Saturday, December 13, 2014

Taking aim at the Seven Deadly Sins

After reading Brian G. Hedges’s Licensed to Kill: A Field Guide to Mortifying Sin, I knew that I’d have to pick up a copy of his follow up title, Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins. The first book was equally scriptural and practical, and I knew that if the sequel was anything like it, I’d walk away a little wiser and a little better prepared to wage war on my sin and put it to death.

Although these titles sound a like a collection of lost Steven Seagal movies, Hit List is light on macho war references and heavy on Scripture and its practical application to our life. Hedges says early on, “One driving conviction of this book is that all our moral, behavioral, and relational problems are really the results of much deeper spiritual issues.” He uses illustrations that bring out his points so well that I’m a little jealous; I wish I could use illustrations in my preaching and teaching as well as he does (envy is the second of the Seven Deadly Sins, so it’s a good thing I’m reading this book!).

The Seven Deadly Sins have been recognized by Christians and non-Christians since medieval times, and it’s not hard to see why they’re relevant today. We all have to fight them to some extent in our lives. Even if we think we’re not tempted to sin in all seven ways, Hedges shows us with Scripture how subtle these sins can be and shows us how to identify and kill each of the seven:
  1. Pride
  2. Envy
  3. Wrath
  4. Sloth
  5. Greed
  6. Gluttony
  7. Lust

I would recommend getting both Licensed to Kill and Hit List to read one right after the other. “If Licensed to Kill was a field manual for how to kill sin,” the author says, “Hit List provides detailed dossiers on seven of our most dangerous enemies.” With helpful and introspective questions that follow each chapter, the stage is set for working through this “hit list” with a friend or small group. This book will show you how to take aim at these sins in your life, and rather than simply exercising greater will power, Hedges calls us to “draw on the resources  that are already ours through our union with Christ in his death and resurrection.”


I received this book from Cruciform Press for the purpose of review.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why I want my kids to believe in Santa Claus

The Chronicles of Narnia are among some of the most-loved children’s books of all time, especially within Christian circles. That’s because Lewis, a master storyteller, uses fiction and fantasy to communicate truth. Lewis believed that fantasy could lead children to embrace truth in the real world.

At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the lion Aslan tells Lucy and Edmond that he will meet them when they leave Narnia and go back home to England:

“…But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

Lewis intentionally modeled Aslan on Christ.

I believe in the power of story. I believe that the lessons and truths that Lewis wraps in myth will be more easily understood and accepted by my children as they grow up. That’s why I’m going to read The Chronicles of Narnia to my kids when they’re old enough to listen. That’s why many Christian parents have done the same.

Embracing The Chronicles of Narnia is surprisingly easy for Christians. Embracing Santa Claus, on the other hand, is surprisingly much more difficult to come to terms with. Some embrace the idea wholeheartedly, doing their best to still the doubts that arise in their children as they get older. Others tell their kids from the get-go that Santa isn’t real, that it would be immoral for them to lie to their children. They also fear that discovering the truth about Santa could lead their children to wonder if the Bible is just a book of make-believe too. Most parents fall somewhere between the two extremes.

I believe a scene from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe should color our perspective. When the power of the White Witch begins to weaken, Father Christmas (Santa Claus to us Americans) arrives and presents the children with gifts to help them in their quest. I think Lewis included this scene with Father Christmas because it fits with his idea of using fantasy to teach truth that can grow and develop with children as they get older.

There is much truth that is wrapped in the myth and magic of Santa Claus. Children are exposed to the concepts of joy, giving, miracles, and belief. Of course, I don’t want my kids to be the last ones in their class to catch on to the whole truth, but I enjoy that my kids believe in Santa Claus. I see it as similar to Lewis’s reason for introducing children to Aslan and the world of Narnia. I see it as a tool to prepare my children for a better understanding of the concepts of joy, giving, miracles, and belief in the real world, in the realm of Christian faith.

Once, Lewis received a letter from a woman whose son had become concerned that he liked Aslan more than Jesus. Lewis replied, “Laurence can't really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that's what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.” If I could build on Lewis’s thoughts here, I’d say that parents have the responsibility of helping their children transition from the fantasy to the reality because, truth be told, the reality is even more amazing, more fantastic, and more magical than the most enjoyable part of the fantasy world of Narnia. Jesus is more loving than Aslan. He is more giving. He is more awesome.

Likewise, with Santa, we parents who embrace the idea should help our children transition from the lesser fantasy to the greater reality. I agree with the line from the movie The Polar Express when Santa Claus tells a young boy, “This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas, as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.” To children, Santa Claus is one of the most amazing people in the world. As they grow and mature, learning that Santa is “a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas,” they can transition to the even greater reality of carrying the true spirit of Christmas—and the true Christmas story—in their heart.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Star Wars Trailer Analzyed and Plot Points Considered

I’m immensely excited over the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, due to come out next December. As a teaser trailer, it doesn’t offer much insight into the plot of the new movie, which isn’t really that surprising since too much information too early can kill the buzz of people talking about it. Still, there’s enough in those very few shots—39 seconds of actual footage—to start talking.

Scene 1—We get a sinister voiceover from Andy Serkis, the man behind The Lord of the Rings’ and The Hobbit’s Gollum/Sméagol. Don’t anticipate him appearing in a screen-capture suit this time. He’ll be getting some on-screen time even if he doesn’t visually appear in the trailer. Serkis says that the Force has awakened, asking an unknown listener, “Have you felt it?” Cue the appearance of John Boyega in Stormtrooper apparel but without a mask. He’s sweaty and slightly disoriented. He’s apparently been through quite an ordeal and now he’s on Tatooine, home planet of Luke Skywalker, and the place where we first met Han Solo and Chewbacca the Wookie, all of whom will be still around when the action starts in December 2015.

With rumors that Boyega is the lead in this film, I can only suspect that his appearance on Tatooine is directly linked to Serkis’ question—he has felt the force awakening in him. It may be that he’s gone AWOL from the Empire’s (or it’s remnant’s) armed forces, which would mean that the sound of a probe droid in the background might suggest they’re looking for him. This is the most popular opinion online. I could also be, as some have suggested, that he’s been impersonating a stormtrooper, though I doubt that. Personally, my hope is that he’s just survived a mission that has gone terribly wrong and he now finds himself alone on the barren waste of Tatooine.

Scene 2—Here we see a small droid with an R2-D2 head on a soccer-ball-type body. I can’t imagine such a long shot of one specific droid if it wasn’t trying to convey a message or to get its master’s attention. It might be racing to tell Luke or some other character about Boyega’s arrival or that of the girl from Scene 4 (below). The background clearly shows broken down podracer engines, which is a clear nod to The Phantom Menace. It also suggests the location to be Mos Espa, a city on Tatooine was visited only in the prequels. The original trilogy takes place in Mos Eisley and at Jabba the Hutt’s Palace.

Scene 3—Stormtroopers prepare to disembark from a craft of some sort into a dark landscape. Their rifles look impressive and could feature some upgrades that blasters in the first six movies lacked. We’ll have to see. The helmets have changed since the original trilogy, offering some new black lines we haven’t seen before. This may not be the only changes we’ll see to the stormtrooper uniforms, since these baddies may also be special forces. Boyega could be one of them if this takes place before the opening scene of the trailer. If the darkness we see them stepping into is Tatooine, which I believe it is, they may find themselves outmatched where only someone with force powers can survive…

Scene 4—A pretty girl is in a hurry to get somewhere on a speeder bike. Some have suggested that it’s a refurbished podracer engine, but since those babies tended to have exhaust ports out the back, I’m thinking not. Its bulk may actually be because it has extra space for storage. The girl may be the offspring of Han Solo and Leia, if rumors are to be believed. She has a staff attached to the speeder bike in the close up shots, reminiscent of Luke Skywalker’s encounter with the Sand People in A New Hope. It’s absent from the far away shot, so J.J. Abrams is being nice in releasing this trailer so quickly—they’re not even done editing the 39 seconds they’ve given us. In the distance a few structures can be seen, maybe the remains of a podracer finish line, but it’s definitely not the one from The Phantom Menace. As to where she’s going in such a hurry or why, we can’t really know, but I suggest it’s to get to a person, not because she’s being chased, since we don’t see any blaster fire from a would-be pursuer. Again, I’m hoping everyone on Tatooine that we’ve seen thus far (Boyega, droid, stormtroopers, girl) are converging on Luke Skywalker.

Scene 5—We finally find ourselves on a new planet. There are mountains and water and three X-wings flying in low. You don’t fly that low just to show off. These rebels are on an attack run and are trying to avoid detection by flying low. This also suggests their target is a ground-based enemy. I can’t even begin to guess what planet this is on, but I think it may be new. Other possible candidates from prior films include Naboo, home planet of Padmé, the mother of Luke and Leia, or Kashyk, home planet of Chebacca.

Scene 6—We’re greeted by Serkis’ voice again as the camera follows a dark, hooded figure through some snowy woods. It could be the same planet that we see the X-wings flying over, but it’s definitely not the same area or same time of day. Chances are, it’s not the same. Serkis identifying the dark side of the Force before mentioning the light gives further credence that he’s a bad guy, and the apparent Sith warrior carrying a wicked new lightsaber is likely his apprentice. In the movies no one whips out a lightsaber just to show off. This guy senses or sees a threat and is prepared to meet it. If Abrams had given us just two more seconds of film, I’m sure we would have seen who that was.

Scene 7—The last scene gives us a shot of the Millenium Falcon, the iconic ship of Han Solo and Chewbacca, flying low over the desert of Tatooine before flying past two Imperial TIE fighters and evading their blasts. Someone is escaping from Tatooine in a hurry, and I bet Boyega, the girl, and whoever they’re going to see is with them.

Order of events—Movie trailers don’t usually keep scenes in the same order they’ll appear in the film. I think it’s safe to say that the action will begin on Tatooine and then migrate to other worlds. I’d guess the order of scenes is this:
  1. Scene 3 (Stormtroopers)
  2. Scene 1 (Boyega)
  3. Scene 4 (Girl)
  4. Scene 2 (Droid)
  5. Scene 7 (Millenium Falcon)
  6. Scene 6 (Sith)
  7. Scene 5 (X-wing)

Final thoughts—J.J. Abrams wasn’t just randomly selecting scenes when he decided what to include in the trailer. His focus is on the new characters who will make the action happen in this new trilogy. The trailer also had a theme of movement and urgency. The Force has awakened. It’s moving. So too, virtually every scene is characterized by someone or something that is moving in a hurry to get somewhere. I look forward to the next trailer, rumored to be released around May 4, 2015 (May the fourth be with you). You can bet I’ll revise my theories and bring new analysis to that trailer as well.

Friday, December 5, 2014

God Gave Us Angels

I'm proud to present my older sister, Amy Nawrot, as my newest reviewer of children's books. Amy taught fourth grade for a number of years before turning a new page in her life as a stay-at-home mother. She has three children, aged 2 to 6.


There are many different theories and beliefs about angels in our society. I was eager to see just how Ms. Bergren chose to approach the concept of angels. The story is presented as a conversation between two polar bears, a papa and his daughter. The young cub has heard rumors about angels from other forest creatures and she is curious to learn more about them. Papa bear tries to clarify the questions and misunderstandings that she has, and through their conversation readers are able to better understand why God gave us angels.

I would give this book 8 out of 10 stars. I felt like the author did a good job explaining the role of angels as it has been presented in The Bible. That makes this book a good resource for explaining angels to children. I believe that all readers would find the book informative and an enjoyable read.

I found the author’s use of childlike speech to be distracting and potentially confusing for younger readers. An example is the word invisible is presented as imbisible. That leads me to believe this book would best be shared with a child by an adult. Check out God Gave Us Angels today.

Amy received a copy of the book from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

A Voice of the Martyrs Classic

I remember receiving a free copy of the Tortured for Christ when I was in high school. It was a promotion from Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) to raise awareness about their founder and the plight of the Church (big “C”) in countries that are hostile to the gospel. They still run the same promotion today, so anyone even marginally interested can pick up a copy without losing a dime.

The book has been reprinted numerous times, with modern reprints using a foreword from the latest VOM president. In addition to having a new foreword, this is the first time I’ve heard of an audio version being made available. The audiobook is not available for free, and I don’t know if VOM plans to offer it free in the future or not.

The book tells the personal testimony of how Richard Wurmbrand became a Christian in Romania, suffered for his faith during the Nazi occupation in WWII, and then endured prison and tortures from the Communists during and after Soviet Occupation of the country. Once he gets to his immigration to the West, he transitions to the second half of his book and writes about Communism, the persecuted church, and the West’s lack of support of its persecuted brothers in other countries. It is challenging, but in a world where Communism is no longer a strong player, it feels a little dated and tended to drag for me.

The audiobook is somewhat unique because the narrator, who is not named, speaks with a slight Eastern European accent, presumably Romanian. The accent is understandable for the most part, although I did have difficulty understanding once or twice when the narrator was reading Romanian or Russian names. Still, it gives the audiobook a feeling of authenticity, as though the narrator is Richard Wurmbrand himself.

Ultimately, VOM publishes the book to help bring in support for its ministry, and for that I commend them. Whether you opt to request a free print copy, buy the audiobook, or just donate to the ministry itself, you won’t feel like you’re wasting your money.

I received this audiobook from christianaudio for the purpose of providing this review.

NOTE: What probably prompted a new edition was the suicide in 2012 of the previous President, Tom White, who took his own life after police identified him as the suspect in a case of child molestation. White had written the foreword to the previous edition and Voice of the Martyrs was wise to distance itself from him. The ministry does solidly good support work for persecuted Christians and their reputation should not be tarnished because of White’s sin, which was not linked to the ministry in any way.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

About The Hobbit: Bard is not a pessimist

One of my favorite characters from The Hobbit is Bard. His character in the movie is not quite like the character I enjoy from the book, in part because I don’t recall him being a family man. He was more of a loner, and Tolkein describes him as “grave.”

 

When the people of Laketown see light coming from the Lonely Mountain, they begin getting excited—“The forges under the mountain have been relit!” they say, thinking that wealth and prosperity are on the horizon. But Bard sees a red horizon, not a golden one. He appears to be the only one who remembers that the fires under the mountain are more likely the workings of a dragon than the workings of the dwarf king.

 

Bard’s call to arms go almost unheeded as he’s ridiculed for being a spoil sport, a glass-half-empty naysayer who has nothing productive to bring to the conversation. But Bard was right. Bard was vindicated by his vigilance and it’s only because of him that… well… if you’ve never read the book and are waiting to see the movie, I won’t ruin it for you. But you really ought to read the book.

 

We need grave people like Bard. Grave people understand harmony is an illusion if not coupled with truth, and discernment must come before optimism. Grave people can be hopeful so long as their hope is grounded in reality. 

 

The Old Testament prophets were like Bard. When people flocked to hear messages of “Peace, peace,” Jeremiah warned of coming judgment:

 

Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’” And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.

—Jeremiah 14:13-14, ESV

 

Paul, too, was like Bard when he said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

 

Grave Christians are valuable members of the church. They are marked by hope in Christ, not hope in a happy turn of circumstances or the power of positive thinking. They see evil in the world and warn against it. They speak against foolishness, empty promises, and vain optimism. When things go bad, when persecution comes or people fail us, they are the ones who stand firm and provide leadership and direction to go forward. Thank God for the Bards in your church.