Tuesday, December 25, 2012

All Is Well

When circumstances threaten my expectations of hope and well-being, it is easy to balk at the encouragement that “everything will turn out all right.” Or, to put it in the vernacular of hymnody, when “all around my soul gives way,” I can be quick to dismiss the notion that “it is well with my soul.”

Last week is a case in point. A particular trial caused me to look to the future with anxiety and dread. Unsure of the outcome of my struggles, I found myself on a disorienting emotional rollercoaster. The peace and joy of my Christmas vacation time seemed to teeter on the precipice of destruction. But God showed me once again how able and willing He is to work on behalf of His children. He gave me grace to face the trial and then He graciously and speedily resolved the trial, leaving me basking in His merciful love.

If it were possible for me to re-enter that trial with the knowledge of its resolution, I would probably have responded much better. But I don’t have that kind of foresight. Only God does.

It is with such foresight that God sent messengers down to earth to declare, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14). The relationship between God and sinful humankind had been marred ever since the fall of Adam. But while sinful humankind had positioned itself against its maker, God was born as a baby (Luke 2:7) so that He could die as a man (Luke 23:46) so that He could reconcile sinners to Himself (Rom. 5:10). Thus, the angels could speak “good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10) even before the reconciliation was fully accomplished.

And so it is with us today. The genuinely converted can hold onto the promise that all things will work out for our good. The most horrible wrongs will be righted. The grand storyteller of our lives has a good end in store for us. So while we struggle with estrangement, infertility, disease, violence, injustice, and even death, we can know that everything will indeed turn out all right. And so, in a very real sense, all is well.

Postscript: special thanks to Frank Peretti and Michael W. Smith for the inspiration for this blog post.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) – Film Review

When director Frank Darabont decided to film The Green Mile, a prison story based on a serial novel by Stephen King, he willingly invited the world to hold him to a high standard. Having already garnered acclaim for The Shawshank Redemption, itself based on a prison-themed novella by Stephen King, could Darabont live up to the high standard he had raised for himself?

Similarly, when George Lucas decided to create Star Wars prequels, expectations couldn’t have been higher. After all, the original trilogy was wildly successful and revered by fans worldwide. Would this new set of films live up to the quality of the original movies?

In a hybrid of the above two scenarios, Peter Jackson faced a daunting task: return to Tolkien-penned source material in an effort to create a prequel trilogy to his enormously lauded Lord of the Rings films.

Whereas Darabont largely succeeded at his task, and Lucas largely failed at his, Jackson has done the impossible. The Hobbit may have the lowest Tomatometer rating of any of Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations to date, but I submit that this movie both stands alone as an excellent piece of filmmaking and fits exceptionally well with the original trilogy. Peter Jackson has shown his quality—the very highest.

CONTENT (C): 9 out of 10
If anything is to be considered potentially objectionable, it would be the violence. If you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings, there’s probably nothing here that will surprise you. Compared to the book—which, while being a children’s tale, still has its fair share of violence—the movie may have increased the violence/grossness quotient. There was one brief instance of gore that I thought unnecessary, but it passed by quickly. It definitely stood out as a Peter Jackson fingerprint. (He loves his gore.)

ARTISTRY (A): 9.5 out of 10
The Hobbit was filmed at a high frame rate (HFR)—48 frames per second, to be exact, which is twice the amount of frames found in a traditional film. Evidently, the resulting effect is image clarity never before seen in film, a factor that has been both praised as an asset and criticized as a liability.

According to Fandango, and depending on where you live, the film can be seen in 2D, 3D, IMAX, IMAX 3D, HFR 3D, or HFR IMAX 3D. Having seen the film in traditional 2D, I cannot comment on the quality of the HFR look. All I can say is that the only visual glitch I noticed was a panning shot early in the film that remained slightly blurry throughout its duration.

The screenwriters are to be commended for how they adapted The Hobbit for the big screen. Much of the delicious dialogue is lifted directly from the source material. And while I cannot completely agree with every stylistic choice, I can appreciate the desire to effectively translate the book’s narrative into an appropriately cinematic form.

One such change involves Bilbo’s character arc. He develops faster in the film than in the book, but I think the audience needed to see some development before the first movie ended. This change also allowed for a touching and cathartic climax.

Practically everything about the film is top-notch. The cinematography, acting, and set design (to name a few) are exquisite. The musical score, including a wonderful new theme for the dwarves, is a particular highlight of the movie.

PREFERENCE (P): 10 out of 10
I fought hard to keep my expectations low, especially in light of the sizeable portion of negative reviews. To my delight, I was pleasantly surprised. Many critics think the film has a glacial pace, but I never once found the story to lag. The prologue didn’t captivate me as much as the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring did, but that’s a minor quibble.

I felt completely immersed in Jackson’s/Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. The familiarity of a handful of characters, musical themes, and locales did wonders in making this film a complementary companion piece to the original trilogy. Jackson found the perfect balance between adjusting some of the tone and content of The Hobbit, which is a children’s book, to fit with the tone and content of The Lord of the Rings. He even found a way to incorporate two of the songs from the book into the film without being cheesy. Both songs—one funny and the other serious—work splendidly.

I also loved the additional material, gleaned mostly from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. Radagast the Brown is probably my least favorite insertion, but his actions are still nowhere near the insipid depths of tomfoolery that Jar Jar Binks sunk to in the Star Wars prequels. The narrative additions only further the thematic bond that exists between this movie and The Lord of the Rings.

The only element I thought to be completely inappropriate was the brief inclusion of one musical theme from The Lord of the Rings during The Hobbit’s climax. Composer Howard Shore must have had some reason for this choice, but I found it to be jarring and unnecessary.

Of all of Tolkien’s books dealing with the One Ring, I admit that I prefer The Hobbit over The Lord of the Rings. And if Peter Jackson keeps it up with the next two Hobbit films, I will end up liking this new trilogy just as much as—if not more than—the original series.

CAP score: 95%

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reading the Instructions

Our company recently acquired some updated audio & video equipment. Along with these new toys came a small book of instructions. The first page began with a list of important bullet points. I found the first three to be humorous:

  • Read this instruction manual.
  • Keep this instruction manual.
  • Heed all the warnings and follow all instructions in this instruction manual.

The reason such an emphasis on the instruction manual exists is because people are prone to ignore instruction manuals. I know I am. When I receive a new piece of merchandise, the last thing I want to do is sit down and work through dozens of pages of directions. I’d prefer to figure how the item works on my own. Only if I get truly stuck do I see what the instructions have to say. Isn’t that why we have the phrase, “When all else fails, read the instructions”?

This attitude can affect our view of the Bible as well. We don’t read it as often as we should. We don’t keep the Bible close at hand—primarily by having it in our hearts (Ps. 119:11; Col. 3:16). When we do read the Bible, we often fail to heed it, like a person who sees his disheveled appearance in a mirror and then fails to clean himself up (Jas. 1:22-25).

The writers of instruction manuals know their product better than anyone else. And as our creator, God knows how the human frame works, as well as how it doesn’t work. God knows that we need Him more than anything else, and He is what the Scriptures continually point us to.

Of course, our ultimate instruction is to trust in Christ’s finished work, seeing as how we could never satisfy God’s justice with our own futile efforts. So, unlike all other instruction manuals, which depend entirely upon our adhering to them, the Bible tells us of a Savior who took the penalty we deserved for not adhering to God’s perfect standards.

Our instruction manual points us to the very Person who saves us from failing to follow those instructions. Therefore, we can remember that when we inevitably fail, we have an Advocate who stands in our place, offering His perfect obedience and substitutionary death in place of our failed obedience. Who wouldn’t want to read an instruction manual about that?

photo credit: @superamit via photopin cc

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

A Scandalous Righteousness

I recently read through Genesis 15, where God reassures Abram, who is currently childless, that he will have numerous descendants (which God had initially promised in Genesis 12:1-3). Abram’s response leads to something amazing: “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

Commenting on this verse, Martin Luther says, “Righteousness is nothing else than believing God when He makes a promise.” The anti-intuitive nature of this statement struck me forcefully. You see, I am unconsciously inclined to think that my striving hard to do well is the kind of righteousness that pleases God. When I obey a particular law, do a good deed, or reject a temptation, then I have earned at least a small degree of God’s favor. But that is not how it works.

God definitely blesses our faith-inspired efforts, but such efforts are…well, based on faith—that is, confidence in God’s promise to pardon and accept me through Christ’s atoning work. If I attempt to somehow make myself more acceptable to God through my own efforts, I am far removed from true righteousness.

In the book of Romans, Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 to prove that if a person is rewarded for what he has done, he has basically received a payment—not a gift. In contrast, the Christian, just like Abraham, is one who “does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, [and] his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). The ungodly are considered righteous without doing any good works. How? By believing God when He makes a promise.

Paul’s next example of righteousness applies specifically to those who have not behaved righteously:
David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin” [Ps. 31:1-2] (Rom. 4:6-8).
So, what do you call a habitual liar and adulterer who hears the gospel and believes its promises? Righteous. What do you call a hardened sinner on his deathbed who believes in the promise of the gospel? Righteous. What can a Christian call himself when he is made more aware of his sin and feels even less holy than he did the day before? Righteous.

God never intended that I produce a righteousness of my own. He is both the author and finisher of my faith (Heb. 12:2), which means He is the author and finisher of my righteousness. May I continue to exercise true righteousness by doing nothing more than “believing God when He makes a promise.”

photo credit: Mexicanwave via photopin cc