Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Movie Review

The Second Chance (2006, PG-13). I am usually not a fan of Christian "celebrities" taking their name to a different area and expecting their "celebrity status" to bring fans, and I have also been critical of Christian movie-makers grabbing for any "celebrity" they can cast, seemingly regardless of acting ability. So you can imagine my groan when I saw that Michael W. Smith was the lead of a big-screen Christian production.

But two factors tempered my dread: One, the fact that a number of musicians had made the transfer to the big screen (from Dwight Yoakam to DMX and Ice-T); and Two, the presence of Steve Taylor. With only one little career hiccup -- involvement in my least favorite worship song of all time -- Taylor has been on the cutting edge of the Christian arts world for nearly twenty years. His music and video work has consistently been top-notch.

Which brings me back to The Second Chance. The movie revolves around the relationship of a mega-church and its inner-city outreach, which was the original home of the church before it went to the suburbs. Class, race, church responsibility, it's all addressed.

I have to say that it was quite good. Taylor's script was crisp, there were no "cringe moments" and the parts that were supposed to be funny actually were -- this doesn't always happen in Evnagelical cinema, and I credit this to Taylor's presence. The acting -- even Smith's -- was above average.

I'll probably watch this again, and will certainly pay attention to whatever Taylor gets involved in next.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Weakness Turned To Strength (Heb. 11:34)

God appears to put a high value on weakness, and on the weak (1 Cor 1:27; 2 Cor 12:9-10). In order to understand why / how this is so, we must first have a clear understanding of the word.

According to a dictionary, WEAKNESS is "A part of your emotional / physical / intellectual makeup that appears in the natural to hinder you from accomplishing a given task." In this context, weakness is not the same as sin -- this understanding is critical, although sometimes we use the words almost as synonyms. But to God sin and weakness are almost antonyms -- He hates sin, but He loves weakness. Why would God feel this way about my weakness -- I certainly don't!!

A weakness can be a stronghold for the enemy, but only if you are ashamed of it, you hide it, or deny it -- in some way keep it to yourself. An acknowledged weakness that is brought to the Lord can not be a stronghold -- If you are not holding on to something, there is nothing for the enemy to hold on to, either.

The presence of God is a safe place to be vulnerable, and a safe place to acknowledge weakness -- so He can turn that to a strength.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Art: for the church AND from the church

This is based on my response on a discussion board on

We need to understand that there are definitely two tracks in the American Evangelical church, in terms of music, books, and movies: 1) Artistic efforts "of the church, by the church, for the church," that we probably should not foist on the world due to their preachiness and objective lack of quality, or at least not be offended/defensive when our non-Christian friends point out their preachiness and objective lack of quality. I have plenty of books & music (and have rented lots of movies) in this category; This is what we mostly find in the "christian" industries here: christian bookstores, CCM radio, christian movies

and 2) Artistic efforts that attempt to speak to the broader culture. These will tend to be less preachy, more overtly artistic, perhaps more symbolic in their language / imagery. These are the works most likely to be criticized by the Western Church, as they might not fit our narrow definition of art that is "Christian." I am a fan of much of this stuff, too. This is space where a number of disillusioned musicians dwell -- I won't name them, because they might not agree with that characterization.

Fans of Category 1 tend to be dismissive and judgmental towards fans of Category 2 . . . . . and vice versa. This is the problem -- we need to be supportive of both, or at least recognize that both can be valid. I personally enjoy both of these types of expressions, I believe both have their places, let's just make sure we know in a particular case which one we're talking about so we can properly adjudge it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Truly God, Truly Man

The great thing about being part of a living church, one that extends two millennia into the past is that many of the hard issues have already been thought through, prayed over, discussed and debated. We are not static in our theological understanding, but we miss out on a great heritage if we think only about what God is "doing today." My ring-sister who so loves Oswald Chambers understands that we can learn from those who came before.

An issue that the early church grappled with was the nature of Jesus, and the early fathers faced a number of heresies about this issue. The extremes were Doceticism, a theology that denied the humanity of Christ, and Adoptionism, which denied the deity of Christ. Between these extremes lay a range of theologies that tried to solve the Man/God dilemma.

In 451, the Council of Chalcedon addressed the issues and decreed what we have come to receive today as orthodoxy: "We with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; and we do this without confusing, transmuting, or dividing these two natures into separate categories, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person, our Lord Jesus Christ."

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Glory of Being Human

We know from the Scriptures that all of Creation glorifies God. We have all had that experience of feeling God's presence in the summer breeze, in the flittering butterfly, or in the brightness of the night sky. But all of these parts of God's Creation worship the Lord just by being themselves. Stars, sunsets, rainbows, waterfalls, all of these things are passive glorifiers of God, but our free will enables us to actively glorify God. The waves never have the temptation of not crashing into the rocky beach, the rainbow never considers not appearing after a spring rain. But we as humans are unique in that we can choose to worship God, we can become active glorifiers of the Lord.

The results of worship are available only to humanity. Drawing near to God, receiveing His protection, entering into intense relationship with Him, these are all benefits that only humans can receive. Is this a piece of what the angels "long to look into?" I thank God that he made me human!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Movie Review

End of the Spear (2006). Based on the real-life story of the Saints, the first missionaries to make contact with one of the most violent cultures on record, the Waodani of Ecuador. First contact is bloody, but perseverance and steadfastness allow the second generation of missionaries to become accepted in the tribe, their message to be received, and the culture of the Waodani to be changed.

Dramatic, emotional, a good story well presented and well acted. Both of my thumbs are up.

I have to mention the dust-up relating to casting in the movie that became public just as it was set to be released theatrically. Some Christian leaders advised their flocks to avoid the movie, and there was even a e-mail campaign proposing a boycott of the film.

What a shame. I am in the camp that Christian movie-makers need to seek the best quality scripts, cast, crew, etc . . . and not necessarily limit their pool of talent to evangelical Christians. It's not fair to complain that the world ignores our artistic efforts (music, books, movies) if we don't respect the output enough ourselves to attempt to compete in terms of style and quality. Message can't be an excuse for poor execution.

Christian entertainment intended only for Christians can be schlocky and cheaply-made for all I care -- I partake in some of that myself, I'm not a snob. But if the intent of a work is to reach beyond our enclave, we have to stretch ourselves to make sure the end product exceeds the standards so that it will at least get a listen by the world. Or if we can't do that individually, then we need to support those that try.

Friday, August 11, 2006

I Believe

Is there a difference between what I "believe" and what I "know" in terms of my faith walk? What does it mean to say that "I believe" in God? Is it just He is invisible that makes my "knowing" him "believing" in Him? Or is it a matter of the quantity of faith -- is believing just a lesser version of knowing? I don't know.

And how does the phrase "I believe in God" correlate with phrases such as "I believe in higher education" or "I believe in fastening my seat belt?" The syntax of those sentences are identical, but the implications of them are radically different. These are not statements about the existence of the item in question -- does anyone not think higher education or seat belts actually exist? -- but are statements about the quality/efficacy of the items in question. But the statement "I believe in God" is slippery, because is can be a statement about the existence of the item in question (God) but can also be a statement about the characteristics of the item in question (God).

When others say "I believe in higher education" or "I believe in seat belts," I have a pretty good idea of what they mean, but when someone says "I believe in God," I have no idea what they mean. That phrase has become so amorphous that it can mean a million different things. How do I know what I mean when I say it?

Is it simply a limitation of language? Or is something more subtle, some limitation of our understanding of the very concept of God?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book Report

Terri Blackstock likes 4-book series, and I like some of her 4-book series; I had read a total of six books of hers, including the entirety of her Newpointe 911 series. At least I thought it was the entirety of the series. But it turns out that she was so moved by the bravery of police, EMTs, and firefighters on 9/11 that she was moved to write a fifth. Also drawing on the WorldCom financial scandal, Line of Fire revisits the emergency workers of Newpointe, LA. Blackstock is consistently becoming a better writer in this genre, finally shaking off the detritus of her romance-writing past. Her thriller/suspense works are becoming better and better.

Monday, August 07, 2006


The thought struck me when I took Communion yesterday of the eternal place that the Lord has in our lives. "Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me . . . For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." In this single act, the past, present and future all come together in the person of Jesus. We take Communion in the present, whereby we procaim the events of the Cross which occurred at a particular moment in the past, and will do so until He comes at a particular moment in the future.

I know that God is outside of time . . . but only rarely do I get a glimpse of exactly what that means. That is the guts of the message "The Kingdom of God is here" -- in this life, in our little existence, we get glimpses of the life to come, times and places where God's Kingdom intersects with our world.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Christian by faith, not by genre

That's a phrase attributed to Jon Foreman of Switchfoot in the book Body Piercing Saved My Life. I have never been a fan of using the word "christian" as an adjective, especially when applied to the arts. What is a "christian song" or "christian poem" or "christian story" anyway? I have never been satisfied with any of the supposed answers to questions of this sort -- like the principle that "christian radio" can play covers of U2 songs by "christian bands," but not the originals by U2. So Foreman says that they (Switchfoot) are a christian band by their faith, not by the genre of music they play. I like that, I like it a lot.

So am I a "christian professor?" Or a "christian novelist?" No, I don't think so.

I'm a Christian.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

I am not one that puts a lot of stock in our constructs of time. Of course days, weeks, seasons and years were all established by God, but what about months -- aren't these man-made constructs? I am also not a fan of considering the "first" of anything more significant than any other day -- first of the year, first of the month, etc ... don't even get me going on News Years Resolutions!

But in our modern fast-paced, Day-Timer, list-of-things-to-do world, any chance to turn the calendar page and begin a fresh clean period of time matters. I just don't buy it for myself.

That being said, Happy August! It sounds likes it's gonna be a hot one.