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):

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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.

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