Be Unified: Philippians 2:1-4

The following is a sermon I preached at Seed Church on August 19, 2018.  You can listen here.

Jumping back into Paul’s letter to the Philippians church where he wrote while under house arrest and the scholarly consensus seems to be that he wrote from Rome.  Paul is going to talk to the Philippian church about unity.

How do we as believers have unity in a culture right now of scorched earth divisiveness?  Here are Paul’s words:

Verse 1-2:  So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

At the beginning of chapter 2, Paul is shifting from talking about outside persecution which he addresses as a problem in chapter 1 verse 29 and 30 to talking about unity within the Philippian’s church.  The Philippians had taken a united stand against outside adversaries and so Paul smartly hones in on talking about keeping the unity in the church.  By the way and style Paul is writing here, this is of utmost importance for the church.  There is a vital connection between striving together as a church for the gospel and internal unity of the body of believers.

Encouragement in Christ probably means that the Philippians church should look to Christ and their relationship to Christ above all else.  What is interesting is that Paul is calling the Philippians to unity here and Jesus also had this prayer in John 17.  Jesus pleads with His Father for the disciples to be unified and to be one.  Unity among believers is a huge theme among the center of our faith, Jesus, and the greatest missionary in the world, Paul.

‘Any comfort of love’ speaks to the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in the believers life.  Agape love is unconditional love.  Paul is building his case with this passage.  The key to attaining unity is to be in relationship to Jesus and then experiencing the soul comfort of being unconditionally loved, not only by God, but also by the people in your community.

‘Participation in the Spirit’ is the community of believers all being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Note that this is not an individual Spirit or a party spirit but the Holy Spirit (third member of the Trinity) who commonly possesses the believers in Jesus.  Another key to unity is a given community of believers tapping into the Holy Spirit who inspires and convicts believers to focus on commonly important things in their communities.

‘Affection and sympathy’.  Would that be strange for someone to write a letter to Seed Church and encourage us to have affection for one another?  A little weird and out there?  But calls gives more clues to unity by asking that a community of Christians care deeply for one another and remain sympathetic to one another as the hardships of life come.  We start to see a picture of the keys to having unity.  Sympathy is trying to understand the perspective of someone else.  This may even be someone you emphatically disagree with on many things.  Taking time to care deeply and consider someone else’s perspective are a part of Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians church.

In the last part of the verse, he makes reference to having the same mind a couple of times.  And with that Paul asks them to have the same love (Jesus is the perfect central figure here) and being in full accord.

Verse 3:  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Humility literally means ‘lowliness of mind.’ biblos.com says, ‘In Scripture, lowliness or humility is an inside-out virtue produced by comparing ourselves to the Lord rather than to others.’

Unity becomes impossible if Christians are out for themselves.  Paul says don’t act out of rivalry.  Rivalry can be translated ‘selfish ambition’.  This word is used for a person pursuing power.  They want more power and influence at the expense of others.  ‘Conceit’ can be translated as ‘empty glory’.  A pointless exhaltation of one’s self.  Paul asks us to take on humility and think of others as more important then ourselves.  

Here is Paul’s version of dying to live.  Love God above all else, but also love our neighbors and consider other people’s needs above our own.  And even taking into account this passage, taking into account the needs of the community before our own.  

Obviously a tough exhortation to live out in a radically individualistic and materialistic culture like ours.  And probably difficult to live out in first century Greco-Roman culture as well.

A consistent Biblical message is that God is for the weak and lowly.  In Psalm 17:28, God saves the lowly and humble.  God looks upon the lowly in Psalm 112:4-6.  God pays attention to the prayers of the lowly in Psalm 101:18.  In Isaiah 2:11 and Ezekiel 17:24, God gives grace to the lowly while he opposes the scoffers.  Lowliness and humility are celebrated virtues throughout Scripture and that is no different in Paul’s epistles.

Paul will continue on this theme of humility by talking later in chapter 2 about Christ making Himself humble and low.  I don’t want to get ahead of the proceedings here but this attribute is vitally important to connecting with God and also, as Paul is stating here, key to unity within a community.

Here is a note from Word Biblical Commentary:  ‘In the Qumran community humility was valued as a virtue because it carried within itself the ingredients for unity and love within the fellowship.  Repeatedly in the rule of the community the members are told that ‘they shall all be in the community of truth, and virtuous humility and loving charity and scrupulous justice.’  Paul is heir to these ideas, agreeing especially with the Qumran concept of humility in so far as he too holds as indispensable for unity within the community that kind of behavior that is generated by an attitude of humility.’

Paul is going to connect humility directly to Christ Jesus and factor the virtue in as a cornerstone of unity among believers.

Verse 4:  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

This verse can have the translation ‘to look out for’, ‘notice’, ‘keep one’s eyes on’.  What are other people’s interests?  Paul is challenging his Philippian audience to know others in their community really well to even know that their interests are.  The interests of others should be a huge factor in the decisions we make and how we relate to our own community.  This is what Paul was asking the Philippians to uphold.  A lack of pursuing our interests and desires aggressively first is a value that can promote unity.

Matter:

The reason why Paul’s instruction to Philippians matters today is what I briefly touched on at the outset.  When we read the news, interact on social media or listen to people that we know we sense a deep disunity in our culture and country right now.  Pretty much a Grand Canyon of disunity.  Of course, nationally is not the only place where we may feel disunity.  We can have disunity in personal friendships, our marriages, among business partners or board members in an organization.  We can have disunity in the church.

How do we achieve a general sense of unity?  What does that look like in our lives?  Even as we are all unique people who will realistically disagree on various issues, how do we still maintain a general sense of unity?

The calling of Paul to a transcendent mindset is as true today as it was for the Philippian church.  God created us to be in community but we do a predictably great job of royally screwing that up a lot of the time.  Selfish ambition and vain conceits come easier to us.

Thesis:  By being connected to Jesus, we can seek to be humble as the Spirit guides us toward peace and unity in our relationships.

Struggle:  

Human nature,  being marred by sin and fallen, leans toward selfish ambition and thereby disunity.  Relationships with other people within our different spheres of influence is difficult because we all have our needs, wants, and desires.

In our marriages, we have conflict and disagreements.  How do we get to a greater place of unity?  There has been lots of ink split suggesting that the top things that married couples argue about is money and sex.  Two important things in life to be sure and obviously the chances are high that between two people, the expectations and desires around money and sex may differ in a lot of respects.  Those things and other conflicts over kids or jobs can become really major issues that threaten the joy or the oneness of a marriage.  It’s easier to pursue selfish ambitions or agenda which are all about us when life is busy.  We work forty plus hours a week, come home and take care of kids (if we have them) and after all of those duties, we are exhausted and not really wanting to try and understand someone else’s perspective (demonstrating humility through sympathy).  Sure, Paul writes for us to have the same mind, the same love and be in one accord but the circumstances and busyness and distractions often make this hard.

In our businesses or work places, what happens when we disagree with other partners or fellow co-workers?  This is obviously less personal then a marriage.  We go to work and make money to provide for ourselves and families.  How do we solve disputes and conflict in our workplaces when it is easy to justify selfish ambition by just having the mentality that ‘forget everyone else, I just want to make the most amount of money that I can’?

How do we bring the values that Paul wants to instill in this Philippian church to our 21st century American workplaces?  Is that even possible when you, your other partners or your boss or fellow employees may all have different values and agendas in being there?

It becomes easy to go with the common flow of our culture and pursue selfish ambition and vainglory.  Always working to get a bigger house, nicer things, or that fancy new car to show off.  In other words, we can be consumed by our own consumerism in our culture.  Humility becomes an after thought when are fallen nature’s and environment send us vastly different messages then the Apostle Paul.

And how about at church.  There is never any divisiveness at church is there?  Please note my sarcasm.  At church, not necessarily Seed but other places, people often get into these doctrinal conflicts (and it is usually stuff that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things).  We major on the minors so to speak.  People argue over Calvinism or Arminianism.  As Seed Church, we certainly have opinions and leanings in that debate but our natures sometimes tempt us to form like-minded tribes and then divide up into ‘good Christian’ vs ‘bad Christian’ camps or Christians who actually like the Bible vs those who don’t.  This causes us to not be of a same mind or a similar accord but to de-evolve into competing tribes who ostracize others who don’t conform to our demands.  Is it any wonder that churches tragically, deeply hurt people and some of you here have been wrecked by things that churches have done to you?

On a nation level, I think all of us feel and see a scorched earth level of divisiveness right now.  A lot of people are a part of political tribes and they see the other tribe as being an existential threat to the country.  When we view others who disagree about policy matters as grave threats or enemies, there is quite obviously not going to be a same mind or people of one accord.

There is a book out called ‘Political Tribes:  Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations’ by Amy Chua.  I have not read the book.  It is on my list but I have read some excerpts of it.  She has been interviewed by Ezra Klein, who runs the liberal site Vox, and Michael Medved who is a conservative talk show host.  She talks about how humanity is tribal based.  We always have been.  Since the enlightenment is when we started on this radical experiment of individualism which continues on today.  

Even with that element of western culture and especially our culture, there is something deeper going on in people. Chua writes in her book, ‘The grand ideals of democracy have a hard time competing with a simpler, more primal need:  belonging.’

A review suggests:  ‘But tribalism encompasses not only an innate desire for belonging but also a vehement and sometimes violent instinct to exclude.  Some groups organize for noble purposes, others because of a common enemy.’  So human beings being tribal and pursuing vain glory and selfish ambition organize these groups and its ‘us against them’.  There is a lack of humility because there isn’t much of a listening to another side or people who disagree with you or your group.  There is just the categorization of them as the enemy.

Once again, to try and get past these qualities we are battling our innate natures.  How do we get beyond these mentalities?  More then that, sometimes our groups are dealing with vitally important moral issues and deep convictions.  How do we navigate the territory of sometimes having the right convictions and disagreeing?  Can we do that in humility and without selfish ambition?  What does that look like and how do we accomplish that?

Gospel:

The most vital thing that we must do in order to pursue Paul’s vision of unity is surrendering our lives to Jesus and Lord and Savior.  In order to get to a place of unity and peace in our relationships, Paul says we need the characteristic of humility.  The beginning of humility is realizing that we have transgressed.  That we need help.  That we cannot adopt this perspective and embody these characteristics unless we come and give our lives to Jesus.  Upon becoming disciples of Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit in our lives and prayerfully this Holy Spirit works against our selfish ambitions to show us the importance of unity, being of one mind and one accord and one love, in our different relationship circles.

Having affection and sympathy involves listening to others and trying to see things from their perspective even if we disagree.  Now, there are nuances here.  We are a community here at Seed Church.  Seed Church stands for certain convictions- based on orthodox Christianity.  That there is a loving God in Trinity, that Jesus was God and man, there was a virgin birth and a resurrection.  Having humility is not giving up on the vitally important convictions that we hold too.  It is still believing those things to your core but it is also relying on Jesus to help us discern what are the hills we will die on and what are more minor issues that we will disagree on but still have a sense of unity in our marriages, churches, and hopefully among different political perspectives.

There is a vital connection between striving together as a church for the gospel and internal unity of the body of believers.  All of us being of the same mind on Christ and in one accord regarding believing and embodying the gospel and having that impact the deepest parts of us and impact our actions.

The beautiful thing about the gospel and the prayer for our church is that our doors will always be open for all different kinds of people to come here and hear about Jesus and the gospel.  People of all different political beliefs, all different backgrounds and all different races and from all different places in life.  Humility is an embrace that we are going to encounter many different kinds of people with all sorts of various views on stuff but that Seed will always stand for Christ, and His Bible and the gospel that is expressed in its pages.

One of the big keys to unity is humility that erodes selfish ambition and vain glory but also having a common foundation to build upon.  May I submit to you that the common foundation can be Christ and His gospel.  A king and his rule over a transcendent kingdom beyond this world that we can be a part of today.  Citizens of that kingdom, living our lives in this fallen and often dark world, trying to bring whatever light we can as the Spirit guides and helps us. Humbling ourselves before that King and His kingdom, may that be what brings unity and like-mindedness and a same, common love.

Advertisements
Posted in Sermon Transcripts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Coen Marathon: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

“There’s just gotta be a place up ahead, where men ain’t low down, and poker’s played fair. If there weren’t, what are all the songs about? I’ll see y’all there. And we can sing together and shake our heads over all the meanness in the used to be.”

“I believe certainty regarding that which we can see and touch, it is seldom justified, if ever. Down the ages, from our remote past, what certainties survive? And yet we hurry to fashion new ones. Wanting their comfort. Certainty… is the easy path. Just as you said.”

______________________________________

What better occasion to revitalize my Coen Marathon than their new film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” which was released in limited play theatrically but is streaming on Netflix.  Another Coen western, “Buster Scruggs” is billed as an anthology with 6 short films held together by a common theme and an old west backdrop even while being diverse and disparate from one another.

The consistent thread holding together these 6 stories which don’t share any characters (at least not obviously) is the most feared and ancient of human foes:  death.  Turns out the Coen’s have some existential thoughts on the matter which range from their patent screwball comedy style to more serious and despairing reflections.

“Buster Scruggs” is not top tier Coen but overall is very good.  The challenge with having 6 varying stories, of course, is some are better than others.

My favorite is the lead installment starring Tim Blake Nelson as a dancing, singing, guitar playing, cowboy sociopath who rides into town, according to a handy story book that is shown with the chapters, in 1873.  He is Buster and he is a fast, slinging gun shooter who apparently has some poker skills to boot.  This episode is riotously funny and I found myself laughing out loud about as hard as some of the Coen’s other funny musings (“Raising Arizona”, “The Big Lebowski” and “The Ladykillers” to a lesser extent).  Scenes within this episode even suggest a kind of western musical.  I saw this segment described on Twitter as a “Looney Tunes” episode if it was directed by Sam Peckinpah.

James Franco makes his Coen debut next in “Near Algodones” where he tries to rob an isolated prairie bank and is surprised at a bank clerk being willing to aggressively fight back.  Franco ends up strung up for his crimes but will he receive recompense for these sins or miraculously be spared?  Death in this episode comes not when the audience may think that a character deserves the sentence but later for something completely unjust.

The darkest entry in this Coen affair stars Liam Neeson in “Meal Ticket”.  Neeson travels from western town to town setting up a theatrical performance featuring Harrison (Harry Melling), a player with no arms and no legs.  Harrison performs Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, the Bible story of Cain and Abel, works by Shakespeare as well as other works.  The enemy of death comes in one of the darkest chapters of this film and perhaps is a statement on the entertainment industry.  When a person doesn’t perform to full audiences and ceases to make money, they are easily discarded without nearly a thought.  This episode will really put audiences into a depressive pit.  Ultra serious, excruciatingly sad but severely haunting.

Next up is the iconic Tom Waits in “All Gold Canyon”.  Muttering and singing to himself, he stumbles into a pristine wilderness, an Edenic nature and begins to disrupt the scenery by furiously digging for gold.  This segment may be about as close the Coen’s will ever get to doing a Disney film because of the ample time they take in setting up this episode filming gorgeous nature shots featuring elk, fish, owls and other animals.  Clearly, this is about humanity disrupting and pillaging the earth for their own greed and profit.  Ironically, this is the happiest of the episodes in “Buster Scruggs” but we are talking on an extremely relative scale here.

From there, we journey to “The Girl Who Got Rattled” which, in my opinion, is the weakest entry of the anthology.  “Rattled” drones on and feels longer than the other entries.  A wagon train is venturing out to Oregon with Mr. Arthur (Grainger Hines), Billy Knapp (Bill Heck), Alice (Zoe Kazan) and others.  Billy and Alice grow fond of each other and Billy ends up proposing.  Inevitably, tragedy ensues which doesn’t surprise us at this point.

Finally, the last segment is “The Mortal Remains” where the Coen’s engage a full on creep factor.  A lady who is a devout Christian (Tyne Daly), an Englishmen (Jonjo O’Neill), an Irishmen (Brendan Gleeson), a Frenchman (Saul Rubinek), and a trapper (Chelcie Ross) are being transported in a stage coach to Fort Morgan.  There is an allusion to a corpse on the roof.  The Lady’s religious dichotomy is challenged as well as the trapper’s animism.  The stage coach is being driven by a grim reaper looking character with long, flowing black robes.  When one of the character’s mentions stopping, another character states that stopping is not policy.  The allegory here is that these souls have departed life and now are being ferried into an ominous and uncertain afterlife.  Eventually, the travelers arrive and the corpse is carried inside by the Englishman and the Irishman.  Rene, the Frenchman, waits outside and watches the stage coach being driven by the grim reaper character charge off from the town.  Rene turns to walk inside the building, a staircase visible with an eerie blue light emanating from somewhere above.  There was talk in the stagecoach of “negotiate the passage” and “try to make sense of it” but no answers were forthcoming.  As Rene enters the unknown, the doors shut behind him.  And it is over.

With death being the common theme, the Coen’s have no solid answers or truths to offer the audience other than that this enemy comes for everyone and the circumstances are usually unexpected and out of our control.  Someone or something will always get us.  The Coen’s in negotiating their own musings on death are stuck in the book of Ecclesiastes with no gospels afterward.  Certainty is a pipe dream and faith may well be misplaced.

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” again communicates a common idea in most of the Coen’s work:  existentialism and along with that philosophy that life is absurd and probably meaningless.  Thinking back over their filmography though, it is undeniable that they have a fascination with religious faith that turns up in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “The Ladykillers”, the latter being a dichotomy between good and evil and even suggesting that there is a moral arc of justice that comes for the unrighteous.  Those qualities aren’t navigated in this western project however.

There is a brilliance to “Buster Scruggs” and an originality that is filmed with the Coen’s impeccable and underrated production values.  Some episodes are entertaining and others maybe profound while they all point to a specific despair.

My ranking of the episodes:  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Mortal Remains, Near Algodones, All Gold Canyon, Meal Ticket, The Girl Who Got Rattled.

Lester Lauding Level:  4 (out of 5)

Ranking of Coen Bros Movie (so far):

No Country for Old Men (review here)

Fargo (review here)

A Serious Man (review here)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (review here)

The Big Lebowski (review here)

True Grit (review here)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Miller’s Crossing (review here)

The Hudsucker Proxy (review here)

Raising Arizona (review here)

Burn After Reading (review here)

The Man Who Wasn’t There (review here)

Blood Simple (review here)

Inside Llewyn Davis (review here)

Hail, Caesar! (review here)

Barton Fink (review here)

Intolerable Cruelty (review here)

The Ladykillers (review here)

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Spike Lee Joint: “BlacKkKlansman” Review

“There’s never been a black cop in this city.  We think you might be the man to open things up around here.”

You’re Jewish. They hate you. Doesn’t that piss you off? Why are you acting like you don’t got skin in the game?”

We must unite and organize to fight racism!”

______________________________________

At the initiation of Spike Lee’s latest joint, we learn “Dis joint is based upon some fo’ real, fo’ real shit” and so the movie is as we follow the hiring of the first black police officer in Colorado Springs named Ron Stallworth (portrayed by John David Washington- hey, it’s Denzel’s son) in the 1970s.  An above angle shot shows Stallworth walking up to the Colorado based police station and looking up a sign stating that the station is hiring and minority applicants are encouraged to apply.  He is hired and quickly works his way into a detective position while being told he is the “Jackie Robinson” of the police force.

Along with his fellow partner, Flip Zimmerman (a great Adam Driver), he plans to infiltrate the local KKK chapter in Colorado Springs.  My description of this should clue anyone in to just how crazy this story is because we are talking absolutely nuts.

“Blackkklansman” opens with a chubby Alec Baldwin preaching about Aryan nations and white people being the master race.  His rancid lecture happens over film clips being projected behind him of “Gone with the Wind” and D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915).  The tone for the horrible slurs and demagoguery that will follow is set with this scene.  Baldwin’s character name is Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard and astute political viewers will note that the last name of the character is Jeff Sessions’ middle name.  The contemporary political overtones and undertones are aggressively intentional.  More on that later.

The current setting of the film, as I mentioned, is the 1970s and Zimmerman will join a local KKK chapter (“the organization”) and eventually rise through its ranks to lead the group.  The cops have credible evidence that the KKK is planning an attack on black rights activists.  Zimmerman has to meander his way through the craziness.  Fairly early on, one of the KKK members has him pegged for a Jewish guy and Zimmerman has to go on a rant about how much he hates Jews.  However, Zimmerman is Jewish and the fascinating thing about Spike’s, Charlie Wachtel’s, David Rabinowitz’s, and Kevin Willmott’s screenplay is Zimmerman has a discussion about his ethnicity with Stallworth.  He has never felt connected to his Jewish ethnicity including not being connected to Judaism as a religion or any other cultural markers.  Sometimes race is not just biologically what we are but how we culturally choose to identify.

“Blackkklansman”, with its powerful subject matter, is mostly serious and has to be because of what is at stake.  A scene involving Harry Belafonte (playing Jerome Taylor) has him sharing about witnessing the real life lynching of Jesse Washington.  Standing around Belafonte, student activists hold up pictures of broken, mangled and tortured bodies on postcards (racists used to photograph their crimes and pass them around in this manner).  It is as righteously infuriating of a scene as one could ever watch.  Though Spike, as if conducting a passionate orchestra, takes us from these moments of fury to scenes of comedy almost effortlessly.

Spike is a master at dissonant tones in a movie.  No, it doesn’t always work in all of his films but here it seems perfect.  Like an old pro, he moves from scenes that are uncomfortably very funny to heightened drama where the terror of racism leads to real violence.  His profiles of racist buffoons including a young David Duke (played by Topher Grace) leads one to wonder why anyone in their right frame of mind could be persuaded by these ranting bigots but alas, the sin of racism is buried deep and that is precisely Spike’s point.  That people look for justification for their deeply held prejudices among leaders whose brain dead screeds lack any coherence at all.  Director Spike wants audiences to squirm:  do we laugh or cry?

The funniest parts of this movie involve Stallworth speaking on the phone with David Duke. Stallworth is pretending to be white while talking to Duke and they get into absurd debates about how white people and black people pronounce the word “are”.

Coming back around to the political tones, Duke is giving a speech toward the end of the movie where he chants over and over again, “America first.”  We hear someone in the crowd mutter, “Make America great again.”  And here we understand Spike’s point as he brings everything together.  The past is represented by the portrayals of the Klan in “The Birth of a Nation” where the organization is featured as heroes.  The present of “Blackkklansman” has KKK figures longing to go back to a time of American greatness.  What time do they want to go back too?

For the epilogue, Spike zooms forward to 2017 (the future in the timespan of this film) and shows actual footage of the Charlottesville riots.  We see the real life older David Duke speaking, Donald Trump’s press conference stating “very fine people” are tiki-torch marching to the chants of “Jews will not replace us”, and the murder of Heather Heyer (whom Spike memorializes).  The message: how much has really changed?

Spike often has many ideas that he tries to cram into a movie (see “Chi-Raq”) and this often muddles the narrative themes.  There is no muddling in “Blackkklansman”.  Spike is righteously and ferociously throwing punches in clear directions with a consistent narrative that carries the movie through.  Not only one of the best of Spike’s considerable career but one of the very best films of 2018.

Lester Lauding Level:  4.5 (out of 5)

  

 

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Make America Read Again: The Mid-Term Wave Edition

So, I have read some more books.

“It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism” by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Pretty much everyone knows that Congress is broken and has been for some time.  Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, in a fairly short work, have set out to explain what some of the contemporary problems are which include extreme partisanship and a win-at-all-costs mentality.  While Mann and Ornstein have criticisms for both Republicans and Democrats, they place the blame for the bitter stand off mostly on the shoulders of the Republicans whose ever rightward drift has caused a perpetual stand off type gridlock and, in their view, has led to a complete collapse of governing ideas.  They describe the GOP as “an insurgent outlier–ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition”.  The accusations include the Republican party as being more loyal to their brand than the country.  Did I mention this book was published in May 2012 before President Obama’s re-election?

The authors recount the recent history of the Tea Party.  On replay is the debt ceiling, a plot hatched by Virginia Representative Eric Cantor (before he was run out of office for not being conservative enough), that involved using the country’s coming debt default as leverage against President Obama to get him to agree to deep spending cuts.  The result was a pathetic charade and a fiasco but also something that was dangerous for the country’s economy.

“It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” also recounts the times Republicans supported a bill (Conrad-Gregg proposal to deal with the federal debt crisis as one example) and as soon as the White House decided the administration could support the same bill, the Republicans ended up voting against the bill.  This was done to not give President Obama any political wins.  Hyperpartisanship was the genuine status.

The media doesn’t even escape criticism from this book.  Mann and Ornstein hammer many mainstream press outlets for trying to have an even-handed approach to political coverage when one party was disingenuously spinning, obstructing and distorting the reality of what was happening.  Worth noting is that both Mann and Ornstein have been reporters themselves and work for the American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institute respectively.

Haunting that this book was written in 2012, four years before the Republican Party supporting Donald J. Trump and helping him win the presidency.  A revised edition of the book recently changed the title to: “It’s Even Worse Than It Was”.

Lester Lauding Level:  4.5 (out of 5)

Quotes:

“Today’s Republican Party…is an insurgent outlier. It has become ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition, all but declaring war on the government. The Democratic Party, while no paragon of civic virtue, is more ideologically centered and diverse, protective of the government’s role as it developed over the course of the last century, open to incremental changes in policy fashioned through bargaining with the Republicans, and less disposed to or adept at take-no-prisoners conflict between the parties. This asymmetry between the parties, which journalists and scholars often brush aside or whitewash in a quest for ‘balance,’ constitutes a huge obstacle to effective governance.”

“Since the debt limit simply accommodates debt that has already been incurred, raising it should, in theory, be perfunctory. But politicians have found it a useful shibboleth for showing their fealty fiscal discipline, even as they vote to ratify the debts their previous actions have a beginning the country to pay. The symbol of railing against debt has proven politically beneficial, even if not substantively meaningful.”
“The single-minded focus on scoring political points over solving problems, escalating over the last several decades, has reached a level of such intensity and bitterness that the government seems incapable of taking and sustaining public decisions responsive to the existential challenges facing the country.”

 

Faith in the Shadows:  Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer

Here is a book I actually read shortly after it was released (for a change).  ‘Faith in the Shadows’ by Vista Community Church pastor Austin Fischer is a brisk dive into the subject of doubt that is more refreshingly honest than most Christian books on this topic.

Fischer brutally recounts his wrestling with doubt…as a pastor and accurately surmises that crisis of faith come often not from a single moment but from numerous thoughts that have piled up over time.  He talks about the vastness of space and the universe while quoting the late atheist astronomer Carl Sagan.  There is an excellent summary of the crazy account of Job in the Old Testament.  His experiences and parishioner’s questions fill the pages.  The moment he directly challenged God to reveal Himself is included.

The approach of Fischer is to be honest about doubt and to not put up phony facades around other Christians but to embrace the thoughts and the questions which keep us up into the night.  To have faith, after all, implies at least a small amount of doubt just by the definition of the terms.

A striking way to think about doubt is presented by Fischer later in the read.  There is a riff on 1 Corinthians 13 where the Apostle Paul tells us that faith, hope, and love remain but the greatest of these is love.  Fischer postulates that when we have doubts, we often go immediately to a perceived conclusion that more faith is the answer to our probing inquisitions.  This concept is flipped by Fischer suggesting that perhaps love is the answer to our doubts and here, thinking about the great commandment:  love God and love your neighbor.  After all, Paul said the greatest of the virtues was love.

I’m a person that doesn’t struggle too much with doubt although I have at various junctures of my life.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are a legion of questions that I do not have the answer too and passages in the Bible that I don’t quite know what to do with all the time.  However, the divine person of Jesus remains compelling to me and more so than when I first encountered Him at the age of 14.

Fischer reinforces the important ideal that doubt is a part of life.  People do not need to be shamed for having doubt or severely judged for asking tough questions.  Rather we should approach one another humbly and prayerfully by our love (as the church and we have a long way to go here) be the answer to our doubt as we seek to serve and make a positive difference in the communities we find ourselves residing in.

Lester Lauding Level:  4 (out of 5)

Quotes:

“People don’t abandon faith because they have doubts. People abandon faith because they think they’re not allowed to have doubts.”

 

The Shack by William P. Young

This is a book that I had sitting on my book shelf where it had been for a long time.  “The Shack” by William P. Young has been extremely popular and controversial for the theological ideas within the novel.  For that reason, I thought I would give the book a try.  “Meh” is my response after reading the book through and it will soon be off my bookshelf and into the donate pile.

A lot of people have criticized the theology.  The main character, Mackenzie (or Mack as in Mack at the shack), encounters the Trinity at an old abandoned shack in the Oregon wilderness after his daughter is brutally kidnapped and murdered.  There is evidence that this shack is where his beloved daughter was taken.  God the Father (called Papa) is an African-American woman, Jesus is there as a buddy, and the Spirit of God is a gardener called Sarayu.  I won’t necessarily criticize the theology much.  Young is dealing with the most problematic of issues for Christians: the problem of evil.  Why would such a barbaric act happen to an innocent 7 year old?  I will give anyone grace trying to parse these mammoth issues.  In Young’s case, he goes hard into free will but also flirts with open theism.  Whatever verbal gymnastics that open theists want to do in order to explain the presence of a good God and evil, open theism does not solve the problem.  Even if God intentionally blocked his omniscience of the future (or relinquished his control in some way), critics would add that God still may be culpable because he could have stopped the evil anyway by not limiting Himself.

Theology aside, this story is not very good.  There is even sloppiness with the logic at which the story unfolds.  At the beginning, a narrator is introduced that is telling Mack’s story.  There is a scene described where Mack is all alone and falls asleep on the couch and Young describes what was on TV.  How would a narrator know this who wasn’t present?  How would Mack know this in order to tell the narrator as he was asleep?  It is this kind of not thought out writing that pulls the reader out of the story completely.

The incident where Mack’s precious daughter Missy is kidnapped seems outrageously far fetched as well.  Mack and his family are at a campground.  His son and other daughter are canoeing.  The canoe tips over and Mack runs to save them in the lake. When they come back, Missy is gone with ominous clues left behind.  So, a would be kidnapper and murderer was watching them for days and waiting for a moment to grab the 7 year old?  And that moment comes by a random canoe tipping of which may have distracted Mack for 5 or 10 minutes so his daughter could be lured or kidnapped and the assailant could drive away?  This is not very well thought out and even as you read this, you could probably come up with better scenarios on your own for a kidnapping to take place in a story.

The rest of the story gives way to sentimental spirituality and writing that really wants to sound poetic and deep but just isn’t.  Not even close.  The answers that Mack seeks at the shack he doesn’t really get any solid resolutions for either.

Lester Lauding Level:  1.5 (out of 5)

 

The Year of Living Like Jesus: My Journey of Discovering What Jesus Would Really Do by Edward G. Dobson

“The Year of Living Like Jesus” by Edward Dobson, right from the start, is a gimmick.  Dobson has no qualms about saying that he was inspired by AJ Jacobs book, “The Year of Living Biblically” where Jacobs apparently tried to live according to Old Testament law (I haven’t read that book).  One day, a Christian publisher thought that the religious marketplace could perhaps use its own book like this.  Enter Ed Dobson.

Most of this book reads like a person’s journal entry.  Dobson existentially tries to come to terms with what living like Jesus would actually be like.  Not just the morality but keeping in mind that Jesus was Jewish and came from a specific culture.  Dobson sought the advice of Rabbi’s and dipped into other faith traditions including praying the Catholic rosary, the orthodox prayer rope and the Episcopal prayer beads into his life.  As a note, the historical figure of Jesus would have done none of these.

Dobson did start observing Sabbath (Shabbat) on Saturday and wearing tassels as well as growing a long beard.  He lamented over the kosher diet and not being able to have some of his favorite foods.

The books becomes odd and seemingly distracted in places.  Dobson spends a good deal of time explaining why he voted for Senator Barack Obama for president in 2008.  He also has an unintentionally funny internal debate about whether Jesus would golf (!).  Dobson preceded to golf.

The book continues on through choppy journal entries and Dobson describing his reading over and over again of the 4 gospels.

A good thing that I took away from the book is wanting to understand more fully Jewish culture in the first century.  A solid historical and cultural understanding of the time when Jesus lived would provide a more rich picture when reading the gospels or thinking about Jesus’ life.

Lester Lauding Level:  2.5 (out of 5)

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Paul’s Resume of Suffering: 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

The following is a sermon I preached at Seed Church on June 10, 2018.  You can listen to the sermon right here.

Mean:

Verse 16-21:  “I repeat, let no one think me foolish.  But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.  What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not with the Lord’s authority but as a fool.  Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.  For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.  To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that.  But whatever anyone else dares to boast of-I am speaking as a fool- I also dare to boast of that.”

Let’s go back to Aaron James’ passage from last week to get some context for our passage here.  The Apostle Paul said that he felt a divine jealousy for this Corinth church.  Paul had labored hard to get them the gospel which he describes that he did free of charge in verse 7. Paul even declared in verse 8 that he robbed from other churches in order to serve the Corinth church.  The Apostle had labored hard and had used up other generous resources given to him in order to minister to the Corinth church.  Now, these other groups were coming in…’super apostles’, ‘deceitful workers,’ and ‘false apostles’.  These groups are tied to Satan as Paul writes that the devil can come disguised as an angel of light.

‘Super-Apostles’ were false teachers but were perhaps more skilled then Paul at speaking and/ or being persuasive.  Some of these groups may have been Judaizers or other Jewish groups trying to add works or Old Testament stuff to the gospel of Christ.  Some groups may have been influenced by more Greek philosophy.  Mystery religions during this time emphasized ‘secret knowledge’ and often times that was a form of Gnosticism- material reality is evil and the spiritual realm is pure.

In our passage today, Paul’s frustration seems to have built up.  He is going full sarcasm. Apparently, some of these super apostles were calling Paul a fool so Paul embraces that and mocks the Corinthians for being ‘wise’ declaring himself a fool so the Corinthians should welcome him on in.  He is going for a lot of irony.

These false teachers were making slaves of the Corinthians and this likely means subjecting the Corinthians to a controlling and domineering style of leadership.  The phony teachers were also ‘devouring’ the Corinthians and this may mean financially taking them for what they were with.  Persuasively teaching a false gospel and charging the Corinthians for the service, all the while putting Paul down.

‘Puts on airs’ is a strange translation for the ESV.  It could also be translated ‘push themselves forward’ or ‘lifting themselves up.’  

Finally, we come to ‘strikes you in the face’.  This could mean humiliating the Corinthians in the sense of teachers pushing them around but some commentators think it may refer to a physical act of violence.  Some members of the church had perhaps been struck by domineering type leaders.

Paul again employs sarcasm.  ‘To my shame, I must say we were too weak for that.’  Paul is saying, ‘hey, we could have dominated you and punched you in the face and enslaved you’ but we didn’t.  Paul being filled with the Spirit had maintained an example of godly leadership in his presentation of the gospel to this church.

He says, I can boast with the best of them.  Paul says he would be a fool to boast but nevertheless, could certainly do it.

As you are hearing these verses, think about the pain that is here.  The irony and the sarcasm that Paul is using shows a deeper sadness as he had worked so hard to get the gospel to the Corinthians and they were betraying Paul and not trusting the Apostle.  More than that, they were being deceived, letting all these super apostles come teach, and turning away from the gospel.  A lot of pain is in these words and that is why some commentators think the severe letter has been tacked on here to 2 Corinthians.  Paul is sarcastically and aggressively calling the church out.

Verse 22-23:  “Are they Hebrews?  So am I.  Are they Israelites? So am I.  Are they offspring of Abraham?  So am I.  Are they servants of Christ?  I am a better one- I am talking like a madman- with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.”

Paul has a succession here to his boasting which he says is utter foolishness but plays along anyway.  There are three designations presented:  1)  Hebrew was the national designation of the people of God.  2)  Israelites was the theocratic name.  3)  Offspring of Abraham marked them as Abraham’s heirs that would inherit the messianic kingdom.  

This follows into being servants of Christ.  Of note here is that Paul doesn’t outright say that they are not professing servants of Christ.  Paul is simply saying, again probably with a degree of sarcasm, that he is more.  It is important to note again from Aaron’s text last week in verse 14’ ‘the devil can come as an angel of light.’  Perhaps appearing to be servants of Christ but carrying a toxic, perverted gospel.

While stating he is talking like a madman, he is being very, very sarcastic, Paul begins to describe his resume of suffering.  Considerable.  A list of trials and pains and agony that he has received as a result of him spreading the gospel around.  Even in his talking like a madman, his case for being a greater servant of Christ certainly holds water.

Verse 24-27:  “Five times I received  at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”

The resume of suffering begins by Paul talking about the 5 times he had received the forty lashes minus one.  This commandment of Jewish punishment comes from Deuteronomy 25:3 so the Jewish leaders being fully committed to the literal letter of the law did not want to go over the prescribed 40 lashes so they merely settled for 39.  Furthermore, there were later rabbi’s who claimed their whip would have 3 strands to it.  Apparently, this was to maximize efficiency because you could whip someone just 13 times with the three strands and it would equal 39.  Torture efficiency.  

Paul was whipped 5 times by Jewish leaders and then beaten 3 times by Romans.  There isn’t much of a record of these specific sufferings outside of this account in 2 Corinthians.  In Acts 16:22-23 is an account of Paul being beaten by rods.

He says once he was stoned and not the medicinal kind that one may find in northern Seattle on Aurora Avenue.   This account is found in Acts 14:19 where his enemies thought he was dead so he must have been unconscious for awhile.

Three times Paul was shipwrecked and we don’t have records of these shipwrecks either.  The famous shipwreck in route to Rome happened after the writing of 2 Corinthians and happened at a later date.  That means this guy was involved in at least 4 shipwrecks in his life.  Perhaps not the greatest sailor or just had bad captains he kept using or hiring.  Seriously though, the boats of this period of history were obviously not nearly as good as vessels today.  Vessels would have leaked easy and there were no life rafts.  They did not have storm warning systems either so it was impossible to track or predict storms.  Maritime disasters were a common occurrence.

He spent a night and day adrift at sea probably clinging to wreckage.

He continues about being in danger from rivers and crossings in order to keep preaching the gospel.  These rivers, with tributaries, probably included the Jordan in Judea, the Trachonitis, the Orontes in Syria, Cydnus in Cilicia, the Meander and Cayster in Asia and the Strimon and Axios in Macedonia.   Danger from robbers or bandits that one would find sometimes on the road was another danger.  Once private travelers got away from urbanized regions, they were subject to robbers.  There was a great deal of poverty in this time and that drove groups of people to join Brigands that would rob people.  Times of acute food shortage and political turmoil would cause the ranks of these Brigands to swell.

He experienced danger from his own people, the Jews.  They stirred up mob violence and opposition to the Apostle in Acts 9:23 in Damascus, in Acts 9:29 in Jerusalem, in Acts 13:50 at Antioch in Pisidia, in Acts 14:5 at Iconium, in Acts 14:19 at Lystra, in Acts 17:5 at Thessonica, in Acts 17:13 at Berea and finally among our Corinthian friends in Acts 18:12.

The dangers that Paul faced were all encompassing from Gentiles, to dangers in the city and country, to dangers at sea, and to dangers from these false brothers (super apostles) who were threats.  Paul was going through a lot to get the gospel out.

Verse 28-29:  “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I am not weak?  Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?”

There are two possible readings for the daily pressure on Paul as he has anxiety for all the churches.  It could mean, ‘without mentioning other things, his daily oversight and care for the church.  It could also mean that Paul is anxious about the number of people that come to him.  The amount of people who demand his attention.  

Paul also had sympathy for what his fellow Christians were going through.  Who is weak, and I am not weak?  Meaning that everyone is weak as a human being.  He can sympathize in people being tempted to fall.

When false teachers led people to fall, Paul was indignant.  Angry that a person he had ministered too had fallen away and especially angry at those super apostles who were leading people astray.

Verse 30-31:  “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.  The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.”

The Apostle contrasts himself with the super Apostles.  The false teachers boast in their skills, their knowledge, their acumen.  Paul boasts in his weaknesses hence his resume of suffering.  The things that show him not as a super man or super hero of the faith in some way, but the things that make him human.

He appeals to God the Father of Jesus Christ who knows that he is not lying in his descriptions of his suffering and all that he has done for the spread of the gospel.  Paul is recognizing God,  not only as author of creation but also the author of redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is an oath that Paul is making.

Verse 32-33:  “At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.”

Well, now we come to a weird verse.  Paul introduces this escape in Damascus and obviously it appears very disconnected from his previous thoughts.  For whatever reason, Paul saw fit to include this account here.  The account takes place in Acts 9:23-25.

The governor is a term applied to a prince or a ruler appointed by a sovereign over a city or province.  King Aretas was the father in law of Herod Antipas.  He was commonly supposed that King Aretas, who was the king of Petra, gained a temporary possession of Damascus around the death of the Emperor Tiberius.

The guards were station at the front gate of the city in order to arrest the Apostle.  But Paul escaped through a window in the wall.  This would have been a small door or aperture.  It could have been a house that was built into the outer wall of the city.  In that was the case, the episode would have been similar to the mode adopted by the spies in Joshua 2:15.

Still, why include this verse in Paul’s flow?

One explanation for the continuity here is Paul including being lowered down as an irony.  In chapter 12 (which we will hear next week)’ Paul talks about a man being caught up to the third heaven.  So there is perhaps a contrast and Paul is talking about lowering himself down to further illustrate his weakness.  His weakness which he says that he will boast in on behalf of the gospel of Christ. The above passage has Paul declaring his weakness’s by showing his suffering.

Matter:

In reading these verse where Paul is laying out what he has gone through on behalf of spreading the gospel, it is sobering to read.  He was a guy that was committed beyond comprehension to taking the message of Jesus as far as he could while making disciples along the way.  Paul is a heralded member of Christianity but in this passage, we see his humanness, his lowliness, and we see his weaknesses because we see he is a guy like us who has suffered.  Whether he was adrift at sea or starving or afraid of robbers or other violent people.  Not to mention the beatings and abuse he suffered.

Like Paul, we all can think of our own resume of suffering.  We have our own lists of the times in our life where we have gone through painful circumstances.  Some of us may be going through those times right now.  Physical pain, marriage troubles, worries about our children and difficulties they face, anxiety about the future, money issues or possibly other issues with our health.

Unlike other brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the world facing persecution for their faith at least in as far as being violently threatened for being Christians (like Paul was) we have that aspect relatively easy with our Constitution and country holding religious freedom as the law.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t face grief and pain as people just like the Apostle Paul when he was hungry, cold and filled with emotional pain while he watched churches he had founded and discipled turn their backs on Jesus and in some cases treat Paul as a villain or at the very least with suspicion.

We understand a lot of this as we are people like Paul and these trials that Paul went through can elicit similar feelings when we go through them today although the circumstances may be very different.

Parts of our lives are painful and suffering can come.

Thesis:  Even though we may suffer and not know why a lot of the time, God’s love never wavers as He identifies with us in our pain.

Struggle:

Our struggle with suffering is understandable.  I’m sure we have all had those moments where we existentially wondered why we were going through something so difficult.  Our culture has various false messages that we seem to innately hold on too for whatever reason:  bad things happen to bad people while good things happen to good people.  As individualistic Americans, we believe our fate is what we make of it.  If we work hard and apply ourselves and take care of our family and participate in being a good neighbor, we should have good lives and things should fall in to place for us.  

This often ignores the reality of things predetermined.  Yes, many of us lean to the Calvinist side of things here at Seed Church but even if you don’t, think of how much in your life you cannot control?  We cannot control what genes we have, the parents we are born to, the socio-economic status we are born into and many more things.  All of those things are decided without our input.

So how should we think about suffering and what does the Bible say about it?

When it comes to the topic of suffering, the Bible gives various reasons for why it happens.  A few years ago, I read a book that I really liked actually called God’s Problem:  How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question- Why We Suffer.  It was written by Bart Ehrman who is not a believer and he set out to show that the Bible contradicts itself on why people suffer.  My takeaway from this book is that the Bible introduces multi-faceted reasons for why people suffer.  The Bible does not contradict itself in this manner at all.  There may be many different reasons why people have chapters of pain and grief written into their lives.

One of those reasons given is:  1) Classical suffering- People suffer because God is punishing them for sin. This is definitely taught throughout Scripture. Amos 3-5 is a good example as well as some other prophetic genres in the Old Testament. Israel had sinned against God and was worshipping other gods. Therefore, this is why they were suffering famines, economic hardships, plagues, political setbacks, and untimely deaths. Prophets often preached that God had given (via the Law and prophets) instructions on how to love and worship Him. If these were not obeyed, there were consequences.

In our times, if you robbed a bank or hacked into a financial institution and transferred a bunch of money to your own account, you may wind up being prosecuted and out in jail.  In other words, you committed a sin and made a bad choice and that is why you suffer in jail.

2) Redemptive suffering- We see this with Jesus. Christ had to go through untold suffering in order to bring about our salvation and connection to God. God can bring good out of evil according to the famous verse is Genesis 50:20 about how God saved Jacob’s family and delivered one of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, from a terrible existence in bondage and slavery.

This is obviously a huge theme in Scripture given the death of Christ as another reason that people may suffer. Many people suffer for the greater good which is considered a completely altruistic act.

3)  People suffer for no discernible reason for why they suffer which is what a large part of the book of Ecclesiastes is about.  Also, we think of Job.  From Job’s perspective, he did not know why a mass amount of suffering came upon him.  His friends were trying to convince Job that he had committed some horrible sin. He hadn’t.  The Bible calls Job blameless.  Of course, us as the audience reading Job know that there was some weird deal between God and Satan but it still isn’t clear why those things happened to Job.

4) Apocalyptic suffering- God’s people suffer because evil forces in the world stand against the advancement of God’s kingdom. Examples: Christians being burned to death in Nero’s gardens, Christians being thrown to the lions, etc. Sometimes, people suffer because they stand for truth or are uncompromising about the right thing and factions that exist in the world punish them for that stance.  This represents some of Paul’s suffering in his resume of suffering.  He suffered because he stood for the gospel.

The reasons for our suffering in life and in the Bible are varied.  This is a big struggle in our lives for two reasons:

  1. Intellectually.   My old seminary professor, Dr. Forbes, used to smirk and cynically smile and call the problem of evil (or theodicy in fancy philosophical circles) was the nastiest question that Christians would have to deal with.  He was right.  In our world, there is suffering and evil and there is the good God of the Bible.  Those truths lead to the following statements:

A) God wills to undo evil and is unable too. This would be an impotent God and is not the God of the Bible.

B) God is able to remove evil but is unwilling. People might view this god as malevolent and mean-spirited. Perhaps a god that enjoys observing people suffer. Again, this is not the God of the Bible.

C) God is both willing and able to remove evil. This is the God that is revealed in the pages of Scripture but we still have to contend with an overwhelming presence of evil in this world.

As you can see, this can be an intellectual struggle when we are suffering because we eventually come to a place where we are not going to have any answers.

2) Subjectively.  We experience pain, grief, suffering.  Again physical ailments, the loss of a loved one or friend, emotional pain is what we may go through.  When we are in these chapters in life, obviously it’ s a massive struggle.  We wonder if things will ever be back to normal again.  Sometimes we forget about what normal feels like.

When we are really struggling, sometimes we believe bad messages that we have heard.  That because we are in such a bad circumstance, we must have a lack of faith or we are doubting too much or there is something wrong with our Christianity.  We have a bunch of heretics out there who imply that if you have a strong faith, you will be materially successful and be healed of ailments that afflict you and all this other stuff.  These are lies.  People’s faith has been severely damaged by teaching like this because when suffering arrives, the message of prosperity theologians brings an extra sense of guilt and spiritual tumult because during the episode of suffering, people beat themselves up because they believe they don’t have enough faith.

Throw that out.

Remember Paul’s life.  One of the greatest figures in Christian history and his resume of suffering.  His whole life was preaching the gospel and planting churches and discipling people.  This was all he did and he went through hell on earth sometimes.  Beatings, having rocks thrown at him, starving, and getting into shipwrecks, Paul had excruciatingly hard times.  He was hurt, devastatingly, by these same churches that he had helped.  They were sometimes selling him out for other super apostles and other more talented teachers.  And yet, he kept following Christ.

Gospel:

All of this said, there are a lot of us going through terrible things right now.  Why are these things happening to you- to us as a community- I don’t know.  Here is what I do know.  God loves you no matter what you are going through or what you face in life.  The gospel is not revoked when we suffer.  The gospel that Paul sacrificed to preach and spread still stands today and for all time.

Don’t be phony.  Be honest.  Be real.  And as a community we can rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

Posted in Sermon Transcripts | Leave a comment

Spielberg Marathon: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

“Nazis. I hate these guys.”

“We named the *dog* Indiana.”

“Oh, *idiot*! In Latin Jehovah begins with an ‘I’!”

_____________________________________________

This is the part where we all collectively wish that the “Indiana Jones” film series ended here with a worthy and excellent sequel to the original.  Alas, I’m dreading the day where I will revisit the 4th installment in my marathon but I’m grateful I’m still a ways away.  “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” is one of the best sequels to a movie (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) that is one of the best of all time.

I remember seeing this Steven Spielberg popcorn adventure thriller in the theater when I was all of 9 years old.  By that time, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones was already an established childhood hero (as I wrote about before) and “the Last Crusade” after the bizarre “Temple of Doom” felt as if we were back to the rollicking fun of the first one.  And, I’m fairly confident that this movie introduced me for the first time to Sean Connery who plays Dr. Jones father (Professor Henry Jones) and reminds us that they actually named the dog Indiana.  Ford and Connery have some of the best chemistry of any on screen father and son combo in the movies.  Their bantering relationship really works in this third outing pursuant to the adventure and unexpected humor.  This is a funnier movie than any of the previous two.

Unique to this movie is we see Indiana Jones in his youth, from 1912, when some members of his boy scout troop interrupt a grave robbery and Jones swipes the cross of Coronado with his signature line: “this belongs in a museum”.  In a nod to numerous classic westerns, Jones is chased on a circus train by the grave robbers and, naturally, falls into a train car full of snakes.  Of note is that the only other actor to portray Indiana Jones in a film is featured in this scene and that would be River Phoenix who tragically died of a drug overdose at the age of 23.

The mcguffin in this installment is the holy grail- the cup of Christ that was said to have been used at the Last Supper.  The legend surrounding the holy grail is that the person drinking from the sacred cup would have eternal youth.  The Nazi’s, of course, are after this relic and the race is on between Jones’ group and the Third Reich.

We are treated to boat chases in Venice, secret clues leading to mysterious passageways in old libraries, elaborate Nazi bases, a Zeppelin in order to attempt to escape Germany, airplane dog fights and Indiana Jones’ taking on massive German tanks on horseback.  How can anyone not have a smile on their face?  In one scene, Jones even meets Adolf Hitler (Michael Sheard) himself and has a diary (kept by his father that has clues to the Grail’s whereabouts) signed by the Fuhrer in a funny mishap.

The real power of this action-packed movie is the climax though which is not that action-packed.  After all the adventurous stunts that have come before, “The Last Crusade” ends with the tension on which cup Jones and a Nazi patsy, Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) should choose to drink.  Choosing anything but the genuine holy grail results in death.  “Choose wisely,” says the guardian grail knight.

The John Williams soundtrack, as always, is stirring and adds to the suspension and excitement.  The movie is impeccably made and is a mesmerizing thrill ride.  While nothing could probably touch the originality and fresh feeling that came with “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, this is the kind of sequel that fans of Indiana Jones can celebrate.

Before the credits roll, the heroes including Jones and his father ride off into the sunset and the moment is well-earned.  If only the Indiana Jones series would have ended there.  If only.

Lester Lauding Level:  4.5 (out of 5)

Ranking of Spielberg Movie (so far):

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Review here)

Jaws (Review here)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Review here)

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Empire of the Sun (Review here)

The Color Purple (Review here)

Duel (Review here)

The Post (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Review here)

The Sugarland Express (Review here)

1941 (Review here)

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spielberg Marathon: Empire of the Sun

“I learned a new word today. ‘Atom bomb.’ It was like a white light in the sky.  Like God taking a photograph. ”

“That’s the idea, Jim. First one side feeds you and the other side tries to get you killed, then it’s turned around; it’s all timing.”

“P-51! Cadillac of the sky!”

________________________________________________

I wasn’t sure when I started “Empire of the Sun” but now I am.  I had never seen this movie before which continues Steven Spielberg’s foray into the historical drama genre after “The Color Purple”.  The lame “1941” was his first World War II movie and “Empire of the Sun” continues what will become a topic of the director’s fascination over his career.  A thing I admire about the film right off the bat is that I cannot think of many other movies capturing this particular vantage point of the war.

“Empire of the Sun” takes place in Shanghai where a British family lives in 1941 in the middle of a 4 year undeclared war between China and Japan.  That family has a spoiled boy, Jim, who is obsessed with airplanes and lives in ease and comfort under the wings of his parents.  Jim is portrayed by (can you believe it?) a thirteen year old Christian Bale in one of his first movies.  Japan would soon invade Shanghai and Jim gets separated from his parents.  The boy is taken to Soo Chow Confinement Camp next to a captured Chinese airfield.

So the movie is a coming of age tale of sorts but also another Spielbergean device of seeing events of the world through a child’s eyes (or in this case, a pre-teenager).  The horror of war, invasion, shootings and death as well as bombing campaign’s will be perceived from Jim’s perspective.

While in the confinement camp, with sickness and food shortages, Jim becomes an inspiration to fellow prisoners that include Basie (it’s John Malkovich) and Dainty (Ben Stiller at the beginning of his career).  Dr. Rawlins (Nigel Havers) would become a father type figure to Jim within the camps and participate in the trading network that is setup among the prisoners.

The uniqueness of this approach to the war is Spielberg avoiding a completely pro-allied perspective on the conflict.  The young teenager Jim befriends a Japanese teenager who is a trainee pilot.  He also witnesses a kamikaze ritual done at dawn by Japanese pilots and is fascinated by the cultural element.  To be clear, this is not an anti-American film.  Spielberg is not as interested in taking sides but showing the humanity of all involved.  With our current drift toward nationalism in the States, “Empire of the Sun” reminds of us of people all around the world who may be as loyal to their country as we are or who may be disillusioned or somewhere in between.  Rather than a binary, there are a multiplicity of perspectives all along the spectrum.

A particularly harrowing moment is when Jim arrives at a football stadium near Nantao and subsequently witnesses the flashings in the sky from the bombing at Nagasaki.  The scene is portrayed as light ripples streaming across the sky.  It is a moment of awe and horror at the same time.  “I learned a new word today.  ‘Atom Bomb.’  It was like a white light in the sky.  Like God taking a photograph.”

All of this hums along to the score by John Williams who by this time had an already legendary collaboration with Spielberg.  Williams, while not having his most well known score here, was already famous for performing the music for “The Sugarland Express”, “Jaws”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “1941”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial”, and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”.  Quite a career already.

“Empire of the Sun”, all in all, is an underrated movie in Spielberg’s catalog.  One that is not talked as much about in comparison with his more famous offerings.  There are a few moments that drag but there is no denying the rare perspective this offers into the World War II conflict and the power of experiencing these moments through the eyes of a pre-teen.

Lester Lauding Level:  4 (out of 5)

Ranking of Spielberg Movie (so far):

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Review here)

Jaws (Review here)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Review here)

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Review here)

Empire of the Sun

The Color Purple (Review here)

Duel (Review here)

The Post (Review here)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Review here)

The Sugarland Express (Review here)

1941 (Review here)

 

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment