Sunday, July 31, 2011

SGM Board Meeting

This last week the Sovereign Grace Ministries Board met to discuss C.J. Mahaney and the accusations made against him. For all of those interested the conclusions are stated here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Number Destroyer of Marriages

What is the number one destroyer of marriage? Is it infidelity? Yes, infidelity wreaks havoc on marriages, but it is not number one. Is it hobbies? Yes, hobbies can behard on marrages, but they are secondary? Is it squabbles over money, or in-laws, or sex? Yes, all of these are responsible for much marital grief, but they are not number one.

I submit that the number one destroyer of marital harmony and intimacy is the small, insidious, seldom noticed sin of bitterness. You don't keep short accounts. Little wounds accumulate. They don't get healed. Eventually they become infected and kill your relationship. Twenty years into marriage you find yourself sleeping in separate beds.

Here is how it works. Your spouse does something to wound or hurt you, an unforgiven grievance from 12 years ago comes to mind. You combine them, and the pain is doubled. Now the resentment is amplified. "Forgiving is the hardest thing you will ever do," notes Andree Seu. "That's why most people don't do it. We talk about it, cheer for it, preach on it, and are sure we've practiced it. But mostly the illusion of having forgiven is that the passage of time dulls memory. The ruse will come to light with hair-trigger vengeance when fresh offense hurls in to empty out the gunnysack of half-digested grievances."

Only Christians have a really solid basis for forgiveness. It is the gospel. The gospel is why we forgive. The gospel reminds us that our sins were infinitely heinous in God's sight. Yet, despite this, God so longed to forgive that he sent his only begotten Son to be tortured to death in our place. Now that is mega-forgiveness. It is gross hypocrisy to accept this from Christ and not give it back to our spouse. Their offense against you, no matter how serious, is always finite, but your offense against God is always infinite.

Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a repeted, heart-felt, act of the will. That is why Jesus, when Peter asked how many times he should forgive, responded  70x7 (Matt 18:22). Those who want happy marriages and increased intimacy do the same.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer Reading

I'm back from vacation feeling tanned, rested, and ready.
Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern ChinaHere are some of the books that I read while gone with appropriate comments.

 Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China by Xi Lian, a Chinese historian living in the West, cataloged  the rise of Christianity in China. When Christianity was the religion of foreigners it won little access to the hearts of the Chinese people. However, when Mao took control of the country in 1948 the western missionaries fled or were forced out. The Chinese Christians that were left (fewer than 1 million) began to slowly evangelize their brethern. No longer was Christianity a religion for outsiders. It was now indigenous. Despite intense persecution by the Communist Party, it spread rapidly. Today there are probably more Christians in China than in the U.S. However, Lian is careful to note that, lacking access to historical Christian theology, the belief system of most Chinese Christians is a syncretism of the Bible, Pentecostalism, Buddhism. Animism, and mysticism.

This book was full of helpful information, but that was all. For someone not familiar with China, it was hard to put the information in context. In addition, he wrote mechanically. The book lacked passion.

A Personal OdysseyA personal favorite was A Personal Odyssey the autobiography of Thomas Sowell. Sowell is not a Christian, but he is a leading conservative, African American economist. Sowell tells the story of his rise from the slums of Charlotte, N.C. during the depression, his experience in the Army during the Korean war, his undergraduate work in economics at Harvard, his masters degree at Columbia, and finally  his doctorate at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and others. Subsequently he taught at various institutions including Rutgers, Cornell, and UCLA.

Sowell's ideas were influential during the Reagan presidency. Although considered for various cabinet posts, he rejected the offers, deciding instead to pursue his studies at Stanford's Hoover Institute, where he was, and is, a resident scholar.

Having read and enjoyed some of Sowell's books, I found his biography interesting. Sowell writes well. It was not only the history of his life, but the history of the middle of the twentieth century in North America. Would that we harkened to Sowell's common sense advice on Economics.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Movie Review: Tree of Life

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding…when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4,7) These bright words blazed into the darkness of the theater as the opening scene of the 2011 film The Tree of Life starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, and Hunter McCracken in an artistic exploration of the human condition. The rest of the film subtly brings to life director Terrence Malick’s parallel of the cosmic grandeur of creation with a very ordinary, dysfunctional suburban family in Texas in the late 1950’s. Malick makes a bold attempt to capture the reality of suffering and grief, the incomprehensible otherness of the Creator, and the frail yet beautiful faith in God that can live between the two.

Tree of Life is not a typical plot-driven movie. There is very little dialogue. The movie opens with the mother receiving notice that her 19-year-old son has died in the Vietnam War. The screen quietly eavesdrops on the grief of mother, father, and brother… unfolding into the whispered questions to God, “Why?” and “Who are we to you?” The film then segues into a slow sequence of swirling images and views of galaxies and planets as they form. A young earth’s volcanoes erupt, and recurrent images of the ocean’s waves show life emerging. Dinosaurs roam the landscape very realistically. An asteroid hits the earth. We are propelled forward in time to the suburbs, to the family as it used to be. It begins with the young groom and bride starting their home, and the birth of the three boys. The family prays before their meals, and before bed. They attend church. Many everyday events of a child’s life are shown in their truth and beauty through the incredible cinematography. We see the harshness of the father, the quiet love of the mother, and the rough camaraderie of the brothers. The eldest son begins to rebel under the heavy hand of his dad, and the rest of the film explores the emergence of his hate for his father and his own chaotic, adolescent desires. The end of the film provides a reconciliation of past and future, faith and unbelief, grief and peace, and father and son.

I would recommend watching the Tree of Life. Although it hints at evolution, and falls short of its goal to sum up all existence, this movie succeeds in ways few movies do. It explores human suffering while humbly implying God’s right to do as He wishes. While remaining mysterious about the nature of God, Malick is not leaving an agnostic message. His film ends with the singing of the Agnus Dei (Latin for the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”) The mother character prays, “Keep us. Guide us to the end of time.” A childlike voice answers, “Follow me.” Other Biblically veiled dialogue occurs when the oldest boy struggles with wrong desires, and says, “What I want to do, I can’t do. What I do, I hate.” (Romans 7:15) He also prays, “Always you were calling me.” The tree of life from the title is the big oak in the front yard on which the boys play. Yet the film title serves to point us to the true Tree of Life in the achingly beautiful City of God depicted in Revelation 22. Everything on Earth should make us hunger for heaven.

In the end, Malick paints a masterpiece of a story: suffering makes us feel life’s beauty more intensely, and look beyond ourselves, leading us on a quest to seek the One who made all life. As the mother says at the end of the movie, “The only way to be happy is to love.” Loving God through faith in the gospel is the key to solving the riddle of our existence...Brian Huseland