Friday, June 29, 2012

Coriolanus and King James

Last night my wife and I decided to rent a movie. So we watched a few trailers and decided on a movie named Coriolanus. It looked like a fascinating story of a man that was rejected by the country he fought for, banished and ends up having to join forces with his mortal enemy. It had Ralph Fiennes (playing the main character Caius Martius Coriolanus) and Gerard Butler (playing his arch enemy Tullus Aufidius) starring as two of main characters with a great supporting cast. At the very end of the trailer a headline flashed that made it known that the movie was based on the Shakespeare play of the same name. So now I am really stoked. It looks like a good action movie with a great cast and the underpinnings of a solid story. So we rented it.

What could go wrong?

The movie was set in a modern version of Rome and the opening scenes were flashes of news reports that looked eerily similar to the recent riots in Greece. The parallels of the movie to modern day happenings make the movie look even more interesting. The first real scene has an angry mob marching on a government controlled food depot. So were are getting right into it.

What could go wrong?

Then we hit the first lines of dialogue:

Second Citizen: Before we proceed any further, hear me speak. You are all resolved rather to die than to famish?
Gathered Citizens: Resolved.
Second Citizen: First, you know Caius Martius is chief enemy to the people.
Gathered Citizens: We know it.
First Citizen: Let us kill him. And we'll have corn at our own price.
Second Citizen: We are accounted poor citizens, the patricians of good. The leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, our suffering, is a gain to them.
Gathered Citizens: Aye.
Second Citizen: Let us revenge this with our sticks, ere we become rakes.
First Citizen: No more talking on it. Come!

Uh oh. I'm starting to get an idea of what could go wrong. Who speaks like that? It became very difficult to follow what was going on. Further into the movie we were treated to this gem:

Tullus Aufidius: What's thy name?
Caius Martius Coriolanus: A name unmusical to the Volscians' ears, and harsh in sound to thine.
Tullus Aufidius: Say... what's thy name? Thou has a grim appearance. What's thy name?
Caius Martius Coriolanus: Know'st thou me yet?
Tullus Aufidius: I know thee not. Thy name?
Caius Martius Coriolanus: My name is Caius Martius, who hath done to thee particularly, and to all the Volsces, great hurt and mischief. Thereto witness my surname... Coriolanus. Only that name remains. The cruelty and envy of the people who have all forsook me, hath devoured the rest and suffered me by the voice of slaves, be whooped out of Rome. Now this extremity hath brought me to thy hearth. Not out of hope, mistake me not to save my life. For if I had feared death, of all men in the world I would have avoided thee. But, in mere spite, to be full quit of those my banishers, stand I before thee here. I will fight against my cankered country with the spleen of all the under fiends. But if thou dares not this, then I present my throat to thee and to thy ancient malice. Which not to cut would show thee but a fool, since I have ever followed thee with hate, and cannot live but to thy shame, unless it be to do thee service.

Don't get me wrong. Reading dialogue like this is nothing like trying to decipher it on the fly in the context of a movie. When I read it I can understand it but it isn't quite a clear as it could be. In a movie it was near impossible to understand what was actually being said. It seems silly to me to update every aspect of the movie but the dialogue. In this movie the dialogue is what really tells us what is going on. Isn't the point of a modern telling of a Shakespeare play to help modern viewers understand better?

It is the very same reason that most churches and Christians no longer use the 1611 King James version of the Bible. The whole point of modern versions is so that modern readers can better understand what the Bible is saying. But then as a church we can still get caught up using "insider" language that ends up confusing those outside of the church. That doesn't mean that we should stop using terms like justification and sanctification. What it means is that we need to be very intentional about clarifying and defining the terms that we use so that even those outside the church can easily follow our dialogue.


Movie quotes are from


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Kind of God Would Condemn People to Eternal Torment?

I came across an interesting article by Pastor Tim Challies last week. He deals with what I think is one of the toughest questions that skeptics ask. "How could God send people to hell forever?" Pastor Challies starts off by turning the question on it's head:

"How can you believe in a God who would condemn people to suffer the torments of hell eternally? I reply with a question of my own: 'How can you believe in a God who would not?'

"To ask the first question is to fundamentally misunderstand the very nature of God; it is to re-form God in the image of man, because here’s the thing: If you want a God who is good—truly good—and if you want a God who is just and holy, then you must have this God, this God who condemns people to suffer the eternal torments of hell. You cannot have the God you want unless there is a hell.

"You cannot have a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful and so very good. God’s goodness doesn’t negate eternal punishment in hell; it demands it."

He then goes on to explain why this punishment needs to be eternal, torment and conscious. I don't like his assessment even though I agree theologically with it. The doctrine of Hell is one of the hardest and most disheartening aspects of Christianity. It is probably the first thing that I would change about Christianity if it were up to me. But it is not.

Pastor Challies goes on to explain that we want a God that is good and treats people with justice and grace but that in order to have that type of God we must also have a holy God. God's goodness is an extension of his holiness. And I think that this is not just something that is a theological point but is also intuitive. Could we expect a God that was not holy to be good? Do we expect good things from bad people? No. This means that ultimate goodness can only come from ultimate holiness.

"The holiness of God demands that He remain separate from sin, that those who commit sin must be kept out of His presence. How could such holiness mingle with such impurity? Holiness flees from sin. They are incompatible, irreconcilable. And so sinners must be cast out, and they must be kept out of God’s presence."

The final point that Pastor Challies makes is to explain exactly what we are protesting against when we protest God sending people to hell:

"When you cry out against a God who punishes people in a place like hell, you cry out against the God who has revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture. You cry out against His goodness, holiness, and justice; and all the while you minimize your own sinfulness or the sinfulness of others. Those who understand hell best, those who grasp it most deeply, are those with the greatest sense that they deserve to be there. They marvel at the grace that has called them from that place to a place that is far, far better—infinitely better!

"To wish away eternity in hell is to wish away eternity in heaven. It is not that they exist in some kind of mutual dependence so that one can only exist alongside the other. But sin demands eternal punishment, while grace calls for eternal love and joy, the re-establishment of the good and holy relationship that our Creator intended to enjoy with us forever. How can I believe in a God who condemns people to hell? I must believe in this God, for He poured out the punishment of hell on Jesus Christ through whom I have hope."

The doctrine of Hell is not a pleasant one but it is a necessary one that we cannot avoid thinking about.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The day I became a "picture choosing" expert.

One of the pieces of information that churches sometimes ask for from candidates during their pastoral search is the story of how they came to have faith in Jesus. This morning I was working on my story and I thought that I would share a bit of it here.

I don’t remember all of the exact details of my confession of faith in Christ. That is not to say that I don't remember what happened. There are a few details that I don't quite remember. For example when I was about 7 years old I said something to my parents about wanting to accept Jesus into my heart. I don't quite remember exactly what I said or what prompted me to say something. All I know is that what ever I said caused my parents to have the pastor of our church come over to talk to me. I do clearly remember him coming over and talking to me. I remember it because at first I thought I was in trouble. I was playing in my room and all of a sudden our pastor and my mom walked in. My mom said, "Pastor Hargrove wants to talk to you..." What an ominous way to start a conversation with a 7 year old. It was rather intimidating. He sat on the edge of my bed and my mom was standing in my doorway. I do not recall the content of that conversation but what ever I said satisfied both my parents and the pastor that I was making a genuine confession of faith in Jesus.

The next Sunday I went forward during the Invitation portion of the service and made my confession public. I can still vividly remember the scene. We were a part of a church plant which was meeting in a grade school gym. I knew that I was supposed to go forward during the Invitation and this meant that I was not able to go to the normal children's service. I had to sit still through the whole service and it seemed like it would never end. Finally the pastor finished and he invited anyone that wanted to put their faith in Jesus to come forward. I went forward along with a few other people. I stood up a bit straighter as I walked forward without my mom even having to say anything. Then the few of us that came forward went and stood in the back.

When I got to the back my attention was immediately grabbed by a table of pictures from the latest youth group happening. I was so intrigued by the pictures that I didn't notice when the service ended. All of a sudden a whole lot of of people started to come up and talking to me. Which is sort of odd for a 7 year old; most of the time someone was just telling us kids to stop running. So I took the full advantage of my audience and pointed out which of the youth group pictures were my favorites. And to my surprise and delight every one kept coming up to me and telling me that I had made a great decision. Some of them didn't even need to take the time to look at the pictures. They just trusted that I was picking the best ones. It was right then and there that I decided that I was a "picture choosing" expert.

Of course now I realize that I am not a "picture choosing" expert. But I still made the greatest decision of my life that morning. It would take many more years and a lot of growing to even start to grasp the depth of that decision. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I have come to realize that I would still make that same decision.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Did Pharaoh have a choice?

The first fourteen chapters of the book of Exodus are set up as a clash between the true God of Israel and the false gods of Egypt. On the one side is God demanding that Pharaoh release the Israelites and on the other side is Pharaoh hardening his heart and refusing to obey. But did Pharaoh have a choice?

Exodus 4:21 seems to say that he did not:

"And the LORD said to Moses, 'When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.'"

It really seems like God is causing Pharaoh's heart to be hardened. Does this mean that Pharaoh was not making the choice to keep the Israelites captive? And if that is the case then how does God hold Pharaoh accountable for something that he is being forced to do?

The real question comes down to that of free will. How much free will did Pharaoh have in this matter?

Greg Koukl addresses this very same question as it relates to salvation. He frames the question this way:

"I think a vital question at this point is what does it mean for a decision to be free? This is a question that many people have never really thought about carefully because they think they understand that there are only simple and obvious alternatives: We are either determined, puppets on a string making mechanical decisions completely dictated from the outside like one domino falling against the other, or we’re not determined and we’re completely free with all choices available to us. If the choice for salvation is ours, as the Bible seems to indicate in many places, then we must be free and not determined. But Calvinism teaches, and it’s because the Bible also seems to indicate in many places, that the choice is God’s and He decides who is going to be saved and, therefore, it seems that Calvinists do not believe in freedom. Instead, they believe in determinism."

What Mr. Koukl is saying is that we often think about either having free choice or being forced to do something in terms of being opposites of each other. But he points out that free choice isn't only having a decision to make between different options:

"This suggests that there are two different ways for an act to be free. One, an act is free if we choose it ourselves. In other words, it’s our choice. The only condition for this kind of freedom is that we make the decision. Nobody is forcing us. There isn’t some force on the outside that requires us to act this way. We are free on the single condition that we choose the thing we choose of our own will and volition. That’s one sense of freedom.

"The other sense of freedom has that condition to it, but adds another condition. In the second sense of freedom, an act is free if we choose it and, the second condition, we could have done otherwise. Philosophers call that libertarian freedom, although there is some debate about the nature of that term. Generally, an act isn’t free unless we choose it and we could have done otherwise."

He goes on to say:

"Our hearts are set against God. Our wills are inclined against Him. It’s not that we cannot choose God, that some external thing is preventing us from exercising our choice...It’s that we will not choose God because our own desires incline us against that choice. We are steadfastly and immovably in defiance of God"

It is our very nature to be disobedient to God. We choose to be disobedient because of our nature. This means that we may have no choice except to choose disobedience but it is still our free choice. The same is true for Pharaoh. The hardening of Pharaoh's heart is not what caused him to be disobedient to God. It was already Pharaoh's nature to be disobedient to God. There are a number of passages that make it clear that Pharaoh hardened his own heart as well (see here, here and here). The hardening of Pharaoh's heart (whether done by God or Pharaoh) was making the already present disobedience resolute.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I have been blogging nearly every weekday for almost 10 months now. I really enjoy it. I love to write. However the past month or so it has become harder and harder for me to do. And this has meant that I have been far less consistent with my posting. What I think that I need to do is to cut down on how much I post over the summer. So I have come up with a summer schedule.

Over the rest of the summer I will be posting about three times a week. My plan is to post on Tuesday through Thursday. The only variation to this plan is that I will not be posting during the first week of July, a week to be determined in August and the first week in September.

Then I will start back up with a full schedule in the fall. Thank you all for taking the time to read my blog. I really appreciate it and I hope that God is providing something through it.

Does a wolf in sheepskin know it's a wolf?

When I was getting ready for church this past week I had an odd thought. It was just as I was putting on my shoes and that I was thinking about the idea of wolves in sheep's clothing. It was a rather odd thought before going to church and in no way reflects on how I view the church we were going to or the pastor. It was just one of those random thoughts that came at an odd time. If anything it reflected how I think that my wife and I have been blessed to attend churches where we didn't have to deal with a pastor that taught theology that was dangerous.

The idea of a wolf in sheep's clothing–how we would currently understand the saying–originates from Matthew 7:15-20 and not Aesop. Jesus said the following in the Sermon on the Mount:

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."

It turns out that this passage is another one of those passages (see Noah and Abraham for other examples) that has been shaped by our culture. I remember watching "Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog" cartoons as a part of the Bugs Bunny show when I was young. The premise of these cartoons was that Ralph the Wolf was always trying to steal a sheep by using various plots which often included using a disguise. A key part of the plot was that both Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog were obviously aware that Ralph was a wolf using disguises. Ralph might have been using a disguise but he still acted like a wolf.

The thought that I had this past Sunday was how subtle–but substantial–errors can create bigger problems for solid theology than outright and obvious attacks. I don't think that Jesus was talking about a situation like what we see with Ralph the Wolf. Jesus was talking about something far more subtle which is evident by the comparison to fruit trees. I don't have a lot of experience with fruit trees but we did have an apple tree in our back yard when I was a kid. I remember when we planted it. It was a small tree but I still expected it to produce apples right away. It took years and years before it finally produced apples. It took so long that I started to think that there were the apple trees that produced apples and there were the apple trees that didn't produce apples. What I didn't realize was just how long it took for an apple tree to start producing apples.

I think that the same is true for any wolf that comes disguised in sheepskin. It might take a while to really tell that they are a wolf. In fact the wolf might even buy into their own disguise. These are the types of wolves that are really dangerous. I really think that these subtle–but substantial–errors do not come from people that are intentionally and actively trying to deceive people but come from people that are deceived. I really think that this is what Jesus had in mind when he warned us about wolves in sheep's clothing as evidenced by what he said next in Matthew 7:21-23:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"

We can't just assume that we will recognize Ralph the Wolf because he will be obviously trying to trick us. No, seeing the wolf will be difficult. It will require a lot of attention to detail along with a good and accurate understanding of the Bible. If we don't put out the effort we may not realize that we have a wolf in our midst until it is entirely too late.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Art by Dave Armstrong. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.



Thursday, June 14, 2012

Anger and Shame

"One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, 'Why do you strike your companion?' He answered, 'Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?' Then Moses was afraid, and thought, 'Surely the thing is known.' When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well."
–Exodus 2:11-15

Moses thought he was alone. He took the time to look around and see if anyone was watching which speaks to the premeditated aspect of his act. His anger towards the Egyptian that was mistreating the Hebrew might have started off as an act of passion. But Moses didn't act out of that passion rather he acted out of something deeper. He acted out of a deep hatred for the way that the Egyptian people were treating the Israelites. And I think that it is very easy to understand that hatred as a one that might even be righteous. There was an injustice in the way that the Egyptian people were treating the Israelites and who wouldn't be angry about that.

The book of Exodus starts off by telling us that the Egyptians no longer remembered all that Joseph did to save Egypt from a great famine. Exodus 1:8-14 says:

"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, 'Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.' Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves."

But it didn't end there. Exodus 1:15-22 continues:

"Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 'When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.' But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, 'Why have you done this, and let the male children live?' The midwives said to Pharaoh, 'Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.' So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, 'Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.'"

So not only were the Egyptian people oppressing the Israelites in forced labor but they were also actively trying to kill all of the Israelites' male babies. This is genocide and so it makes it easy to understand Moses' deep anger towards the Egyptians. We instinctively recoil when we think of the atrocities in Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan and Darfur just to name a few recent examples. I was so angry that I wanted to lash out at the TV when I was watching Hotel Rwanda. So it is no wonder that Moses lashed out when he was watching an Egyptian beating a Hebrew.

But the fact that Moses looked around before acting is a pretty good indicator that he knew that what he was doing wasn't the right thing. Now this is not to say that force–including deadly force–to stop genocide and oppression is wrong. Quite often it is the only way to stop those that are perpetrating these crimes. But there is a difference between fighting back and a single act of revenge. Moses was taking revenge. And it is also likely that Moses was acting out of shame as well as anger. Moses was living as an Egyptian. He had been adopted by Pharaoh's daughter when he was a baby. Moses was living as a prince of Egypt while his fellow Hebrews were being oppressed by the Egyptians.

This story from Moses life is a good reminder that anger and shame are very powerful emotions that can cause us to lash out in very inappropriate ways. We need to constantly be aware of what emotions are driving us which is often much easier said than done. It is through the help of the Holy Spirit that we can act out of patience and self-control instead of anger and shame.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Blessing of Ephraim

Last week I noted how Esau's willingness to forgive Jacob was an act of incredible strength. Yesterday I was reading the story of Jacob's last moments on earth. I thought back to the trouble between Jacob and Esau when Jacob's blessed Joseph's sons. Let me do a quick recap of what has happened between Jacob facing Esau and Jacob blessing Joseph's sons:

Jacob favored his son Joseph over his other brothers and gave him a fancy coat. Joseph bragged about his dreaming of his brothers and parents bowing down to him. Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, ripped his fancy coat, covered it in blood and let their father believe Joseph was dead. Joseph's brother Judah impregnates his daughter-in-law...but that is a story for another day. Joseph became successful while working for Potiphar but Potiphar's wife had the hots for Joseph so Joseph ended up getting thrown into prison. Joseph is eventually freed through interpreting dreams for the baker, cup bearer and Pharaoh. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge and there was a great famine. Only Egypt had food and it was under control of Joseph. Joseph's brothers came and bought food from Joseph but didn't recognized him. Joseph worked it out to get his whole family to Egypt, they were given choice land and everyone lived happily ever after...sort of.

Whew. Ten chapters in ten (sometimes run-on) sentences.

Jacob starts to near death and so Joseph brings his sons to Jacob (aka Israel) to be blessed by him:

"And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him."

Now it is important to know that Manasseh is the older of the two and therefore was to be given the better blessing which would be signified by placing the right hand on his head. But Jacob had a different idea:

"And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn)."

It is clear that Jacob purposely gave the better blessing to Ephraim by crossing his hands. It wasn't a simple mistake of grabbing the wrong boy's head. Jacob even says as much when Joseph confronts him over it. It is almost the same thing that caused all the problems between Jacob and Esau. Jacob was the younger brother and stole his older brother Esau's blessing. But in this situation the blessing of the younger son was intentional.

What I find interesting is that Joseph was a beneficiary of preferential treatment. He was treated by Jacob as if he was a first born child even when he was not. Yet he objects to Jacob treating Ephraim as the first born over Manasseh. It is an instance of where Joseph was willing to accept the preferential treatment when he was younger but then saw it differently when he was older. It is a cautionary tale of how our perspectives may change as we mature. It is also a good example of how patterns in a family tend to repeat.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Is Inerrancy of the Bible Necessary?

I came across this interesting video by Greg Koukl that explains how the inerrancy of the Bible is both unnecessary for the truth of Christianity and extremely important for Christianity at the same time.



Hopefully this stirs some thoughts.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Second Chance Art

My sister-in-law Amy is a great artist. She takes old doors, windows and other furniture items and turns them in to beautiful pieces of art. She describes her art this way:

"Second Chance Art & Accessories® incorporates vintage finds into unique art and accessories for the home. As a result, beautiful old things are saved from the dumpster... and great new items are created.

"Because the majority of our art is created from recycled and vintage items, each piece is truly one of a kind. Designs and themes may be repeated, but most pieces are made from authentic salvaged items. For this reason, our pieces may not be for everyone. However, if you love the character of old vintage things - you may just love Second Chance Art & Accessories® !"

The description of the art or the process of creating it does not fully capture the beauty of the finished product. Even photos do not fully do justice to her works. Her work is something that really needs to be seen in person. The transformation of old things that are ready to be (or already have been) discarded into something that people showcase in their homes and places of business just adds to the beauty. It also hints at a Biblical theme which my brother and Amy are well aware of:

"We take inspiration from the Bible, which explains that Jesus Christ is the son of God. Because of what Jesus did for us, we can choose to become a new creation and have eternal life. 2 Corinthians 5:17: 'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!' We believe that ordinary things can be transformed into something great. Like people, our starting materials have their defects and quirks - but can be transformed into something new."

Amy's art will never be confused with a brand new item from a store. There is an obvious vintage quality that is contained in each piece of art. There are times that she even uses the old look to enhance the beauty of a piece. Some items are not sanded down and stained or repainted; they are left with their world-worn appearance. Some items are sanded just enough so that all the previous attempts to cover up an old item show through. These items might have three, four or more layers of old paint that become visible.

The same is true with how God turns us into something new when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. We may be made new but we are not necessarily made perfect–at least not on this side of heaven. We still carry our scars; we may have a world-worn appearance; and we may have previous attempts to cover up our old self still evident. But we have been made into something new; something beautiful. We are not finished products but then we are still in the hands of the artist. One day, when we get to heaven, we will be perfectly shaped by God.

Check out one of these shows to see Amy's art in person.


2 Corinthians 5:17 quoted from: THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

Were the VeggieTales not Christian enough?

Working at Big Idea–the creators of the VeggieTales– was one of my dream jobs when I went back to school to earn my undergraduate degree in marketing. I really appreciated what Big Idea co-founder Phil Vischer was trying to do by creating a Christian media company. Unfortunately it wasn't to be. By the time I graduated, Big Idea was already spiraling downward into bankruptcy. I am not nearly the VeggieTales fan that I once was but my interest still piques up whenever I see something related to Phil Vischer in the news.

So I was hooked when I saw the following headline: VeggieTales creator repents of moralism. I read the short blog post by Dr. Gene Veith and clicked a couple of his links as well. I even went and read the entire interview with Vischer at the World Magazine website. I found it interesting that the blog post that I originally read selected this quote:

"I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, 'Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,' or 'Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!' But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . . .

"And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart. I realized I’m not supposed to be pursuing impact, I’m supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have."

Now I don't think that Mr. Vischer is saying that there is anything wrong with teaching morality. The point that he is making is that there is a difference between teaching good behavior and Christianity. We can teach all about morality without ever teaching about Christianity but we cannot teach about Christianity without teaching about morality. According to this quote Mr. Vischer thought that the VeggieTales were teaching too little about Christianity.

I agree that–from the perspective of the church–teaching morality without teaching the doctrines of Christianity is wrong. We must preach Christ and not just be a guide to doing right and not doing wrong. Without Christ there is no forgiveness of sins. But was it the VeggieTales responsibility to preach Christ?

On the one hand yes. It is something that we should all be doing. But on the other hand I don't know that Phil Vischer needs to apologize for the content of the VeggieTales. The fact that the VeggieTales focused more on teaching morality to kids than on an explicit gospel message isn't inherently wrong. I don't' think that we shouldn't expect things like the VeggieTales or other Christian media/art to preach an explicit gospel message. We should recognize these things for what they are and–and more importantly–what they are not.

The VeggieTales are not a substitute for the Bible. They are not a substitute for parents taking the time to read the Bible with their children. They are not a substitute for parents taking the time to preach Christ to their children. The same thing can be said for any Christian material or program.

I don't think that Dr. Veith is advocating that the VeggieTales should be equivalent to the Bible. He is critiquing Christian media and art for teaching morality without really preaching Christ. I understand this concern. But my concern isn't that the VeggieTales might be too heavy on moralism and too light on Christ. My concern is that we are placing too much weight on things like the VeggieTales. These things can be great tools in the right context of parents taking the time flesh out what is being taught. But they can also be very dangerous tools when parents use the VeggieTales as substitute teachers.



VeggieTales creator repents of moralism via Tim Challies' A La Carte


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Aging Rockstars

A number of years ago I had the chance to see my first Van Hagar concert. (That's the Sammy Hagar version of Van Halen for the uninitiated.) I was a Van Halen fan while in high school but never went to any concerts. I mean I didn't go to any concerts. So as an adult I have gone to a few concerts in order to "catch up" on seeing some of those old favorites. Some shows–like U2–have been better than others–such as the aforementioned Van Halen. One of the things that struck me about the Van Halen concert was that the songs were obviously originally written and sung when the group was much younger. Some of the songs just didn't fit and others were kind of creepy.

Enter Tim Hawkins:


Hope you enjoy!


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Incredible Strength of Esau

Yesterday I shared how Jacob and Laban had a father-in-law/son-in-law relationship that left something to be desired. Laban had been dishonest in his dealing with Jacob and after a while Laban started to dislike Jacob. Jacob ended up fleeing with his family that led to a confrontation with Laban. The result of this confrontation was that Jacob and Laban agreed to go their separate ways. They put a pile of rocks on the ground and agreed to stay on their own side of the rocks. The agreement means that Jacob ends up in the same basic area of land as his brother Esau.

Jacob cheated and stole Esau's birthright and blessing. Esau vowed to kill Jacob which is what caused Jacob to end up with Laban in the first place.

Jacob is now left to face his brother. I am sure that Jacob could have simply avoided Esau if he really wanted to but to his credit he decided to face up to what he had done. Jacob sent some messengers to Esau to ostensibly see how Esau would react. The reaction that the messengers report doesn't seem quite what Jacob was hoping for but probably about what Jacob expected:

"And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, 'We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.' Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, 'If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.'"

It can be frightening to have to face the consequences for our actions. Especially when those consequences are impossibly big. I am sure Jacob figured that Esau coming out with 400 men meant only one thing.

Fortunately for Jacob, Esau had very different intentions than what was expected:

"And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept."

Jacob went out in front of his family in order to face Esau. Yes, Jacob had first sent gifts to Esau. But when it came right down to it Jacob faced Esau. Jacob didn't try and use his family as a shield. Jacob didn't try and run away. Jacob stood alone before Esau.

There were two acts of strength and courage in this story. The first one was Jacob standing alone before Esau. The second one is when Esau forgave Jacob. Jacob's act took an incredible amount of strength. But it is Esau's willingness to forgive Jacob that I find really impressive. Letting go of the hurt when someone has wronged me can be very difficult. One of the hardest lines for me in the Lord's Prayer is:

"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."

What I have found to be helpful in forgiving others is when I remember just how much forgiveness I need. I realize that my forgiving others is still a work in progress. But like anything else the more I forgive others the better and easier it becomes.


Monday, June 04, 2012

Do three lefts make a right?

The relationship between Jacob and Laban was often a contentious one. Who hasn't heard a joke about how difficult a mother-in-law can be? But in this case Jacob was having trouble with his father-in-law. Laban was often deceitful in his dealings with Jacob. Laban agreed to let Jacob marry one daughter but then switched to the other one at the last minute (Genesis 29:15-15). Later Laban agreed to pay Jacob with all of his spotted and striped sheep and goats only to give them to his sons before Jacob could do anything (Genesis 30:25-26). Slowly Jacob starts building his own flock when Laban's flocks start to have more striped and spotted offspring. The problem is that Jacob starts to become rich and this doesn't sit well with Laban and his sons. Finally things come to a head in Genesis 31:1-7:

"Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, 'Jacob has taken all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.' And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, 'Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.'

"So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was and said to them, 'I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me.'"

If this was all we knew about Jacob then it might be easier to feel sorry for him. I know that I have a hard time seeing people being cheated and unfairly treated. But it is a bit of a different story when the person being cheated is dishonest. Who doesn't like to see someone get their comeuppance?

Jacob cheated and stole his brother's birthright and blessing so on a certain level it is satisfying to see Jacob get a taste of his own medicine. Hence the saying: "You reap what you sow."

But does Jacob's cheating behavior make it ok for Laban to cheat Jacob?

I would guess that most people would agree that it wasn't right for Laban to cheat Jacob regardless of what Jacob had done in the past. So if it isn't right for Laban to cheat Jacob then is it still right for us to take satisfaction in Jacob getting a taste of his own medicine? Can we still root for Jacob being cheated when we are condemning the person doing the cheating? Not if we want to be consistent.

My guess is that we aren't really rooting for Laban to cheat Jacob when we take satisfaction in Jacob getting a taste of his own medicine. Rather what is happening is that we have an innate desire to see justice done. The problem is that we can often seek to see justice done even when it comes in the form of an act of injustice. Seeking the right result through the wrong means is still wrong. There is a right way and a wrong way to seek justice. It is why vigilantism is illegal.

This isn't to say that all forms of punishment are wrong. We have a justice system (as broken as it may seem at times) for a reason. What we need to be careful about is when we start to take satisfaction in seeing unjust forms of justice take place. When we do we are promoting and justifying injustice.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.