Friday, May 14, 2010

The Blind Side

I finally saw The Blind Side! I had heard so much about this movie from many others but hadn't gotten around to seeing it until a few nights ago. For those of you who haven't seen it (I can't imagine there are many left), the movie is about a boy, Michael, who grows up with absent parents in a rough neighborhood in Memphis, TN. Eventually he is accepted to a private Christian school partially because he is massive and athletic, thus making him a likely star on the football team. While attending school there he is taken in and adopted by a wealthy Christian family, the Tuohys. The mother of the family, Leigh Anne, played by Sandra Bullock, takes the lead role at least in the movie in caring for Michael. She gives him a place to sleep, food to eat, and clothes to wear. Largely because of this family's influence, Michael is able to graduate high school and earn a D-1 football athletic scholarship. He now plays in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens.

The Touhys and particularly Leigh Anne in this movie are followers of Christ and do an amazing job of demonstrating the love of Christ to Michael. The giving of shelter, food, and clothing certainly reminds me of Matt. 25, particularly verses 34-35: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." This is to be characteristic of Christian love. But one thing kept nagging me as I was watching the movie.

The Touhys are rich. It was no problem for Leigh Anne to buy all this extra stuff for Michael because the family had so much disposable income. Surely if these acts weren't there the picture of God's love would not have been as magnificent, so it made me wonder if their riches cheapen the expression of love we see in the movie.

I don't think they do. Any love we show is ultimately virtuous insofar as it is an expression of God's love. The reality is that God is really really rich. He's not rich in the sense that He has alot of money, but He is rich in His glory. God is able to love us because He is so rich. It is because God is so rich in mercy that He can save people who are by nature children of wrath:

"among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—" - Eph. 2:3-5 (emphasis mine)

Because God is rich in mercy, He has spent lavishly on us to save us. In fact when Christ comes to save us He humbles Himself to take on the form of a servant and die (Phil. 2:7-8). In this way, although Christ was rich with glory in heaven, He made himself poor for us:

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich." - 2 Cor. 8:9

The Touhys thus demonstrate God's love to Michael by using their riches to spend lavishly on him. It is an awesome picture of God's love that really touched me through watching the movie. But the Touhys don't spend to the point of becoming poor. They don't die in Michael's place. Their love is a mere sign; it points us to a far greater love. God not only spends His riches on us: He becomes poor for us! He spends the largest price possible to win us: the death of His only Son! And what is the end goal? That we by His poverty might become rich, rich in the joy that comes from knowing God (Ps. 16:11, Phil. 3:7-9).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Freshmen

I've recently been enjoying rediscovering an old hit by The Verve Pipe called The Freshmen. I remember liking the song when I was younger but I don't think I ever really caught the lyrics. As I've been listening to it more this time around I think it really presents a vivid picture of the experience of guilt.

According to the band website FAQ and an interview with lead singer Brian Vander Ark this song is about the guilt Vander Ark experienced when his ex-girlfriend had an abortion. Though the song also tells the story of a suicide, Vander Ark suggested this was poetic license. The first verse goes:

"When I was young I knew everything
She a punk who rarely ever took advice
Now I'm guilt stricken,
Sobbing with my head on the floor
Stop a baby's breath and a shoe full of rice"

The last line is a reference to the abortion and potential marriage that never happened. Right from the beginning of the song we see the theme develop: at a younger age he thought he knew what he was doing, and now he's stuck with the guilt of his/his ex's actions. In some sense the whole human race is like this. When the human race was young in the form of Adam, we thought we knew everything and chose to disobey God (cf. Gen. 3, Rom. 5:12-19). Now each of us is born guilty as a result. Not only that, but we experience this guilt in our lives as well.

The Bible testifies that we are all born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), foolish (Pr. 22:15, 29:15), and in sin (Ps. 51:5). Our hearts are deceitful (Jer. 17:9). There is a way that seems right to us, but in the end it leads to death (Pr. 14:12). Therefore Paul instructs us to flee youthful passions (2 Tim. 2:22). As far as I can tell from what I've read of Vander Ark, he is not a Christian. Yet it seems he has described in this song exactly what the Bible teaches is true of man: in our pride we think we can determine what's best apart from God, but it only leads to death. Vander Ark further shares in the chorus:

"for the life of me, I could not believe we'd ever die for these sins, we were merely freshmen."

When making the choices he made, he could not believe his actions would have real consquences. He could not imagine the way he was choosing could lead to death. He was a foolish kid. Now he finds himself guilt-stricken and sobbing with his head on the floor. I've experienced this so many times in my life. Throughout my life there have been a number of instances where I sinned in ways that had significant consequences. When deciding to engage in these actions I never felt like they would be that big of a deal, but afterwards I often felt this same guilt that Vander Ark discusses. I don't think Vander Ark and I are alone either. Especially poignant in the Bible is the example of David:

"Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your a steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!" - Psalm 25:7

What David expresses here is essentially the need of my heart and of Vander Ark's, even if Vander Ark doesn't express it in a prayer to God. We now feel the guilt of our sins and we want to be free from it! So how do we deal with it? Vander Ark in the bridge:

"I can't be held responsible
She was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place"

We try to convince ourselves its not our fault. We try to find some way to rationalize what happened. We try to keep telling ourselves we won't be held responsible. We try to blame shift (Gen. 3:12). But that doesn't really work does it? I can almost sense as I listen to this song that Vander Ark is yelling this at himself because even he knows it's not the case. It's as if he wishes it were true but he knows it is not. Our sin is our fault. Another way we try to deal with it, verse 3 from Vander Ark:

"We've tried to wash our hands of all this
We never talk of our lacking relationships
And how we're guilt stricken sobbing with our
Heads on the floor"

We try to wash our hands of it, we try not to talk about it. We simply try to avoid and hide the guilt and shame we feel. And yet the result is the same: we're guilt stricken and sobbing with our heads on the floor. We waste away hiding our sin (Ps. 32:3-4). This is basically how the song ends. It presents a vivid depiction of the feeling of guilt and the unsatisfying ways in which we try to deal with it. The picture of guilt it presents and our attitudes in it have significant overlap with what the Bible says is true about man and what we experience. Then the song ends. But the story of the Bible does not end there. What hope do we have? What is the answer to the heart need for forgiveness and freedom from guilt expressed by Brian, David, and myself?

"how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." - Heb. 9:14 (emphasis mine)

The only hope we have is for someone else to bare that guilt and condemnation in our place. How amazing is the love of God, that when He heard the guilty cry of humanity He did not sit back in heaven waiting for us to fix it, but instead took the iniatitive to enter into our mess and bare the guilt of it Himself by dying on the cross and being numbered among the transgressors. Trying to convince ourselves we won't be held responsible or simply avoiding the issue won't purify our consciences: only the blood of Christ can do that. If we've placed our faith in Christ and His sacrifie we no longer need to avoid our sin but can freely confess it in full confidence of God's forgiveness (Ps. 32:5).

I love this song. It is so true to our shared experience as sinful humans. I love Vander Ark's honesty and vulnerability to pour out his heart in this song. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is SO MUCH BETTER!!! Would you join me in praying that Brian and others whose hearts feels the same things his does in this song would take refuge in Christ and have their consciences truly purified?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Seeing Christ in Amos

For those of you who actually read my sidebar on this blog, you may know that I've been reading through Amos in my personal time with the Lord. When you saw that you may have thought, "why read Amos? Isn't that just another one of those weird judgment prophets? The New Testament is way better."

I must admit this has been my perspective on much of the Old Testament throughout my Christian life. However, as I studied more of the New Testament, I came to see that really the Old Testament is about Christ. While this idea is littered throughout the NT in the way the authors approach OT texts, two poignant examples came to me in John and Luke's gospels.

When Jesus condemns the pharisees in John he says this: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.." - Jn. 5:39-40 (emphasis mine) Jesus' charge against the pharisees is that although they read the Bible, they don't see Him in it. Jesus affirms that the OT scriptures bear witness about him, so to read them and not come to Christ is inconsistent. Further, in Luke's gospel: "Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures," - Lk. 24:44-45. Jesus says everything written of Him must be fulfilled, and he opens his disciples' minds to understand and see that the scriptures all speak of Him (cf. Lk. 24:27).

As we read the OT then, I think we can be excited to find that they bear witness about Christ. We can also pray that Jesus would open our minds to see Him in the scriptures. I've been praying this as I've been reading through Amos and I believe God answered that prayer in helping me to see Christ in chapter 8. In Amos God has been prophesying judgment against Israel largely for their oppression of the poor, idolatry, and pride. This theme continues in chapter 8 as God describes what punishment will look like for these sins:

  • God will never forget their sins (v. 7)
  • The sun will go black and the earth will darken at noon (v. 9)
  • The mourning on that day will be like one mourning the loss of an only son (v. 10)
  • God will not speak to them (v. 11)
  • They will faint for thirst (v. 13)
Now right off the bat in verse 7 we have a big problem. If God will not forget our sins, what hope do we have? We've all engaged in sins no worse than Israel's (Jas. 2:10), so what hope is there for us? Well, God does actually also tell us of a day where He will remember our transgressions no longer: "And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” - Jer. 31:34 (emphasis mine)

So how is this possible? How is it that God can say He will never forget our sins and then choose to forget our sins? Our only hope is for someone else to actually bare this judgment described in Amos 8. The judgment must occur because of our sin, but if we bare it the Lord will never forget our sins. Who will then bare this judgment in our place? In Hebrews 8 we learn that Christ is the mediator of this new covenant where our sins are forgotten. Christ took the curse of Amos 8 so God could remember our sins no more. I was amazed when I considered the ways in which Christ fulfilled each of these judgments:

  • God will never forget their sins (v. 7) - On the cross Jesus is punished for our sins (Gal 3:13). God essentially "remembers" our sin when He punishes Christ for them, so that He can forget our sins when looking at us (Jer. 31:34)
  • The sun will go black and the earth will darken at non (v. 9) - When Christ is on the cross the sky turns black at noon, signifying God's judgment (Matt. 27:45). Though this darkness of judgment was what we deserved, Jesus takes it on the cross so that we can step into God's light (1 Pet. 2:9).
  • The mourning on that day will be like one mourning the loss of an only son (v. 10) - When Jesus died, God's only true son (Jn. 5:19) died. Though mourning as though one had lost their only son was a punishment we deserved, here we see God taking that punishment on Himself and mourning as His only son dies so that we will be free from mourning (Rev. 21:4).
  • God will not speak to them (v. 11) - When Christ is on the cross, God does not speak to Him. Jesus is forsaken (Matt 27:46). Though the famine from God's words was a punishment we deserved, Jesus takes that punishment on Himself so that now we can hear from God (Jn. 10:27)
  • They will faint for thirst (v. 13) - When on the cross, Jesus thirsts (Jn. 19:28). Though even physical ailment was the punishment we deserved, Jesus suffers that as well in our place so that one day we could be free from such physical pain (1 Cor. 15:50-53).
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Barbarian Way: A Review (Part 3)

It feels like a while since I last blogged what with finals and everything. Nonetheless, I do want to finish the last part in my series on the book The Barbarian Way. In Parts 1 and 2 I discussed what I liked and didn't like about the book. In the final estimation what I didn't like outweighed what I did like. In this post then I'd like to address those who had the opposite experience with the book. Among their number are some friends I respect, so I don't just want to write them off. Instead I'd like to offer some agreement, warning, and encouragement.

The people I talked to who liked the book emphasized that they felt challenged to move outside of their comfort zone and join Christ in His sufferings. I agree! I felt challenged in the same direction, and I thank the Lord for using the book in this way in my life and in the lives of others. I think these challenging parts are a big reason why many like the book.

That said, I want to offer a warning to those who liked the book: pursue discernment. I think it can be tempting for all of us when we like parts of a book to then swallow it whole. It can also be temping to assume the writer is saying certain things when he or she isn't. In the case of this book while I found sections challenging, I think the overall approach is flawed (I went over why in Part 2). Therefore I think swallowing the book whole could lead to a vague sense that we need to "be the barbarian" without knowing what that means, could cause us to look to our own inner barbarian rather than God's gospel and promises for transformation, could distract our attention from God's written Word to our own sense of the "voice of God," and give us a smug self-righteous attitude towards the "civilized" religions, among other things.

While not presuming to know anyone's heart, I feel I must include that I'm sure some liked the book for these reasons rather than the good reasons I mentioned previously. Some part of us likes looking to the inner barbarian rather than to what God has done in the gospel or having to place faith in His promises. Some part of us likes doing whatever our senses tell us to do and being able to look down our nose at "civilized" others. I think some who read the book probably liked it for the good reasons mentioned above, but I wouldn't want to suggest those are the only possible reasons someone might like it. Without discernment, I fear these bad reasons get missed. As with any book other than the Bible, we must be both teachable (Pr. 2:2-4) and discerning (Acts 17:11, 1 Thess. 5:19-21) as we approach it, lest we be led astray (Col. 2:4-8, Eph. 4:14-15). As we are teachable we can take in and praise God for the good and as we are discerning we can recognize and reject the bad.

The encouraging news is that God does call us to suffer, but not because it's the barbarian way. Instead he calls us to suffer because (to give only a few examples):

  • In doing so, we share in Christ's sufferings (1 Pet. 4:12-13)
  • It grows us in hope (Rom. 5:3-5)
  • It grows our character (Jas. 1:2-4)
  • We learn God's statutes (Ps. 119:71)
  • God works it for good (Rom. 8:28-29)
  • He suffered the ultimate penalty in Christ on our behalf! (Isa. 53, 1 Pet. 2:21-25)

I hope these reviews were helpful. I plan to continue doing them for other popular books I've read or for ones I'm currently working on. Let me know if there's anything that would make them better or if you have any more thoughts on The Barbarian Way.