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Showing posts from 2013

Counting Down: The Best of 2013

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In looking back on 2013, I wanted to add a slight twist to the typical “Top Ten” idea. What I’ll do this time around is count out my ten favorite happenings—not necessarily blog posts—at Happier Far, beginning with number 10 and working my way up to the biggest highlight of the year. To a limited degree, the order of these items is influenced on reader popularity, but I’ve also arbitrarily bumped a few of them up or down as seemed best to me.

10. Paradise Lost. To be honest, this is on the list simply because I love the book so much. Frankly, I was surprised (and somewhat disappointed) by how little interest the Paradise Lost series initially generated here on the blog, although the last couple entries have enjoyed a larger readership. We’ve made it through eight of the twelve books in the poem, so we’ll finish things up in 2014. And since I’m a glutton for punishment, I may eventually delve into the four books of Paradise Regained sometime in the future. (To those wondering if that…

The Nativity: As Told by Children

You know you’re sick when you look at your adorable baby girl and you have no desire to hold her. That’s how my wife and I felt for part of last week. In God’s kindness, Shannon and I weren’t hit with the worst of our sicknesses concurrently; one was always able to take care of Elanor while the other remained in bed. Still, I wasn’t exactly in a condition to do a lot of writing.

That being the case, and since this is Christmas Eve, I won’t take much of your time. But speaking of adorable children, I thought it’d be fun to share a video project I helped work on a few years ago. We interviewed several young children about the Christmas story, then edited the resulting clips together to provide something of a “script” for other children to act out. What resulted was a nice blend of cuteness and humor. I hope you enjoy the video.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013) – Film Review

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Having loved the first Hobbit movie, and knowing that The Desolation of Smaug would include scenes from my favorite parts of the book, I entered the theater with great expectations. To put it bluntly, I left the theater with great disappointments. In fact, even before the end credits rolled, I was morosely nursing the wounds—the desolation, so to speak—that Peter Jackson had inflicted upon me.

I wish I could say watching the movie was only as bad as eating lembas bread. Unfortunately, it was more distasteful than that.* In the review below, I will refer to the movie as Desolation—and not just because it’s good shorthand. As a reminder, I rate my movies based on three criteria: morally objectionable content (C), artistic merit (A), and my personal opinions (P).
CONTENT (C): 7 out of 10 Desolation has the dishonorable privilege of being the first Middle Earth movie with a couple lines of sexual innuendo between a male and female character. It’s sad when Tolkien’s source material is soi…

One Thing About Christianity that Still Bothers Me

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I’m not quite sure what it was that teed me off initially. Our Sunday morning started innocently enough: we woke up and began the process of getting ready for church—something that involves more gymnastics these days, now that we have a newborn daughter. (I’ve never had to deal with projectile poop before.)

I was finishing changing my daughter’s diaper when she spat up, ruining the outfit I had just wrestled her back into. Seeds of impatience sprouted out of my mouth: “Your timing sucks,” I told my uncomprehending daughter. After switching out her clothes, I brought her out of the room, only to encounter our cat in front of me, seemingly determined to get tangled up in my legs as I walked. Juggling a baby and dribbling a cat aren’t activities you want to combine.
“You’re really stupid, you know that?” I barked at the cat. (Huh. Pun not intended.) In response, my wife Shannon put out her arms and asked for the baby, advising me to take my shower so I could be alone for a while.
Being al…

FROZEN (2013) – Film Review

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In the kingdom of Arendelle, sisters Anna and Elsa grow up separated by a tragic case of magic. Elsa’s ability to turn her surroundings into ice—a power made more dangerous by its connection to her emotional state—makes her a constant threat to her sister, and to the future of their kingdom.

For years, Elsa’s powers are kept secret, even from Anna. The secret makes an unwelcome public appearance when Anna finally confronts Elsa over her lifetime of ostracism. Soon, the entire land is covered in ice. Elsa runs away, and it’s up to Anna to bring her back and rescue Arendelle from a perpetual state of “always winter, never Christmas” (to steal a quote from another fantasy story).
CONTENT (C): 8 out of 10 The film has a few mild innuendos—two visual and one verbal. All or most of these pass by without notice. (Until I double-checked the content, I had forgotten about one instance and had missed another one entirely.) There are a couple offhand references to bodily functions, but nothing…

One Reason Why I’m Not Thankful

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It’s not a pleasant discovery to make when you’re late for work. My heart experienced that sick, sinking feeling as I realized that our car was stuck in the garage with no way to get it out.

For some inexplicable reason, I had left the keys in the ignition the night before. Not content with that level of carelessness, my psyche had also decided to leave the keys turned so the battery was engaged—all night long. Our car’s precious energy slowly drained out while Shannon and I slept blissfully unaware.
To make matters worse, I had driven forward into the garage the night before, making it impossible for another car to reach our engine with standard length jumper cables. (In my defense, it takes me 20 minutes to safely back the car into the garage without busting through a wall, so I was just saving time and repair costs.)
Throughout the day, I was painfully aware of the inconvenience of not having a car. It was, I think, a good illustration of the old adage, “You don’t know what you’v…

Confessions of a New Father: I Wasn’t Prepared for This

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Looking back, I realize I should have been more aware of what was coming. I had definitely seen enough signs. And yet the true nature of the approaching changes never really struck me—not until reality itself pulled me into its clutches after my daughter’s birth. I guess it’s like they say: there are certain things you just can’t know or understand until you experience them.

You see, I was expecting to enjoy my newborn daughter. What I didn’t expect, and what I wasn’t fully prepared for, was being drastically bulldozed over by an overwhelming array of euphoric emotions and paternal affections.
Yes, I expected my daughter to be like a heartwarming drink from a fresh fountain of God’s goodness. But I have discovered that fountain to be more like a perpetual geyser. I am soaked to the bone, and being this drenched has never felt so amazingly good.
I should have known what was coming when Chloe, my niece, was born and subsequently stole my heart. Being involved in her early life—babysitt…

Finding an Attraction to True Beauty

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The Expulsive Power paraphrase
Part 5
The previous words have, I hope, served in some degree to provide practical help to those who are desperate “not [to] love the world,” but who feel that their fleshly desires and tendencies are too strong.
There is no other way to keep the love of the world out of our hearts than to “keep [ourselves] in the love of God” (Jude 21). And there is no way to keep ourselves in the love of God other than by “building [ourselves] up on [our] most holy faith” (Jude 20). The denial of the world is impossible to those who reject the gospel. But not loving the world is possible, even as all things are possible, to the one who believes the gospel.
In closing, let us consider one more illustration. Picture a man who could stand on the edge of the world and observe its abundance: rich produce and culinary delights, luxurious homes, the joys of human companionship, and all the other blessings the earth can offer.
If he turned around after taking in this attractive sc…

How to Avoid the World’s Seduction

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The Expulsive Power paraphrase Part 4
To do your best at any particular job, you want to use the most effective tools. Trying to deny worldliness without faith is the same as trying to work without the right set of tools. As we have begun to see, the most effective tool—indeed, the only effective tool—for turning us from lovers of the world into lovers of God is the gospel.
It is only in the gospel that God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners. It is only in the gospel where our desire for Him is not chilled by the barrier of guilt that hinders every approach not made through Christ, our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). The gospel brings us hope, with which we draw near to God. To live without hope is to live without God, and if the heart is without God, the world will then have control over it.
The world’s control over the heart is destroyed only when a person sees and embraces God as revealed through Christ. Then we no longer look on God with terror as an offended lawgiver. In…

Why Those in the World Cannot Love God

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The Expulsive Power paraphrase Part 3
The command to withdraw one’s affections from earthly things is, to the worldly man, the same as a call for his self-extinction, since his affections are set on nowhere but the world and cannot be transferred elsewhere. He may have a strong sense of the futility of life, but he will resist any attempt to shift his heart’s tendencies away from this life. To him, all such attempts are impractical.
Based on the wisdom of this world, he considers himself beyond such ideas as setting our affections on things above (Colossians 3:2), or walking by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), or having no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3), or having our citizenship in Heaven instead of on earth (Philippians 3:20). When he observes these “overly spiritual” principles, the worldly person decides that Christianity is impossible to carry out.
He does not see the love of God in sending His Son into the world. He does not see the tenderness of God toward man in not sparing H…

“Just Say No” Doesn’t Work

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The Expulsive Power paraphrase
Part 2
In a sense, those of us in wealthy societies are especially familiar with the futility of worldly pursuits. Boredom is more prevalent in a first world country, where amusements are in abundance, than it is in a third world country, where entertainment is scarce. In the climate of our modern Western culture, the very multitude of our enjoyments has extinguished our power of enjoyment. Due to the sheer number and variety of distractions available, we reach a point of fatigue, unable to find any lasting satisfaction. With amusements and technology always at our fingertips, we eventually grow to see our colorful surroundings in black and white. Like King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, we discover that all our pleasures leave an aftertaste of futility and frustration.
It isn’t necessary for a man to experience pain in order to be miserable. All he needs is to look on everything with indifference. His unhappiness comes from his numbness: He is dead to all around…

When You Can’t Give Up the Sins You Love

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Pornography and illicit sex. Drug addiction. Life-consuming video games. The world is a smorgasbord of tantalizing pursuits. And when it comes to forbidden pleasures (or good pleasures gone awry), our solution is usually something along the lines of, “Just say no.” Abstinence—from whatever we’ve become addicted to—is the key to victory.
This “solution” is filled with good intentions, but is it the right solution? Put another way, is the seduction of sin destroyed by mere avoidance of sin? I believe the answer to that question is no. Abstinence only works when a superior solution is established. What is that superior solution? For the answer, I want to look at one of the most paradigm-shattering sermons I have ever been exposed to. You may have heard of it: The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, by Thomas Chalmers. Yes, Thomas Chalmers has been dead for over 150 years. Yes, his sermon’s old-fashioned language is hard to slog through. But it contains a foundational truth that will rock yo…

Predestination: Yes, God Does Keep Some Secrets from Us

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Let’s continue our blog series on Paradise Lost by looking at Books 7 and 8.

Summary Book 7: Raphael recounts how God created the world, in what amounts to Genesis 1 in poetry form.
Book 8: Adam shares the story of his first few moments of life.
Meditation On a couple occasions, Adam asks Raphael for more information about creation. His curiosity is completely innocent, and Raphael answers willingly enough, but with the caveat that some of God’s ways are beyond human comprehension. God will never withhold knowledge that will make us happier (7, line 117), but because God alone is omniscient, some of His truths are “suppressed in night” (line 123).
…heaven is for thee too high To know what passes there; be lowly wise (8, lines 172-173)
We may not like to hear it, but God does keep some cards close to His chest. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:…

The 3 Habits of Highly Effective Heretics

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These days, it’s popular to crack down on things like hate, hypocrisy, and heresy. Well, okay, the first two vices aren’t cool—and rightfully so. Depending on your definition of those words, it can be wise and good to oppose them. But heresy has put on lipstick and a short skirt, and many in the church have responded by trading in their spectacles of discernment for hairspray and cologne.

Yes, we should be opposed to hate (Jas. 2:1-9) and hypocrisy (Gal. 2:11-13), but members of the early church had a healthy concern for what is arguably our greatest danger: heresy. Impure doctrine can often be a cause of hatred, hypocrisy, and a host of other problems. In the end, all wrong behaviors stem from wrong beliefs.
One place where Paul warns against heresy is Philippians 3:17-19.
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross o…