Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Potter's Comeuppance

One of our favorite movies to watch at Christmastime is, of course, It's a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. He plays every-day good-guy George Bailey, who lives in a small town but has big dreams of seeing the world (and changing it for the better, while he's at it). But his plans are consistently derailed by external circumstances and his admirable drive to put others' needs above his own.

It's interesting to note that George is also deeply frustrated that his endearing, Christ-like quality is keeping him from following his (somewhat selfish) dreams. How far better off would he had been if he had come to grips with the fact that a man cannot do everything he wants, and it is often the case that doing the right thing requires personal sacrifice? George sacrifices, but he does so while kicking and screaming. But by the end of the movie, he learns that putting others first is far more rewarding than his own aspirations.

The film's antagonist is Mr. Potter, a greedy, grumpy old man who owns the entire town. Well, not quite all of it. The Bailey Building and Loan, which George takes over after his father's death, remains a thorn in Potter's side. But when George's bumbling uncle unwittingly hands the Building and Loan's $8000 bank deposit to Potter, Potter sees a delicious opportunity to ruin George's reputation and destroy his only competition. He nearly succeeds, but for the intervention of a "second-class" angel and the generosity of the countless people that George had helped over the years.

It makes for a very satisfyingly happy ending, that warms our hearts with the spirit of giving that has been so commercialized in recent decades....

...except for one small thing....

Potter never gets what's coming to him! He gets to keep the $8000, he undergoes no change of heart, and no one suspects him of any wrongdoing. In movies, we're used to seeing the bad guys get what they deserve (insert most any Disney feature cartoon here), or at least see them turn to the good side, just in time to make the ultimate sacrifice and save the day (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, anyone?).

So why did director Frank Capra and the script writers leave that loose end untied? I don't have the definitive answer, but I have a plausible theory.

(Please read Psalm 37, Psalm 73, and Psalm 94, for some encouragement regarding the wicked prospering in our fallen world.)

Unlike most other movies, there is indeed a God in this one. Ok, so He looks like a little blinky light, but nevertheless, He is there, and He is all-knowing and all-powerful. We can rest in His promises that unless Potter finds his way to Him and repents of his sins, he will one day face Judgment, and it's not going to go well for him. Instead of feeling dissatisfaction, we should pity Potter not only for not having anyone to share Christmas with, but also for what awaits him, unless he comes to the Lord. For his part, George doesn't need to know who was behind his near-demise, because he has already taken his first step toward knowing the all-powerful, all-loving Creator and Savior, Who has his back and has prepared a place for him in Heaven.

Likewise, we may not see everyone who has wronged us get their just desserts, and we shouldn't even seek such things. "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay." Our part is to continue to witness to others and put their needs ahead of our own. After all, isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Calvinism and Arminianism Reloaded

Several years ago, I wrote a trilogy of posts on the rudimentary difference between Calvinism and Arminianism, two significant schools of thought within Christian theology. In its purest sense, the former results in a "once saved, always saved" view of salvation, by grace alone, ignoring works altogether. The latter is often misinterpreted as salvation through works alone, ignoring grace altogether. These are, of course, exaggerations of the teachings of these two men, both of whom must have understood that the Bible, particularly the NT, tells us that salvation is a synergy of both grace and works. If you have not read those posts yet, I strongly recommend that you do that first, because whether you know it or not, if you claim to be a Christian, your worldview has been influenced by these two theologies.

Our church's bulletin this week contained this pithy saying: "Salvation is not a reward for the righteous; it's a gift for the guilty!"

This, of course, immediately brought to mind the grace vs. works debate. I get that they're trying to remind us that we cannot earn our way into Heaven, and that is true, but in the effort to sound clever, the writer ignores God's call to righteousness and holiness, "without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). Or how does it stand against the claim that God "is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6b)?

And if salvation is solely a gift, requiring no effort on our part, why, then, did Paul feel pressed to write the following?

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

Salvation is indeed a gift, offered to us through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ crucified, not by the will of man, but that of God. But let us not rest easy, falsely believing that no heart-change and no "fruits of the Spirit" are necessary, lest we find ourselves before the Lord on that Last Day, counted among the goats, and we hear Jesus say to us, "I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity" (Luke 13:27).

Therefore, since we are indeed called to be holy, we all must stand with Paul and say, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ninja Insanity 2012

Despite my lack of posts over the past few years, one constant is my annual tradition of posting about our Halloween.  That's more than a little odd, since we are devout followers of Christ, and this is a Christian blog.  But we shun its satanic undertones, and instead use it as an opportunity to dress up (which we love doing, anyway) and host like-minded friends and family at our house.

We usually do something creative with our pumpkins, and I often go the extra mile to turn mine into a piece of art.  Unfortunately, we were totally uninspired last year (yeah, I'm actually a whole year behind!).  We had decided to just put them out as-is and try to come up with something cool for next year.  But while I was at work, my wife and son decided that really wouldn't do, so they stuck faces onto the pumpkins, for a comical effect.

We also could not decide what costumes to wear.  Kylen wanted something with lots of weapons, while Farrah was torn between Lord of the Rings and Legend of Zelda characters.  She wanted us all to match, but she also wanted our son to be happy with the choice.  In the end, he opted for being a ninja... FOR THE THIRD YEAR IN A ROW!!!!  Ugh!  What's the matter with the boy???  So we caved.  Farrah got a ninja outfit that matched his.

I combined my Wraith King of Agmar robe with my Street Fighter pants from 2011, and custom-made wooden sandals, to become a fearsome samurai.  The bulk of my costume work was sewing together a sache and making the sandals, which were surprisingly comfortable.

So, what did we do THIS year??? Check out my wife's latest posts!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fighting Doubt

Although my father-in-law typically steers clear of religious humor (out of reverence for our Lord and Savior) he does like to tell this poignant joke:

Satan decided to hold a garage sale.  The whole neighborhood showed up for the event, of course.  Among the various bric-a-brac, there was a collection of tools.  Some were clearly ancient and well-used, while others looked newer and shinier.  Someone picked up a familiar-looking tool and took it to Satan, to ask him how much he wanted for it.  "How did this get in there?" he replied in disbelief.  "I'm sorry but this one is definitely not for sale.  Why, Doubt is my very best tool!"

You can actually substitute any of Satan's tools in the joke (discouragement, temptation, greed, laziness, etc...), but there is little... err... doubt that this is one of his best.

For our weekly Bible studies, we've been watching several excellent apologetics DVDs from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  Last week, we watched a Q&A held at a secular university, and one student asked Ravi how to combat spiritual doubt.  Ravi confessed that he never had any doubt in Whom Jesus is and went on, instead, to address hypocrisy in those who profess to be Christians.

Perhaps he misunderstood the question (or maybe I did), but regardless of his own personal experience, doubt is very real, and we, as Christians, need to know how to recognize it and combat it before it sabotages our very faith in God.

The Bible reminds us over and over how instrumental our faith in God and His Word is in living according to His Divine Will.  When we begin to doubt whether He can help us with a problem, or perhaps whether He even exists, we distance ourselves from Him and become hardened to His calling and instruction.  We also forsake the power which He gave us through the Holy Spirit.  And without that power, we cannot live holy lives.

When you consider that the world-at-large has forsaken God, having thrown itself into the clutches of the devil, it's no wonder that doubt is knocking at the doors of Christian hearts.  We are surrounded by a world that denies Christ, and even professing Christians (some very prominent) show signs of departure from (and sometimes outright abandonment of) God and His Holy Word.  It can make us doubt our own experience, our own faith, our own hopes that are in Christ.

How do we fight it?  Through continued study of God's Word, building on our relationship with Christ and other like-minded Christians, and reaffirming His influence in our lives.

A popular slogan of the computer age is, "garbage in, garbage out."  Continued exposure to worldly messages that deny the Christian faith and even the very existence of God works like water upon a rock, slowly wearing it down, until it is entirely washed away.  Instead, put into your mind the Word of God.  Study your Bible daily, not just to read it, but to learn what God's will is for you and to understand how to apply it to your own life.  His Word has the amazing effect of pushing out thoughts of the world and putting in His own thoughts.

You cannot maintain a friendship if you do not spend time with that person.  The Apostle Paul says to "pray without ceasing."  Talking with the Lord builds your relationship with Him.  How can you doubt a friend you know almost as well as yourself?  Likewise, scale back your relationships with worldy people, seeking instead the company and fellowship of like-minded believers.  They will encourage you, and you them.

Lastly, remember what wonderful things the Lord has done for you and those around you.  Remind yourself of your own salvation experience and how the Lord brought you out of tough spots that you had no strength or knowledge to deal with on your own.  Share your experiences with other Christians and, in turn, listen to their testimonies.  It will reaffirm to you that we serve a great and awesome God, whose love for us knows no limits!

And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Luke 12:29-34).

Friday, February 22, 2013

Revering God

Some mornings I wake up with an idea so stunning, that it stays with me for hours, or even the whole day.  Sometimes it's from a dream, others it's simply my first waking thought, often put there by the Father of Lights.  I had just one such experience yesterday morning.

To show reverence for God, you must first accept the gift of His Son, who died on the cross for your sins.  You must surrender to Him and claim Salvation for yourself.  Anything else you try to do to honor, respect, or love God is meaningless, unless you do this first.

Maybe this is obvious to the seasoned Christian, but it was on my heart to write about it.

I read recently that in East Asia it is considered good manners to receive something from a person with both hands, even if it's someone at work handing you something as mundane as a memo.  It shows that you care about that person and appreciate the trouble they went through to offer you the item.  It shows that, at least for the moment, you are dropping whatever else you're doing and making them top priority.

What do we do in America if someone tried to hand us something, especially at work?  We either hurriedly take it with one hand (because we have a coffee mug, pen, or computer mouse in the other) or, even worse, tell the person to "just drop it on my desk."

If a solicitor calls or rings the doorbell, our gut reaction (if we answer at all), is to curtly respond with "no, thanks" and hang up or shut the door in their face.  But what if Jesus Himself came by, with the best present ever offered, stained in His own precious blood?  Would you tell Him, "Oh, uh, just leave it on the step"?