up to Louisville involved two fifteen-passenger vans and one car. Each vehicle had a name that corresponded with something in The Wizard of Oz. The car was Toto. The van I rode in was Dorothy. We dubbed the other van The Wicked Witch, but for some reason they didn’t like that name. Instead, they decided to be called White Tornado. (I liked our choice better.)

As we unpacked in our Galt House hotel room (which was a rather large and sweet suite), Zach Willis and I talked about sleep—I wanted to get some sleep during the weekend and he didn’t. In fact, he called me a pansy for desiring some good rest while in Louisville. Well, strangely enough, every night I returned to the hotel room, the lights were off and everyone was fast asleep. Pansy my foot.

This looks like a superhero pose.

Michael Claytor and I went to dinner at Hard Rock Café Sunday night. They had a live band playing really loud music. I mean really loud. We couldn’t even talk during most of the meal. But I guess I don’t have any right to complain. After all, the name of the restaurant is Hard Rock Café.

At the Spaghetti Factory, I was reminded that I hate Fettuccini Alfredo. The Alfredo sauce is way too…white…and pasty…and nasty. Yuck. And I was reminded that I hate red wine. It’s way too…red…and dry…and bitter. Yuck. I also decided that I don’t really like eating at the Spaghetti Factory. The food there is too…sub-par…and the portions are too small…and the overall experience is an insult to Italian food. Yuck.

The official conference Courtesy Ninjas. (Don't ask.)

In case you stumble across a weird picture of me in our hotel room (which someone has threatened to post somewhere on the Internet in the near future), there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. I was simply expressing through body language a description Jeremy Bryant gave. In any case, my little pantomime caused Jeremy to erupt with spasmodic laughter for several minutes—which, in turn, made me laugh until I wanted to throw up.

Speaking of upchucking, it was quite funny when, in the last main session, Josh (Harris) mentioned all the truth we had ingested during the weekend—and how, if we heard one more message, we would throw up New Attitude all over the place.

“Save the Wheel.” Round screens. Get it?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Na ’06

This Memorial Day weekend, several singles from our church attended the national Na (New Attitude) conference in Louisville, KY. The tongue-in-cheek slogan for this year: “Save the Wheel.” The theme for this year: “Humble Orthodoxy”—i.e., committing to live humbly according to unchanging truth. My experience can be summed up with two phrases: “completely amazing” and “completely horrible.” Let me explain.

The messages were amazing, although a lot of material was crammed into a few days. It was indeed like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. By the end of the conference, we were soaked to the bone with sound doctrine (a good “problem” to have). Two messages in particular stood out to me. First, Dr. Mike Bullmore explained the functional centrality of the gospel. He was extremely clear and gave several specific examples on exactly how to apply the foundational truth of the gospel to every area of life. Second, Eric Simmons taught on the importance of evangelism. I would go so far as to say all Christians everywhere should hear these two messages. Yes, they were that good. I’ll be applying those truths to my life for the rest of my life.

Twice a day, we divided up into community groups of several hundred each, then into family groups of around ten people each, where we discussed the messages and how we were going to apply them. It was exciting to see the Holy Spirit at work as people openly and honestly shared about what God was doing in their lives.

I also got to hang out with lots of friends from church. Sure, there were thousands of people there (and I did spend time with individuals I haven’t seen in a while), but it’s with my fellow Knoxvillians where the most effective fellowship and application take place. Most of us from Cornerstone sat together during each main session. We love our local church and we love experiencing events like New Attitude together.

At the same time, the weekend was horrible. Usually when you go to a conference like this, indwelling sin seems to be much less apparent and you ride on a sort of “spiritual high.” Well, the exact opposite happened to me. Almost from the outset God made me much more aware of my sin. I had to fight for joy for most of the conference. Sometimes, the struggle increased to almost-overwhelming levels. The times of worshipping God through song were invaluable; they helped me focus on eternal truths of Scripture, which helped to affect my haywire emotions.

Then I came home. Sometimes people “crash” from the spiritual high of a conference. Well, I crashed as well…but since I wasn’t on the spiritual high to begin with, I sank pretty low—not to the point of depression, but my prideful, ungrateful response to God’s workings in my life didn’t exactly mirror a humble orthodoxy. By His grace, I’m recovering much more rapidly than I deserve. Even so, if you think of it, please pray for me.

To end on a positive note: John Piper will be speaking at next year’s New Attitude. Heck, yeah!