Friday, March 25, 2005
A matter of trust
Yes, I've tried many methods to meet single women, and in a way all of them worked, at least to some extent. Once I overcame my youthful awkwardness, my manners got sufficiently polished to attract a fair number of single gals. Of the methods I've employed, none netted me more contacts than the Internet. I've used mailing lists, instant messaging, and singles' Web sites, and made a fair number of contacts each way. Obviously, none of them worked out as I'd hoped, with only one going so far as the beginning stages of courtship. Although I've read the testimonials of how this Web site or that chat room allowed Sally and Tim to find each other, my experience has been quite different, so much so that a while ago I decided to completely forsake such methods.
In fact, I've come to the sad conclusion that relying on the Internet or similar mediums as a primary means to meet members of the opposite sex is, at best, extremely dangerous. Yes, I know about couples who met each other online, and I thank God for his great kindness towards them, but I would submit that such cases are exceptions to the rule. Far from proving the rightness of the method, they prove the great mercy of our Lord, who so often blesses us in spite of our woefully imperfect actions and decisions.
If there is any single reason why I have given up on such methods, it is this: the near-total lack of accountability in the online world. Even the "best" Christian singles' Web sites consist of total strangers meeting total strangers, with each one having no way to corroborate the picture the other person is painting of himself or herself. If I meet Sally online, it is an unusual providence of God if she and I have a common acquaintance or some other means to check up on each other, thus leaving me to take her at her word, and her to do likewise for me. During my time online, I learned to adopt an air of ease and openness, and so did many of the gals whom I met, but the fact of the matter is that we all found it to be essentially impossible to put aside the suspicion we had of one another. Looking back, I see that this suspicion was far from unwarranted. After all, how did I really know that Sally was on the level? For that matter, how did she know that I was on the level? It would have taken a miracle to establish any kind of trust, so since the miracle never came, every one of my contacts eventually fizzled and died.
So, now that I've painted such a bleak picture of the Internet singles' scene, you'd be quite justified in asking, "Do you know of any better way? What's a Christian single to do when there's no suitable singles in his church? Attend a singles' conference?" Well, a conference would be somewhat better, because you're actually going to have face-to-face time with people from the very beginning, but there's still a danger with that method: it's still strangers meeting strangers.
There's a much better way than conferences and such. It's nothing new, in fact it's very, very old, but I'll give it a new-fangled name anyway: networking. By networking, I mean "meeting members of the opposite sex through the auspices of trusted intermediaries: family members, friends, church leaders, church friends, etc.." So what's so great about that? Just this: thanks to the connection you and your new acquaintance have through your common acquaintances, you have a way to establish the trust that's necessary to get to know each other. If I have any questions about Sally, I can talk with her friends, her family, or her pastors, and she can do likewise if she has any questions about me. Moreover, this network ought to provide a means of accountability. Now, since Sally and I aren't total strangers--since I know her connections and she knows mine--our connections can keep an eye out for us, keeping us from pursuing our acquaintance in secret or in the shadows. In my opinion, this is not only the best way to meet eligible singles: it ought to be considered to be the only safe way.
"But," you may ask, "what about me? I'm in a church with no suitable singles, and no one I know has been able to introduce me to anyone suitable. What am I supposed to do? No wonder I hang out on the Christian singles' Web sites!" Well, I have several answers to your concerns. First of all, difficult circumstances are no excuse for employing dangerous means, and don't use the excuse that those means seem to have "worked" for this or that couple. Second, our God is all-powerful, and is well able to turn around a seemingly impossible situation. Finally, there is a practical solution to this problem: like-minded churches with unattached singles ought to network with each other to help their singles meet each other. OK, let's say that your church is near Chicago, and you've got an older single guy who's in search of a wife. Perhaps a church in your denomination or association has an older single gal who's in search of a husband. In such a case, I would argue that it would be good and right for the elders of the two churches to make arrangements to get the two in touch with each other, whether through visiting each other's churches, phone calls, letters, or even email. Such an arrangement would be, I feel, far safer and wiser than the "strangers meeting strangers" Christian Web sites, because the two would enjoy the benefit of pastoral oversight from the very beginning of their acquaintance.
Christian, why leave the singles in your church to fend for themselves? Are you not your brother's keeper? Since you are to take care for your single brother or sister, will you not help them to honor God as they seek to enter into the good and right state of holy matrimony? Let us cease to be negligent in this matter, and become diligent to help to bring together those who may prove to be suitable life partners. By so doing, we will help Christian singles to meet each other and build relationships that are built on trust from the very beginning of the acquaintance.
Friday, March 18, 2005
The worst offense
No, I've not seen the show, nor do I plan to do so, but regardless I feel justified in speaking out against this type of portrayal of Christ for several reasons:
- Jesus Christ is not to be portrayed in visual form, whether on film or in illustration. To do so is to make a graven image, a plain violation of the Second Commandment.
- Jesus is indeed a friend to sinners, as the great hymn reminds us, but he gave his life as a Savior for those sinners, thus paying the most terrible price imaginable. Trust me: The Book of Daniel won't come even close to portraying this side of Christ.
- Jesus Christ is King of Kings, Lord of Lords: God himself. As such he is an unsuitable "character" for any kind of entertainment. Period.
Folks, this kind of thing ought not to be! It is an affront to Almighty God, and ought to be denounced from every pulpit with greater fervor than is used against the sexual immorality of our day. Sins against our fellow man are an affront to God, to be sure, and will be judged in the last day to the uttermost, but the sin of blasphemy is directly against God himself. Church, we ought to have weeped over The Passion of the Christ, but instead we praised it to the skies, so look what we have reaped.
Now, I'm in no way saying that it is impossible to portray Christian values in the media. Quite the reverse! In fact, we ought to rejoice when films such as Luther portray the life of a man who found grace in God's sight and lived a life of service unto him. Moreover, it would be wonderful if every movie and TV show presumed the truth of God's moral Law, showing the terrible fruit of sin and the availabilty of grace through Christ. There's even a place for humorous depictions of certain Biblical themes: surely there is much folly and foolishness in the life of sinful man that is well-deserving of laughter. Many of the greatest films touch on moral issues, albeit imperfectly, in an enlightening and profitable way. There is a great deal of subject matter that's perfectly proper in the performing arts, but what ought never to be tolerated is to portray God himself in any way, whether as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. Far from praising such portrayals, the church ought to denounce them as an offense against God himself.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
No sure things(?)
However, I'm happy to report that by God's grace I've been learning a clue or two these last few years. One clue is that God gives me only one thing of which I can be certain: his infallable Word, the Scriptures. It is in the Scriptures that he has revealed everything that I need to know for my pilgrim journey here on earth. The other clue is that within the bounds of Scripture, he leaves me free. This means that when I go shopping for a car, I'm free to choose between a Ferrari, Porsche, or even a Toyota. :-) On one hand I am bound to obey his Law (summarized in the 10 Commandments), but on the other hand I am free to do whatever is lawful: whatever will not lead me or my neighbor into sin.
This insight is extraordinarily liberating in a way, but it's also rather scary, because it introduces a substantial amount of uncertainty to my day-to-day life. As a young Christian, to alleviate this uncertainty I sought after prophetic "words" from God to give me specific guidance regarding this or that. Regrettably, many of these "words" contradicted one another, and the only ones that came to pass served to draw me deeper into seeking to know what I am not to know, and thus further away from the Scriptures. Since I've come to understand that our sole source of God-given revelation is the Scriptures alone, I also see that seeking after additional revelation is an affront to God, not least because it reveals a heart that doesn't trust him to do what is best for me.
So, what shall I do? How shall I make decisions and plans in a way that honors God? In this way: by undertaking, in faith and with prayer, any course of action that I wish so long as it is Biblical. As for whether or not I will accomplish what I wish to accomplish, I must leave that up to the Lord, trusting him to work all things together for my ultimate good, for the only sure thing I've got is his good and precious promises. People and circumstances will disappoint me, but I can be assured that God will always honor and keep his Word.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
- In case you missed it the first time, and based on the hype it seemed like few conservative Christians missed it, The Passion of the Christ is back in recut form. In the ad I've seen, Mel Gibson is quoted as saying, "By softening some of its more wrenching aspects, I hope to make my film and its message of love available to a wider audience." With all due respect to Mr. Gibson and his efforts to "soften" the impact of his film, I plan to skip the Passion this time, too for two major reasons: (1) its theology is based on Roman Catholic doctrine and mysticism rather than on Scripture alone and (2) by having an actor portray Jesus Christ, it is in blatant violation of the Second Commandment, which expressly forbids the making of graven images which purport to represent God. (Incidentally, I share this "no images of Christ" view with many of my Reformed brethren. It's not novel with me.)
For the life of me, I can't understand why evangelicals have so praised this film in spite of these terrible flaws, but yet virtually ignored a far more praiseworthy film: the recent biopic of the great Reformer Luther. How a heretical, blasphemous depiction of the crucifixion of our Lord came to be touted as a unparalleled witnessing tool, but a film that strongly and positively portrays a man as preaching justification by faith through Christ alone is to be so woefully overlooked is utterly beyond me. My advice: skip the recut Passion, and buy or rent the new DVD of Luther. You'll be glad you did.
- The other week, I had the opportunity to watch, on DVD, an epic of an altogether different kind: a 1960's Russian adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's great novel, War and Peace. Although I can't agree with every aspect of Tolstoy's system of philosophy or Sergei Bondarchuk's interpretation, this epic story covers such a gamut of human emotion and suffering that it can't help but touch on many issues that are well worth the consideration of all men and women. As a film, it is an amazing accomplishment. It is actually made up of four films, which total seven hours in length. There are many amazing scenes, not only on the battlefield (100,000+ members of the Russian Red Army served as extras) but also in the ballroom and the drawing room. One bit of cinematography is especially noteworthy. In the ballroom scene where Natasha dances with Prince Andrei, there's a sequence where the camera follows a group of people who are walking through a darkened room adjacent to the great ballroom. As the camera moves, you're mostly in darkness, with occasional glimpses of the brightly lit ballroom, until you take one last movement, suddenly immersing you in the light, movement, and sound of the ball. When I saw this sequence unfold, I audibly gasped in amazement. I'm familiar with many of the landmarks of cinema history, but this sequence has to be one of the greatest of them all.
- On an altogether different note, I am pleased to inform my readers that the second season of one of TV's all-time greatest shows is now out on DVD. Yes, it's that chronicle of the world's quirkiest farming couple, Oliver and Lisa Douglas, Green Acres!!! I was crazy about this show when I was a young lad in the 1970's, and I still think it's a riot. Based on the episodes I've seen so far, the second season looks like it's an improvement over the first season, which was very funny in its own right. If you have a soft spot for, er, corny humor, be sure to pick this one up!
Disclaimer: I have no business relationship with Amazon.com or any other vendor I've mentioned in this article. Links are included only for your convenience. I will receive no commission for any sales.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
What's the use?
If you're not a Christian--if you haven't put your trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ to save you from your sin--you're quite right to say "What's the use?": your good deeds aren't going to do you a bit of good in getting you in right with God. In fact, God is going to look at your good deeds and say, "You have the audacity to bring these filthy rags before me and say that I ought to justify you on account of them? Do you think that any amount of good works bring you even close to attaining my standard of pure holiness?" So, if you are intent on trusting in your own goodness, don't even bother. You may as well live like the devil, but don't take any pride in that: you will receive the reward for your deeds in the end. If you wish to learn of a far better way, read on.
On the other hand, if you have put your trust in Christ's righteousness rather than in your own, you have every reason to do what's right: that is, what God commands in the Scriptures. For one thing, you'll be doing what pleases God. Given that he graciously paid the price for your sin on the Cross, surely you want to do what pleases God! But more than that--far more than that!--God has made many great and precious promises that he will bless those who obey his Word. Isn't that amazing: God blesses his Elect for doing the very things that he's commanded them to do! What grace, kindness, and condescension!
Now, there are those who teach that the Christian can expect even more: that if he has sufficient faith, he can expect immediate blessings from the hand of God. True, there are times when God chooses to deliver his blessings very quickly indeed, but perhaps even more often he chooses to have us wait on him. Why is this? Is it because God is slow to hear or act? Quite the contrary. It is because he wants us to enjoy not one but two blessings: not only the desired blessing itself but also the blessing of trusting and waiting on our faithful God.
It was this twofold blessing that our father Abraham enjoyed. After receiving wonderful promises from God, including the promise of a son begotten of his wife Sarah, he had to wait many, many years for any of these promises to reach fruition. He had to watch himself and Sarah grow old, with his wife advancing beyond her childbearing years. Although he was not always as trusting or patient as he ought to have been--witness the story of his son by Hagar, Ishmael--he did on the whole trust God, and due time received the son of God's promise, Isaac. During the decades of waiting, Abraham could have said, "What's the use?" and given up on God's promise, but instead he stayed the course and reaped the twofold blessing. Likewise, when we are tempted to say "What's the use?", let's take care that we stay the course, continuing to trust the God who always blesses obedience to his Word, not only in this life but far more so in the life to come.
[For some of the thoughts in this article, I am indebted to Charles Spurgeon's little book entitled God Promises You.]
Friday, March 04, 2005
Don't bet on it, though, because the church isn't down and out. Quite the contrary: the church remains strong and victorious, not on account of the intrinsic merits of its membership, but on account of the infinite merits of its head, Jesus Christ, for on the cross Christ won the victory once and for all. Since the cross, Satan has been a defeated foe. But, if he's been so long defeated, how is it that he is so active, and why do his attacks often seem to be so successful?
My friends, I am happy to tell you that any fears you may have about the state of the church--that is, the invisible church, the Elect of God in Christ--are groundless. In fact, the very attacks that are waged against the church are confirmation that the church remains a threat to the powers of evil. In the midst of the bloodiest of wars, such as the two World Wars, the fighting no doubt seemed to be interminable, but each war eventually comes to an end, and when it does, the fighting ceases. In the case of the great conflict between the church and the forces of evil, the fighting has been continuous. Oh, it will end one day, but that day will come when the great Victor, the Lord Jesus Christ, returns again to bring an end to this current evil age and usher in the age of eternity. When the conflict ends, it will end on his terms: unconditional surrender for all who commit sin and practice evil.
So, Christian, you ought not lose heart when you see what is good and right attacked: the family, the marriage covenant, the sanctity of life, the Scriptures, or God himself. Although it is true that God in his providence has ordained that the growth of the church will ebb and flow over time, with its areas of strength moving from one country to another, the fact is that so long as the battle rages, we may have hope that God may yet be pleased to have mercy on our generation and grant it the fear of God. So, let us persevere in calling out to our Lord. Although his enemies seem so strong, who can say that we will not see their defeat in our generation? Indeed, the doom of those who advocate abortion, adultery, homosexuality, evolution, secular humanism, etc., will come and not tarry. Although the debauchery of our generation is great indeed, perhaps God will be pleased to overturn our terrible wickedness and grant a turning back to a society that fears the Lord and honors his Word.
As we seek the Lord in prayer, let's not be negligent to seek to glorify Christ in every aspect of our lives, especially in our homes, but also in the workplace, in the marketplace, in business, in the arts, and in the sciences. God has not called the Christian merely to spiritually reproduce--to win souls to faith in Christ--but also to conform every area of life to his will. Are we not to pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"? If so, should we not strive to do everything in our lives--eat, drink, work, and play--for the greater glory of God?
Christian, the time is past for us to be content to enjoy the insulated spiritual ghetto we call Evangelicalism! Let us go forth into the world, preaching the Gospel first and foremost, but as we do so, let us diligently strive to bring Christ's influence into even the "secular" areas of life. Although I am persuaded that we will never see the world perfectly conformed to God's will until Christ returns--indeed, I have yet to be persuaded that the Scriptures promise any kind of golden "millenial age" before Christ's return--I am also persuaded that it is God's will that the church put forth every effort to be salt and light until he returns. Who knows, after all, what God may do?
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Shadows of our world
As I've been building my collection, one genre in particular has gotten my special interest. This genre is known to film critics and fans as "film noir". It's a bit difficult to describe a film noir in a short, pithy sentence, so I'll just say that a good film noir is usually in black and white with lots of dark shadows enveloping the protagonists, and features a convoluted, sometimes imcomprehensible, plot which draws the characters deeper and deeper into a mire of deception, deceit, betrayal, and murder. Few of these films have a particularly happy ending, and few have any characters whom you might describe as "good". Usually even the cops are on the crooked side. Oh, sometimes our leading man and lady start out as apparently decent people, but invariably they make a foolish evil choice from which issues forth consequences that haunt them the rest of their lives. All in all, the world of the film noir is a wicked, perverse world, all too much like the world in which we live.
If what you're looking for is a good belly laugh or a happy smile, I recommend a comedy like Bringing Up Baby or a musical like Singin' in the Rain. A good film noir is entertaining, but not in a happy way. Instead, what it does is to bring the real world to life in a way that Hollywood's more viewer-friendly productions fail to do. After all, what is more "real world" than a world of sin and misery? For the unregenerate sinner, sin is a harsh and cruel taskmaster that bears bitter fruit, not only in this life but especially in the life to come. Like no other films, the great film noirs show the ugliness and consequences of sin in often brutal clarity.
Caveat: film noir is not well-suited for the squeamish or the weak in conscience. Moreover, these films, although they can do a fine job of showing the bitter fruits of sinful behavior, generally fail to show any way of true redemption. The only role models you'll find in these films are negative examples. In effect, film noir shows the consequences of disobedience of God's moral Law without showing forth the necessity of repentance or the blessings of the Gospel. Thus, although they can serve as cautionary tales, they will not show you the way to salvation any more than any Hollywood movie will.
Disclaimers aside, here's a brief list of some of my favorite film noir movies, listed in alphabetical order. Your mileage may vary. :-)
- The Asphalt Jungle -- an apparently successful jewel heist unravels, exploding in the face of all participants
- The Big Sleep -- Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall face off in this film with a nearly incomprehensible plot but with atmosphere to spare
- Double Indemnity -- Fred MacMurray plots a murder with Barbara Stanwyck
- Gun Crazy -- two young sharpshooters find themselves entrapped in a life of crime
- The Maltese Falcon -- some say this is the first film noir; whether or not that's the case, it's hard to beat the cast of Humphery Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet
- Murder, My Sweet -- former boy tenor Dick Powell turns private eye
- Out of the Past -- Robert Mitchum's star-making performance
- This Gun for Hire -- Alan Ladd plays an embittered hired killer, with Veronica Lake as the girl who gets swept along
My theological journey (nutshell-sized)
Among the Charismatics, I saw an emphasis on soulwinning, enthusiastic worship, and a heartfelt "personal relationship" with Christ. The enthusiasm that I along with many of my fellow believers possessed came out of a sincere desire to honor and please God. However, I was not well taught, and in fact imbibed much false doctrine, especially from the radio and print preachers I went after, especially Kenneth Hagin, the then-figurehead of the Word of Faith movement. Also, I fancied myself to be endowed with various gifts of the Holy Spirit: tongues, interpretation, prophecy, healing, and the word of knowledge. I often spoke up during the worship service, pronouncing "thus saith the Lord". When all of this was new and novel, I was very enthusiastic, but in due time, as the false doctrines and spiritual gifts gave forth their inevitable fruit, I found myself thirsting for the pure milk of the Word of God, the Scriptures. Although the Bible was honored to a point, in-depth Biblical exegesis was sorely lacking. In fact, serious, academic Bible study was often derided from the pulpit as being "cold, dead orthodoxy". In the final analysis, the Charismatic Movement had encouraged me to rejoice in and enjoy a God whom I hardly knew, because the only way to learn about him, the Bible, went largely unread and unstudied.
In due time, as my disillusionment with the Charismatic Movement became complete, I found my way to read better books, books that were inspired by the great doctrines that the Reformers--Luther, Calvin, etc.--had helped to bring back to the attention of the church. Through authors such as R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and Loraine Boettner, I came to a much fuller understanding of God and his sovereignty over all things, including the salvation of fallen man. Now, at last, I had a reason to rejoice in God: for he, in Christ, had chosen me before he even created the world, in Christ forgiving all of my sins and granting me the gift of eternal life. As a Charismatic, I had looked down upon those who were "just" born again, but now I came to understand just how wonderful salvation in Christ truly was. At the same time, my time amongst the Charismatics hadn't been worthless, for from them I'd learned the importance of having a living, vital personal relationship with Christ. Now, with my growing knowledge of Biblical doctrine, I had all the reason in the world to rejoice in the Lord!
It's been over six years since I found my way to the Reformed faith. Looking back, I count myself blessed to have come to it as I did, because I've always realized the importance of a religion that reaches both the head and the heart. Others around me have not been so blessed, I'm sorry to say. I know of Charismatics who left the faith when their esctatic experiences disappointed them, and I know of Calvinists who left the faith when the trials and temptations of life became stronger than they could bear in their own strength, perhaps because they'd failed to apply their sound doctrinal knowledge to their hearts, that is, to their sanctification. As a Calvinist, I have to take care to derive not only intellectual stimulation from my study of the Scriptures: I must also learn how to apply the teachings of the Scriptures to my life, in the process mortifying my flesh and conforming myself more and more to the image of Christ. With greats such as Spurgeon and Whitefield, I call this "warm-hearted Calvinism", a balanced system of belief and practice that, I believe, comes closer than any other to capturing the fullness of the Scripture's teaching. I give thanks to God for graciously allowing me to know and understand this wonderfully balanced system of doctrine and way of life.
This is, then, my theological journey in its barest outline. As I continue this blog, I hope to expand further on some of the issues and events I've touched on in nutshell form. Please visit again soon!