Here are my favorites from 2014 in a variety of categories along with some input from friends and family. I’d be interested in what you think, and what some of your favorites were. Enjoy!
#1 – St. Louis Cardinal Baseball on Fox Sports Midwest (of course)
#2 – The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
#3 – Duck Dynasty
#4 – Blacklist
#5 – Downton Abbey
#6 – Castle
#7 – The Profit
Hot 95.9 (Orlando, Florida) You can listen online!
Books These are my favorite books I read this year, some of which were published prior to 2014.
1. Everyone’s a Theologian – R.C. Sproul
2. What’s Best Next – Matt Perman
3. The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen – Sinclair Ferguson
4. John: The Gospel of Wisdom – Michael Card
5. Taking God at His Word – Kevin DeYoung
6. Ordinary – Michael Horton
7. Romans for You Chapters 1-7 – Tim Keller
8. 41: A Portrait of My Father – George W. Bush
9. The Gospel at Work – Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert
10. Visions of Vocation – Steven Garber
Other books I enjoyed this year:
Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In – Louis Zamperini
God Took Me by the Hand – Jerry Bridges
Killing Patton – Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
Not By Sight – Jon Bloom
The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield – Steven Lawson
Good Leaders Ask Great Questions – John Maxwell
You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity – Francis Chan and Lisa Chan
Quiet – Susan Cain
How then Should We Work? – Hugh Whelchel
The Five Love Languages – Gary Chapman
A Godward Heart – John Piper
Michael Jordan: The Life – Roland Lazenby
The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams – Ben Bradlee Jr.
Wooden: A Coach’s Life – Seth Davis
God at Work – Gene Veith
The Noticer – Andy Andrews
God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines. – Edited by R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig – Jonathan Eig
Good Call – Jase Robertson
Recovering Redemption – Matt Chandler
One Nation – Ben Carson
Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love by Richard Sheridan
Miracles – Eric Metaxas
We usually see at least one movie a week. Here are my top ten and then a few others in no particular order:
1. The Good Lie
3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
5. Edge of Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat
6. St. Vincent
8. Into the Woods
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
10. The Judge
Other movies I enjoyed were (in no particular order):
Big Hero 6
Ernest and Celestine
The Hundred Foot Journey
The Railway Man
The Amazing Spider Man
Mom’s Night Out
Magic in the Moonlight
And So It Goes
Artist of the Year: Lecrae – Anomaly and Owner of Reach Records (KB, Andy Mineo, Trip Lee and Tedasi Releases)
Many of my favorite artists released albums this year. Here are my top ten and then a several others I enjoyed in no particular order:
#1 – Songs of Innocence Deluxe Edition – U2
#2 – Anomaly – Lecrae
#3 – Goliath – Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil
#4 – Rise – Trip Lee
#5 – Love Ran Red – Chris Tomlin
#6 – Neon Steeple – Crowder
#7 – Fading West/The Edge of the Earth – Switchfoot
#8 – Rivers in the Wasteland – NEEDTOBREATHE
#9 – John: The Misunderstood Gospel – Michael Card
#10 – The Spirit of Christmas – Michael W. Smith and Friends
Other music I enjoyed (in no particular order):
20 – Jars of Clay
The Greengrass Sessions – Keith and Kristyn Getty (EP)
High Hopes – Bruce Springsteen
Peter Furler Christmas featuring David Ian
Terms of My Surrender – John Hiatt
All the People Said Amen – Matt Maher
Sovereign – Michael W. Smith
Hymns – Michael W. Smith
Never Land – Andy Mineo (EP)
Sun and Shield – Peter Furler Band
Crimson Cord – Propadanda
Below Paradise – Tedashii
Obsession – Jim Gaffigan
#1 – At the Cross (Love Ran Red) – Chris Tomlin
Other songs that I enjoyed this year:
Shweet – Trip Lee
A Life Preserved – Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil
Because He Lives – Matt Maher
Detroit Made – Bob Seger
Coulda Been Me – Trip Lee
Say I Won’t – Lecrae featuring Andy Mineo
Invisible – U2
Every Breaking Wave (Acoustic Sessions version) – U2
Almost There – Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant
All is Well – Michael W. Smith and Carrie Underwood
The Heart – NEEDTOBREATHE
Multiply – NEEDTOBREATHE
Something in the Water – Carrie Underwood
100 – KB
Daywalkers – Propaganda with Lecrae
I Am – Crowder
Come as You Are – Crowder
All I’ve Ever Done – Michael Card (vocal by Ginny Owens)
The One that Really Matters – Michael W. Smith and Kari Jobe
Christ Be All Around Me – Michael W. Smith
Terms of My Surrender – John Hiatt
If You Love Her – Jars of Clay
We saw more concerts this year than we have for several years. Here are my top two and then the others are not in any particular order:
1. Paul McCartney at the United Center in Chicago
2. James Taylor at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park
Fernando Ortega at First Baptist Church in Pekin
Chris Tomlin and Brandon Heath at US Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington
Michael Card at East White Oak Church in Carlock
Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis
Toby Mac and Matt Maher at Braden Auditorium at Illinois State University
Keith and Kristyn Getty at Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria
#1 – The Briefing (Albert Mohler) – essential listening every morning.
#2 – The Andy Stanley Leadership podcast
Informing the Reforming (Tim Challies) – essential reading every morning.
1. Lessons from the Upper Room – Sinclair Ferguson
2. The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Guided Tour – Derek Thomas
3. A New Identity: The Gospel of Matthew – Michael Card
#1 – 2014 Ligonier Ministries National Conference in Orlando
#2 – Mathew: The Gospel of Identity (Biblical Imagination Conference) at Christ Church in Normal, Illinois
And Just for Fun…
• Home Run Inn – Chicago
• Tobin’s – Bloomington, Illinois
• Agatucci’s – Peoria
• Imo’s – St. Louis
• Giordano’s – multiple locations, favorite being just outside Downtown Disney in Orlando
• Ted Drewe’s – St. Louis
• Wilson’s – Ephraim, Wisconsin (Door County)
• Kilwin’s – multiple locations, favorite being Celebration, Florida
• Chick Fil-A
• Five Guys Burgers and Fries
• Original Pancake House – multiple locations, favorite being Chesterfield, Missouri
Place to Visit
• St. Louis
• Dinner and a good movie
2014 Favorites of Family and Friends
Tammy Pence (my bride and founding member of the Friday Night Movie Club) Best:
The Good Lie
Edge of Tomorrow
Mom’s Night Out
Mike Pence (Brother) Best:
Magic in the Moonlight
Big Hero 6
That Awkward Moment
Julie Pence (Sister in Law) Best:
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. The Judge
3. Gone Girl
5. Begin Again
Al Williams (brother in law) Movies He’s Glad He Saw:
A Most Wanted Man
The Hundred Foot Journey
Teri Williams (Sister in Law) Liked:
Jason Halm (long-time work colleague and a huge movie fan) Best:
1. Snowpiercer (favorite script and execution of the script this year)
2. Grand Budapest Hotel (Ralph Fiennes was my favorite performance of the year)
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
6. Interstellar (favorite special effects)
8. The Theory of Everything
9. X-men: Days of Future Past
10. Life Itself
Honorable Mention: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – this is a great tie-in to Marvel movies. Look for Netflix TV shows that will supplement the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Worst TV show and Movie:
1. The Following: Season 2. I watched the whole thing after feeling lukewarm about Season 1. I’ll not be watching Season 3.
2. The Other Woman (simply horrible – worst movie that I’ve seen all year)
Jeff Haab (friend) Best Comedy Record:
Mandatory Fun by Weird Al Yankovic
On Christmas Eve 2010 I had Fox News on. Tammy was with her niece in Peoria as she was trying on wedding dresses. Fox was running a story on a guy named Louis Zamperini and the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I had not heard of either, but the incredible story I was hearing caused me to tear up as I heard about Zamperini’s unbelievable story. I couldn’t wait to read the book, but had to complete my January term class at Covenant Seminary before doing so.
After completing my class I got the audiobook version of the book and heard all of Zamperini’s story. I didn’t want to turn the book off. I tell people that if a novel was submitted of Zamperini’s life it would be rejected because it wasn’t believable. I remember thinking that his life story would make a great movie (and found out recently in Zamperini’s final book – Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In – sent to the editors just two days before his death in July, that there has been talk of a movie of his life for several years, with Tony Curtis at one time scheduled to portray Zamperini back in the late 1950’s). Zamperini was thrilled that Angelina Jolie was finally going to make a film about his life. He developed a close relationship with Jolie, who spoke at his memorial service in July.
Jack O’Connell stars as Zamperini in this film. He is outstanding in the role, and I think worthy of consideration for a Best Actor nomination. Zamperini’s story is well known by now, as Hillenbrand’s book has sold about 4 million copies since its release in 2010.
Zamperini got into a lot of trouble as a young boy until his brother Pete (played by Alex Russell) convinces him to run track. He was very successful at track, nicknamed the “Torrance Tornado”, and ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, meeting Hitler briefly. He then served in World War II as a bombardier. But Zamperini’s old and unreliable plane (the Green Hornet) crashes in the Pacific Ocean while on a search and rescue mission. Only Zamperini and Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock) survive the crash. After 47 days and drifting some 2,000 miles, they are captured by the Japanese and taken to a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, where Louis is tortured by Mutsushiro Watanabe, known to the prisoners as “The Bird”. Louis hates that Bird and wants to kill him. The film version ends with the end of the war and Louis arriving back home.
But that’s not where his story ends as everyone who has read the book knows. As Franklin Graham stated on the excellent Fox News special Louis Zamperini: Journey of Faith, director Angelina Jolie did an excellent job bringing to the screen Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, but she didn’t take the story far enough. Christians know that Louis’ life is changed after attending Billy Graham’s meetings in Los Angeles when his life was falling apart (drinking heavily, his wife Cynthia filing for divorce, terrible nightmares about The Bird).
The title of Hillenbrand’s book is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. What Jolie’s excellent film misses is the “Redemption” aspect. As the film ends, Jolie includes a few brief notes on the screen about how the change in Zamperini’s life led him from revenge to forgiveness. Watch the Fox News special to see what happened to Zamperini after Jolie’s film ends (it will be rebroadcast on December 31 at 7pm ET and on January 1 at 7 pm ET.).
Although Christians will be disappointed about how Zamperini’s Christian faith post-war is handled in the film, his son Luke has indicated that his father loved the way the film handled the subject of his Christian faith. Luke wrote on Townhall.com:
“Dad, you see, survived the horrors of war physically unbroken, but returned to the states emotionally shattered. Suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome), he tried to kill the pain with alcohol and was consumed by visions of murdering his chief Japanese tormentor, a sadistic man nicknamed “The Bird” by inmates. It was only when, at the urging of my mother, he attended a Billy Graham crusade in 1949 and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ that my father truly became unbroken. The nightmares stopped. So did the drinking. And he dedicated the rest of his life to serving others. The film version of Unbroken does not spend a lot of screen time on his Christian conversion—detailing it in a series of text cards before the closing credits. And that is exactly the way my Dad and our entire family wanted it. … [His] greatest hope for the film version of Unbroken [was] not that it would be applauded by fellow Christians, although he certainly would have been honored and humbled by their appreciation; but that it would be seen by non-Christians drawn to a rousing epic about the indomitable human spirit who, when the credits have finished rolling, might just discover there’s a whole lot more to his story than that.”
I think Jolie does an excellent job telling Zamperini’s story through his return to America after the war. The film is well-made beginning with the opening scene as Louis, Phil and Hugh “Cup” Cuppernell (Jai Courtney) fly through enemy fire to drop bombs in a frightening and exciting scene. I felt like I was in the plane with the men. The scenes on the raft adrift at sea are also incredible, as Louis, Phil and Mac battle hunger, thirst, sharks and weather issues to survive.
The film is difficult to watch at times, especially when Zamperini is tortured by “The Bird”. There is a small amount of adult language and brief nudity when Louis and Phil are forced to strip and kneel before their captors.
NOTE: If you didn’t see it when aired on December 27, check out the one-hour presentation on Fox News featuring Franklin Graham, Greta Van Susteren and an airing of the new documentary: Louis Zamperini: Captured by Grace. The Fox News special, Louis Zamperini: Journey of Faith, will re-air at 7 p.m. on December 31 and January 1.
This delightful and very entertaining film, is based on Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 stage production that brings a new twist to some of the most popular of the Brother Grimm’s fairy tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk in a musical setting. It is directed by Rob Marshall, who was nominated for Best Director for Chicago in 2002. The film features a strong cast, led by one of our greatest actresses, Meryl Streep, as the Witch.
The film begins with the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). They have just given Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) a lot of free bread and sweets, to take to her grandmother in the woods, or so she says. They are closing up shop, when the Witch appears. The Baker and his wife long to have children, but have not been able to. The Witch finally tells them that they have not been able to because she put a curse on them as a result of something the Baker’s father did years ago. However, if they can gather three four things over the next few days – “a cow as white as milk, a cloak as red as blood, a slipper as pure as gold, some hair as yellow as corn”, and bring them back to the Witch, she will lift the curse and grant them a child. And thus the Baker and his wife set off into the woods on a search for these four items.
It is in the woods that the lives of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf (Johnny Depp), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone, who was the street urchin Gavroche in the 2012 film Les Miserables), and his mother (Tracey Ullman), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and her stepmother (Christine Baranski) and stepsisters, and the Prince (Chris Pine) and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) all converge.
The woods change those who enter them. Of the woods, critic Susan Wloszczyna writes: “It’s a scary place where many of the characters lose their bearings, both morally, ethically and otherwise, and danger regularly lurks”.
We are told that “right and wrong don’t matter in the woods, only feelings” and “You decide what’s right, you decide what’s good”. There are also positive messages about being there for your children.
This film had excellent music (much singing), and very impressive sets and costumes. There was also some good humor slipped in throughout. I did feel that it ran a bit long at 125 minutes and could have been tightened up. Overall, it was one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
I read most of this wonderful book (one of my favorites of the year), by one of my favorite authors sitting along the Saluda River in Cleveland, South Carolina over the Thanksgiving weekend. We were in the area for the marriage of our nephew Mark and his bride Tiffany. We had rented two cabins on the Saluda River, located a few miles Table Rock State Park. It was an incredible setting to read this book about the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
~ THIS AND THAT ~
One of our favorite annual traditions is to see It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed at the Normal Theater in town. This is a theatre that opened in 1937, and after being restored, has now been open for 20 years, showing classic, independent and foreign films (http://www.normaltheater.com/). It’s a great feeling to be in the jam packed theatre seeing friends from church and the community. Although Tammy tells me that she thinks she knows how it is going to end, I have to go each year to see if Clarence earns his wings.
God in a Manger. John MacArthur writes “The enemy must love the world’s Christmas celebration. He must revel in the blatant sin and blasphemy and rejection of Christ—all by people who suppose they are celebrating His birth! He must glory in the way people inoculate themselves against the truth of Christ by commemorating His birth with lip service while ignoring the point of it all—that Jesus is almighty God.”
CHRISTIAN LIVING AND RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:
Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas. Tim Challies provides a warning to parents regarding the electronic devices that parents will be giving their children for Christmas this year. Tim will speak on “Purity in a Digital Age” at the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference in Orlando on February 19.
10 Marks Of True Conversion. From a sermon by John MacArthur, David Murray provides a summary of the ten effects of true conversion in a Christian’s life.
Overcoming the World Conference Messages. As I prepare my heart and mind for the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference to take place in February, 2015, I’ve been listening to the messages from the 2014 conference, which had a theme of “Overcoming the World”. You can listen and watch all of the conference messages. Of all these wonderful messages, I will commend one to you in particular. It is Derek Thomas’ message “How Then Shall We Live in This World?” using 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 as his primary text.
Did Tolkien Waste His Life? Jon Bloom of Desiring God writes “Did Tolkien waste much of his life loitering in his own elaborate Elfland? And did he enable hundreds of millions of others to waste theirs by joining him there? In the face of such real desperate needs of very real souls in the very real world, isn’t Middle-earth just an escape?”
Bilbo’s Last Goodbye David Mathis of Desiring God writes “Say what you may about (Peter) Jackson, he has done Tolkien and us a great service. Whatever disappointments we may have with the details, he has introduced millions of new readers, and a whole new generation, to Middle-earth. Countless of us, without Jackson’s midwifery, never would have buried ourselves in the pages of The Hobbit and its trilogy-sequel.”
Christianity Today’s 2015 Book Awards.Christianity Today picks for “books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought and culture”. Congratulations to Steven Garber for Visions of Vocation receiving an Award of Merit.
iTunes I have 968 albums (or 42.4 days) of music in my iTunes library. I’ve recently started putting my favorite songs in playlists. For example, I have my favorite 100 (and growing) Christian hip-hop/rap songs in a playlist and have built playlists for many of my favorite artists from Amos Lee to Toby Mac. This year I built a Christmas music playlist. We usually pick up a few new Christmas albums each year and so we have quite a collection after 34 years of marriage. It was a lot of fun to build the playlist, which currently has 212 songs in it after adding four songs from the David Crowder Band’s Oh for Joy album. Using playlists is a great way to build your own “Greatest Hits”.
Christmas Carols: Joy to the World. Randall Van Meggelen writes “This famous hymn is one of my favorite carols because it faithfully conveys the resounding message in Psalm 98 that Jesus saves.”
Because He Lives. I saw Matt Maher perform this incredible new song in a recent concert, in which he appeared with Toby Mac. He told a nice story about contacting Bill Gaither when writing the song, because, well, Bill Gaither wrote the classic song “Because He Lives”. This is a great song and it’s now available on iTunes. Check out the video for the song.
New Third Day Single. The band has released “Soul On Fire”, the first single from their new worship album Lead Us Back: Songs of Worship, which will be released March 3, 2015. The single is available on iTunes.
Casting Crowns in Concert. Casting Crowns will be in concert at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, IL at 7:00 pm on February 26.
Time Is Now for Gospel Transformation in Race Relations. Jeff Robinson writes “One message rang clear from a two-hour dialogue of Christian leaders gathered Tuesday night in Memphis at the historic Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum: American evangelicals have far to go in race relations, but the gospel is enough to bring about genuine reconciliation”
Engaging Race Face to Face. The American church is at a pivotal moment. It has been years since the issue of ethnic and racial tension has received the important attention and discussion it has in the last four months. While it might seem easiest not to engage this topic, or while some might expect the current discussion to quickly fade, Lecrae helps us see that there is a healthy, necessary way to move forward. The broad webcast isn’t the final word. But rather, as Lecrae explains in this six-minute video from last year, “There needs to be small, intimate settings of people coming together to wrestle through this, to ask the hard questions, pushing and pulling to have a better understanding of where we stand.”
Star Athletes Madison Bumgarner and Marcus Mariota Honor God On and Off the Field. Eric Metaxas writes “Twenty-fourteen is the year that America learned more about its athletes than it cared to know. Much of the off-the-field news made it clear that sports is not necessarily the place we should look for role models. There are exceptions of course, and this past week saw two athletes who could serve as role models honored for their accomplishments.
• Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest. Linus
• Your most irritated, impatient, uncaring self didn’t separate you from God’s love today; it made you a target of his love. Scotty Smith
• Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love. John Piper, (from Don’t Waste Your Life)
•Salvation is not a reward for the righteous, but a gift for the guilty. Steven Lawson
•If you didn’t earn your salvation how are you going to un-earn it? Tim Keller
• Ironically, the insistence that doctrines do not matter is really a doctrine itself Tim Keller.
• What is the deepest root of your joy? What God gives to you? Or what God is to you? John Piper
• Sometimes we emulate the Pharisees more than we imitate Christ. RC Sproul
• Why couldn’t North Korea have found “Left Behind” offensive? Barnabas Piper
• We’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream. Tim Keller
• The question is not, “Why is there only one way to God?” but “Why is there even one way? R.C. Sproul
• Lay your burdens of self-contempt, cynicism, and shame at the feet of Jesus tonight. He welcomes them, and you. Scotty Smith
• When it comes to understanding and appreciating grace, our biggest problem is our so-called goodness…not our self-perceived badness. Tullian Tchividjian
• You pursue excellence when you care about something other than your own excellence. Michael Horton
• Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. John Wooden
• Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you. Tim Keller
• If you want to know God as your Father, you need to know Jesus Christ as your Savior. Kevin DeYoung.
• In heaven I’ll be shocked by those who aren’t there, those I didn’t think would be there but are. And the fact I’m there at all. Lecrae
• We live in a culture where the truth claims of Christianity are not only rejected, they are ridiculed. R.C. Sproul
• Faith is quenching the soul’s thirst at the fountain of God. John Piper
• Before crawling between the sheets tonight, preach the gospel to your heart and forgive whoever you possibly can. Scotty Smith
• Having hope is hard; harder when you get older. Wendell Berry
• Worry is a waste of energy. It can’t change the past. It can’t control the future. It only makes today miserable. Tullian Tchividjian
• What greater value could you possibly have than to be delighted in and sacrificed for by the Maker of the universe? Tim Keller
• When I find my justification in Christ alone, I am free to love and serve others in ordinary and unheralded ways. Michael Horton
Your Job as Ministry. Check out this sermon from John Piper, which he offers as a declaration and as a prayer. He writes “As a declaration it would be: How you fulfill the demands of your vocation is an essential part of Christian discipleship. Or to put it another way: How you do your job is a big part of your obedience to Jesus. Stated as a prayer, the main point today is: Father, grant to us all the grace to be conscious of your presence at our work and to obey your commands in all our vocational relationships.”
A Better Understanding of Why We Procrastinate. Matt Perman shares an article that states ““Conventional wisdom has long suggested that procrastination is all about poor time management and willpower. But it may have more to do with how our brains and emotions work.”
Steven Garber was the commencement speaker at my graduation from Covenant Seminary in May. Tammy and I have been reading and discussing this book for the past few months. This week we look at Chapter 8: Learning to Live Proximately.
Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller
In the recommended reading for developing a vision for your life section of Matt Perman’s excellent book What’s Best Next, Matt suggested Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. I have read the book before but with the reminder from Matt, and in light of the recent decisions about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Tammy and I have decided to read and discuss it again at this time. This week we look at the Introduction.
God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr.
When we recently visited St. Andrews Chapel where R.C. Sproul is one of the pastors, this book was the church’s “Book of the Month”. I’m excited to read it. We’ll look at a chapter each week – won’t you read along with us? This week we cover Chapter 8: Your Calling in the Church.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, rated PG-13 *** ½
We saw this film in 3D, on the giant screen theatre at the new Peoria Riverfront Museum (http://www.peoriariverfrontmuseum.org/giant-screen-theater/about-the-gst–2). We’ve been wanting to see a film there for some time and this one was a great one to see there. The picture was filmed incredibly clear, and this is one film you want to see on a big screen in 3D.
Last year’s Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, the second in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, was my top movie of 2013, and I went into this film thinking the final chapter could top my list again for 2014. The film is good, very good in fact, but the overly long battle scene, taking about a third of the film, while well done, gets a half star taken off of the film’s rating, and thus it won’t be my top film of the year. Unbroken and Into the Woods still have a shot at coming in at #1 however.
This film picks up where Desolation left off, with the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), flying high above Laketown spewing fire across the town as their occupants, including the greedy coward Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry), attempting to flee. It’s an amazing opening scene of destruction, beautifully filmed. Bard (Luke Evans), with one final spear available, and the assistance of his son, finds the one vulnerable spot on Smaug and strikes him down dead.
Although the remaining residents (many of them wounded), of Laketown are spared, their city is destroyed. Bard leads them to the crumbling walls of Dale, near the gates of Erebor and Lonely Mountain, home to incredible treasures of gold. Food is in very short supply and they need assistance to survive.
Thorin (Richard Armitage) king of the dwarves has arrived at the mountain and the gold has changed Thorin. He barricades the dwarves inside the mountain, refusing to help the people he had given his word to. He would rather fight than share the treasure. We see greed overcome Thorin. Tolkien termed this “dragon-sickness”.
All of this builds to a great battle, as five armies come to the mountain from all sides. The battle includes men, elves, dwarves, eagles, Orcs, wargs, bats, trolls, goblins, etc., engaging in brutal combat of swords, arrows, etc. The violence is significant enough that you will want to consider what age of children you want to expose to it. Bad nightmares could certainly result. There is one incredible scene in which Thorin and the head Orc battle on a sheet of ice near a frozen waterfall.
The film boasts a strong cast. Back for this film are Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and Thranduil (Lee Pace). Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel’s (Cate Blanchett) return for a short scene that doesn’t seem to connect with the overall story.
I’ve really enjoyed the Hobbit trilogy by Peter Jackson. This is a very satisfying and well done ending.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, rated PG-13 ***
I’ve enjoyed the two previous Night at the Museum films, and was looking forward to this one. I wasn’t disappointed in this fun, family-friendly film, which features two performers (Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney) who have died since filming this movie. The film moves quickly with sharp writing, some good special effects, stunts and a strong cast.
Ben Stiller returns as Larry Daley, the one-time night watchman of New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Ricky Gervais plays Dr. McPhee, the museum director. As we know by now, after dark the animals and statues in the museum are brought to life. What makes this happen is a golden Tablet of Akmenrah, a magical artifact from Egypt. The new film opens by taking us back to the discovery of the tablet in the 1930’s. But the tablet is now starting to lose its power, signaling the end of the magic for Larry’s museum friends. Larry needs to take the tablet to the British Museum of Natural History in London, home of Akmenrah’s mummified parents.
So Larry and some of the gang, among them Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, Rami Malek as Ahkmenrah, Owen Wilson as Jedediah Smith, Steve Coogan as Octavius, Crystal the Monkey and Stiller himself as Laaa – head to London. There they encounter Dan Stevens as Sir Lancelot and Ben Kingsley as Ahkmenrah’s father Merenkahre. We also meet Tilly, hilariously played by Rebel Wilson. Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke and Hugh Jackman all appear in short cameos, adding to the fun of the film.
It does seem that every Hollywood film has to add some objectionable content. In this case, it is the overtly same-sex attraction of Steve Coogan’s Octavius. However, it probably went over the head of the majority of kids in the theatre that we enjoyed hearing laughing throughout this enjoyable film.
Another more sobering note was the ending scene with Robin Williams. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was almost prophetic.
All in all, I really enjoyed this film and think you would too.
The Gospel According to Peanuts. In his 2011 article, Lee Habeeb of The National Review wrote of the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas writes “What people don’t know is that the Christmas special almost didn’t happen, because some not-so-smart television executives almost didn’t let it air. You see, Charles Schulz had some ideas that challenged the way of thinking of those executives 46 years ago, and one of them had to do with the inclusion in his Christmas cartoon of a reading from the King James Bible’s version of the Gospel of Luke.”
NFL Star Gives It All Up … to Be a Farmer. Former St. Louis Rams center Jason Brown decided that football no longer could sustain him, and, after making $20 million of his contract, walked away from the NFL to serve others.
The Strange Oprahfication of Rob Bell. Samuel James writes “Without intending malice or slander, I have to suggest that Bell is sounding less like a preacher of Christianity (even a liberal one) and more like the newest member of an affluent, West Coast cult.”
‘God plus’ or Bust; lose the incarnation, lose it all. Matt Smethurst writes “It’s nearly impossible to overestimate the significance of the Incarnation for Christian belief. To deny the Incarnation is to undercut the very scaffolding of orthodoxy, for a non-divine Jesus is neither the one whom the New Testament presents nor he for whom believers throughout history have lived and died.”
The Moment of Truth: It’s Reality. Steven Lawson writes that “’What is truth?’ is the key question for today, when the idea of absolute truth is increasingly and soundly rejected in our culture.
The State of Theology: Take It or Leave It. Stephens Nichols continues his series on a recent survey of religion in America that Ligonier Ministries commissioned. He writes “We, too, have our battles with bad theology and bad ethics in American culture and in American Christianity. Like Machen in his day, we need to take the same courageous stand in our day. We cannot afford to adopt a take it or leave it attitude when it comes to thinking about and obeying God’s Word. We must take it.”
New Paul McCartney Song “Hope for the Future”. Watch the video here which turns the former Beatles into a singing hologram and plunges him into the video game ‘Destiny.’
New Dylan Album. 73 year-old Bob Dylan will release Shadows of the Night on February 3. You can pre-order it now on iTunes, and receive the song “Full Moon and Empty Arms”. The album is expected to be an album of cover songs, many of them recorded by Frank Sinatra. Go figure. Another song that is included on the album is “Stay with Me”. Dylan never fails to surprise. Here’s a live recording from October 26 of “Stay with Me”, another song from the album which Dylan has been closing his live sets with recently. Dylan commented, “It was a real privilege to make this album. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time but was never brave enough to approach 30-piece complicated arrangements and refine them down for a 5-piece band. That’s the key to all these performances. We knew these songs extremely well. It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking, and, for the most part, mixed as it was recorded. I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.”
Seven virtues of Christian managers: Lessons from Romans 12-16. Gregory F. Augustine Pierce writes “There are many Christian virtues that managers can practice. I define a Christian virtue as “a habit based on a long-standing belief that God is love.” Here are seven such virtues, with a quote for each from the Letter to the Romans as translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message.
Visiting with Mary and Martha: What about the work?Ann Boyd writes “Mary “chose the better part,” and I do appreciate that — but what about the work Martha was doing? Even after sitting with Jesus, the dishes are still there. How can we resolve this tension?”
When Hope is Gone. Dan Miller writes about a time a few years ago when he and his wife did a presentation at the Tennessee Prison for Women: “It gave me a new perspective on how easily we can complain about our “circumstances.” It also reminded me that often when fewer options are available, hope seems to be more present. Believing that all hope is gone is a personal choice. Circumstances do not dictate that – only we can choose to believe that.”
Serving a Generation in Search of Meaningful Work. Bethany Jenkins interviews Gregory W. Carmer, who among his other responsibilities directs the Christian Vocation Institute, a collection of programs, including the Elijah Project, which helps students explore the theological underpinnings and practical out-workings of vocation.
7 Ways to Thrive with a Bad Boss. Dan Rockwell writes “If you don’t have a bad boss now, you’ll have one soon.” He gives us seven ways to thrive under that bad boss.
The heart behind “Why you hate work”. Brian Gray writes “Christians must embrace the biblical vision of work which claims that all work which is not sinful can be sacred. In God’s economy of spirituality, what we do is far less important than why we do it, how we do it, and who we are and are becoming as we engage our work.”
We Were Made to Work. Chris Armstrong writes “At the very beginning of Genesis, God shows himself as a working God, who creates valuable things. And then right away we see that we ourselves as made in his image, also to work.”
Faith and Work Book Clubs – Won’t you read along with us?
God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr.
When we visited St. Andrews Chapel where R.C. Sproul is one of the pastors, this book was the church’s “Book of the Month”. I’m excited to read it. We’ll look at a chapter each week – won’t you read along with us? This week we cover Chapter 7: Your Calling as a Citizen.
How I look at this film has a lot to do with my expectations of it. The director of the film, the acclaimed Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Thelma and Louise, all of which he received Oscar nominations for) is an outspoken atheist. So I was certainly not expecting his portrayal of the Exodus story to be biblically accurate. On top of that, Christian Bale’s recent quote about Moses “I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life,” didn’t give me much confidence about how Moses would be portrayed. And much like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah from earlier this year, those expectations were met. Given that, how are believers to look at this film? We could choose to stay away from it, or we could see the film and then critically engage with it, knowing that it is not going to be biblically accurate.
First, what I did find was in many ways a well-made and entertaining Hollywood film with a strong cast, including Christian Bale as Moses and the always outstanding Ben Kingsley as Nun. We also see some outstanding special effects, especially around the plagues and the Red Sea scene (more of a low tide than a parting) that only a big budget film ($140 million) can provide. The overall story of the Exodus is in the film, which I would describe as being loosely based on the biblical account. The primary storyline of the film is not necessarily the exodus, but the relationship between Moses, who the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) raised as his adopted son, and his own biological son Ramses (Joel Edgerton).
What you may hear about, and also what most concerned me about the film is how our sovereign God was portrayed, beginning with the burning bush scene. In what reminded me of how God is portrayed as a large African American woman in The Shack by William P. Young, God (he is credited as Malak, a Semitic word for angel), is portrayed as a preteen British boy, played by 11 year old Isaac Andrews. Is Malak a messenger, or is he God? He either is God or speaks directly for Him. When asked who he is he responds “I AM”. The character, and thus God, is portrayed as “a self-centered brat” (Gabe Hughes’ review), “a petulant, willful child” (Paul Asay’ review), or as “an impish British schoolboy” (Christy Lemire’s review). Moses and Malak are portrayed as having a contentious relationship throughout the film.
At two and a half hours, the film is much shorter than Cecile B. DeMille’s four hour The Ten Commandments from 1956. As such, the film focuses on the events in the story at the expense of character development. The costumes, jewelry, architecture, etc. that Scott uses in the film were quite good. Scott dedicates the film to his late brother and fellow filmmaker Tony, who committed suicide in 2012.
We had seen a trailer for this film when at an independent/art house theatre in St. Louis this summer where we had gone to see Boyhood. We’ve been waiting for months to see it. It just came out on video yesterday so we were excited to finally see it. Unfortunately we were disappointed, despite an outstanding performance by Brendan Gleeson as Father James.
The film is set in a small town in Ireland. It is often shot darkly, with the exception of the scenes shot along the beach which were beautiful. We had difficulty clearly making out the dialogue throughout, due to the Irish accents and/or the dialogue not recorded clearly and/or our television needing a sound bar.
The film opens with Father James hearing a confession on Sunday. It wasn’t someone confessing their own sins, but terrible sexual abuse done against the one in the confessional. Father James doesn’t know what to say to the man who has been so terribly wounded. He suggests taking the matters to the authorities, but is told that the priest is dead. The confessor says that there would be no good coming from killing a bad priest anyhow. No, what he will do is to kill a good priest. He will kill Father James, and tells him he will do it on the beach next Sunday.
Father James takes the threat seriously, believing he knows who it was who has threatened him. He talks to his superior, but not to the police. He tries to carry out his duties through the week until the following Sunday. But he has quite a broken (and mostly unlikable) congregation, with much talk about suicide and infidelity. M. Emmet Walsh as the elderly writer, is one of the few likeable characters in the film. Almost everyone drinks in the film, including Father James as Sunday approaches. We don’t see him turning to God during this time however. During the week his church is burned to the ground and his beloved dog has his throat slit.
Kelly Reilly stars as Father James’ daughter Fiona (from a previous marriage). She has recently attempted suicide. The two love each other, but she feels that he abandoned her to become a priest after her mother (his wife) died. She felt that she had lost both parents at once.
We didn’t feel like the film had any redeeming value; it was quite depressing. The one reason to see the film would be to see Gleeson’s Oscar worthy performance. The film is rated “R” for language.
I’ll publish my list of favorites from 2014 in a number of categories the first week of January. I’d love to publish yours as well. So just send your favorites in the following categories to us at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the year.
The Pilgrim’s Progress (New Edition). Jonathan Parnell of Desiring God writes “Desiring God is excited to release a new edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress, free of charge in three digital formats (PDF, EPUB, MOBI). This new edition is the original first part of Bunyan’s classic, unabridged and redesigned in beautiful typesetting for modern readability. This edition also features a foreword by Leland Ryken, who kindly offered counsel to us since the beginning of this project, and a short biography of Bunyan’s life by John Piper. The preface to this edition was written by John Newton in 1776 to introduce an old version of the book that included his annotations. This preface was discovered by Tony Reinke, biographer of Newton, and is included now in print for the first time in over a century.”
New Short Film, From The Village to The Basement Introduces Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes through a Time-lapse Road Trip narrated by Jeff Bridges. Available exclusively on Bob Dylan’s Official Facebook Page and BobDylan.comFrom The Village to The Basement compresses more than 12,000 photographs into an extended time-lapse tracking shot, opening on the sidewalk in front of the Washington Square Hotel in Greenwich Village, moving northward through upstate New York, and finally pulling into the driveway of Big Pink, where The Basement Tapes were famously recorded in 1967. Following the route traveled by Dylan and The Band from Manhattan to the West Saugerties on their way to Big Pink, From The Village to The Basement is a virtual road trip with narrator Jeff Bridges serving as tour guide, recounting the history and mystery of The Basement Tapes, their influence on American music and the bootleg culture these recordings launched.
Powerful New Trip Lee Song Inspired by recent events. Listen to “Coulda Been Me” here (http://builttobrag.com/coulda-been-me/) and see the lyrics to the song below: Don’t nobody wanna hear our pain That’s how I’m feeling when I’m flipping through them twitter comments, all I feel is rain They telling me get over it’s old That stuff don’t exist no more But that don’t ring true when I look in these streets So it’s real when I feel like it coulda been me
Man can I tell you how I’m feeling right now Ah they wanna know how I’m feeling right now I feel like it coulda been me I feel like it coulda been me We all made in God’s image you know All our lives matter, our vision is broke We feel pain cause we been here before Who’s innocent I don’t know But it coulda been me I feel like it coulda been me
I didn’t know Mike Brown I ain’t know Trayvon I didn’t know Sean Bell But I know they gone I ain’t know Oscar Grant or Tamir Rice I didn’t know Eric Garner But I know they life Is worth more than they saying on the tv screen I hate I got a long list, you finna see me scream Cause I feel like they don’t see we kings Made to rule like Him, they think we needy fiends I wasn’t there when they shot at the man I can’t solve cases, won’t say that I can But I do know life as a young black man Guess I can’t be mad that some don’t understand But maybe you would If you looked at my life and you stood where I stood Use my eyes to look at these streets It’s too real when I feel like it coulda been me
Man can I tell you how I’m feeling right now Ah they wanna know how I’m feeling right now I feel like it coulda been me I feel like it coulda been me
Picture me as a teen Picking out drinks in the store when I seen The cashier looking at me, then he screams Points at my hip and tells me I’m seen But hold up, I ain’t know that I was that scary And I ain’t know that I could shoot you with a blackberry Very odd, that he saw me as a thug When I’d never caught a case, never stole or bought drugs Or how bout the time that I flew to a show Full of joy, finna rap for a room full of folks Outside then I find it’s a gun in my face Handcuffs on my hands, pat down at the waist It’s the same ol, same ol I fit the description of a criminal that they know They showed me picture, come on Are you kidding? We don’t look a like Well the cops thought we did if you looking right Every black man I know Got stories like those, reaping what they ain’t sow When they assume you a thug from the jump It don’t matter if you strapped with a pump Look I don’t know if Mike Brown had his hands up But I’m writing saying homie I’ma stand up And I’ma tell you I feel I look in these streets And say it’s real when I feel like it coulda been me
Skies feeling grey, eyes red Black and white clash, clouds over head How long till they heard what we said How long till they hear what I said? Shout out to all the good cops Fighting bad guys, making good stops I hate that on the hood blocks In the end they might try to lump you in with all the crooks I wanna say to all my young black men I know it’s feeling like we just can’t win But in your anger don’t sin Don’t affirm what they thinking Don’t let nobody tell us we ain’t got worth Some will try to shut us down it will not work I know it ain’t fair, but we know that He cares And one day he’ll wipe away tears
Where’s your hope at? Mine is in him Where is your hope at? Mine is in him We got work to do, but my hope is in him They got work to do too, but my hope is in him
IN THE NEWS:
Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose wore an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt in warm-up before the Bulls Game with the Warriors on Saturday in Chicago.
A Prayer for Filling Our Hearts with Jesus–the Lord of Advent. Scotty Smith prays: “Dear Lord Jesus, knowing that it’s possible to “do Christmas” and miss Advent, today I want to fill my heart, as full as possible, with you. You are the One who has come and is coming again. Isaiah’s words fuel my worship and shrink my worries.”
Take a Break from the Chaos. David Mathis of Desiring God writes: You need a break from the chaos, from the noise and the crowds, more than you may think at first. You need the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude.”
The State of Theology: The Good Book. Stephen Nichols continues his analysis of a recent major study on theology in America, this time looking at the Bible. He writes “American Christians have Bibles. We tend to have even more than 4.7 (the number per household). Do we read them? Do we cling to our Bibles as the authoritative and true Word of God to us? Do we obey and follow what we read? The answers to these questions make all the difference in the world.
The Practice of Putting Sin to Death. Tim Challies continues his excellent series on John Owens’ book Overcoming Sin and Temptation. He writes that Owens’ has only two broad instructions: Put your faith in Christ, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
When Do You Leave a Church? Jeff Robinson writes “There are certainly legitimate reasons to leave a church and sadly, it sometimes becomes necessary or even a duty to find a more biblically faithful body.”
Why the Church Needs a New Approach for Addressing Homosexuality. Eric Metaxas writes “Sixty percent of all Americans now live in a state in which marriage has been redefined to allow same-sex couples to “marry.” So should Christians give up, go home, and move on to another issue? Absolutely not. While the public policy issue may be largely settled, the matter of how the church should interact with gays—especially gay Christians—is far from settled. And on that subject, one Christian leader says we have a lot of repair work to do.”
Two Enemies of Determination. Darrin Patrick writes “In Jesus, we have the model of a determined man. He pressed on in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He resisted comfort and approval, knowing what was at stake in his failure. He endured great suffering and shame because he had a greater joy.”
My good friend Aaron, who works where I do and is also a local pastor, has written a Christmas poem for several years. Here’s his poem for this year:
Joy unto us the angels did sing
Joy unto us our savior was born king
Joy unto us a gift was given
Joy unto us a tree was slain
Joy unto us on the tree – our Lord and savior hang
Joy unto us the angel did say – he is Risen no longer he lay
Joy unto us the message must ring on and on
Joy unto you this Christmas season for only Jesus is our reason to have hope and holiday cheer
LUKE 2: 1 – 20
Visions of VocationBook Club
Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber.
Steve Garber was the speaker at my Covenant Seminary graduation in May. Tammy and I have been reading his book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. This week we look at chapter 7 The Great Temptations.
It is surprising that the promise of more knowledge—to know as God knows, in the words of the tempter—had the bitter fruit of anguish and shame.
From that first temptation on, human beings have responded in countless ways to the same question: What will you do with what you know? Or to put it another way, Knowing what you know, how will you respond?
We do not want knowing to necessarily mean caring. Not because we are morally misanthropic, but simply because the one who knows the most mourns the deepest. More knowledge often means more pain.
Both offer a way to know that allow us to keep our eyes open, seeing things as they “really” are, but not requiring that we get so close that we are hurt by what we know. We have called these responses stoicism and cynicism. Both are ways to know that do not ask us to get too close to what we know; they allow us to protect ourselves from knowing too much, and therefore from caring too much.
While I understand that there are horrors and heartaches that are beyond what anyone wants or imagines, it does not make a good life to think that we can have knowledge without responsibility, that we can know but not have to care.
While there are honest joys every day, if one has eyes to see, there are also honest sorrows too, if one has eyes to see. What we do with the two realities is what distinguishes us, and is what is distinctive about different religious visions.
Every account of human life, from varieties of theism to varieties of pantheism to varieties of materialism, has a vision of the human person at its heart—what is often called a telos. We believe certain things to be true of us as individuals, and true of human beings, and we live in that light. But we do not only live in that light, we theorize and imagine in that light as well. We develop economic and political visions, and we create artistic artifacts—sculpture, paintings, novels, poetry, music, theater and film—that resonate with what we believe to be true of human beings, in light of the telos that shapes our understanding of what is real and true and right.
We know pathos, empathy, sympathy, passion and compassion, for example. Each of those words grows out of some effort to make sense of life, of a life where things are often not as they are supposed to be, where in fact there is disappointment, heartbreak and injustice. Knowing the world to be this way, knowing our experience to be this way, what will we do? How will we respond?
Knowing that does not require one to respond. One knows, but does not have to step in. One knows, but does not have to be implicated. It is important to note that Stoicism is not malicious with its intentional indifference, but its willingness to look away at critical points is a problem for a good life and a good society.
The great Hebrew scholar Abraham Heschel, in his magisterial study The Prophets, argues that the prophetic tradition as a whole was a response to the stoicism of their time, whether that was formally taught and debated, or was more street-level assumptions by ordinary people living ordinary lives.
God hears and responds to what he hears, that he sees and acts on what he sees. Not an unmoved mover, but the one who knows and who feels what he knows.
Another twentieth-century scholar, Benjamin B. Warfield of Princeton, intriguingly argues that the Gospels were a response to the stoicism of their time.
Jesus’ response to the death of his friend was a million miles from the Stoic apatheia.
Again, if there has not been an incarnation, a moment in human history when God shows that we can know and still love, then stoicism seems a very good answer to a very hard question: Knowing the hurt of life, what are you going to do?
Living in Washington, D.C., for many years now, I have come to the conclusion that while the world at large may criticize the city for its hubris, “the Beltway mentality” and all, the reality is that the city is cynical.
But the question which was first asked in the Garden, primordial and perennial as it was, is asked again of everyone who comes to town: Knowing what you know, what are you going to do?
One of the best chroniclers of contemporary geo-politics is the British novelist John Le Carré. Le Carré is a master story-teller, seeing the evil of the human heart played out in public and political arenas—and he expects his readers to come to the same conclusion that he has. In a word, he is a cynic—about individuals and institutions, about persons and polities, about anyone and anything that has to do with power and money. And why not? There many good reasons to be cynical.
“Life is good,” the T-shirts promise, and we buy them by the truckload. Well, sometimes in some places, but not very often in the massive ghettoes of Nairobi, which is where Le Carré takes us in The Constant Gardner.
But there are exceptions. And it is here that Le Carré’s cynicism is more a protection of his heart than a truthful account of the heart. Whether conscious or not, intentional or not, the temptation to cynicism is always a way of keeping one’s heart from being wounded, again.
There is much to be cynical about—and it is a good answer if there has not been an incarnation. But if that has happened, if the Word did become flesh, and if there are men and women who in and through their own vocations imitate the vocation of God, then sometimes and in some places the world becomes something more like the way it ought to be.
Over twenty years ago, Mark Rodgers and I decided to be neighbors, remembering the credo of the Clapham community in London two hundred years ago: “Choose a neighbor before you choose a house.”
There is nothing romantic about trying to do the right thing and feeling the indifference of those you work and live with.
Can we know the world and still love the world? Can we know the messes of the world and still work on them because we want to, because we see ourselves as responsible, for love’s sake? Sometimes some people make that choice, like Mark has, and always it is a vocation in imitation of a vocation.
At our best and truest, we stand in the long line of those who remember the profound insight of Thomas à Kempis in calling us to “the imitation of Christ.” To choose to know, and still love, is costly; it was for God, and it is for us. In fact it is the most difficult task imaginable.
God knows us and still loves us. That is the heart of the incarnation, and not surprisingly the heart of J. I. Packer’s contemporary classic, Knowing God. His vision has shaped my vision, not only of God, but of life.
The incarnation is not a call to life in rose gardens, somehow closing our eyes to the terrors of this very wounded world.
Strange grace that it is, sometimes people decide that their vocations are in fact to know the world and still love the world; in fact, sometimes there are people who know the worst about the world and still love it. Truth be told, mostly those people are unnoticed in this life. At the end of the day, we are ordinary people in ordinary places. The wisest ones have always known this, reminding us of this deeper, truer truth.
And while we may not be weighed down with the questions What will I do today to stay free from stoicism? How will I steer clear of cynicism today? the reality is that if we are to keep our commitments, sticking with what we believe is important, we will have to have reasons that make sense of vocations that implicate us in the histories and complexities of our communities and societies. To see ourselves as responsible, for love’s sake, is both hard work and good work—and it cannot be done alone.
Stretched taut between the Last Supper and the Great Supper—with an invitation from Jesus to eat together week by week until he comes again—our Vocares always involve a meal.
Simply, he sees his work as imitating the incarnation; knowing the way banking more often than not is, he works for what can be because he believes in what ought to be.
Why get involved? It is one thing to know about messes, but it is something else altogether to step into a mess. It is one thing to know about things being wrong, but it is something else altogether to decide that I am responsible to make it right.
Knowing what I know, what will I do? There are people who see themselves implicated in the way the world is and ought to be. For love’s sake, they see themselves as responsible for the way the world turns out. Sometimes they are bankers, and sometimes they make hamburgers. But always and everywhere, they are people who have vocations in imitation of the vocation of God: knowing the worst about the world, and still loving the world. They are people who learn to live in the tension of life, living with what is and longing for what will be—keeping clear of the great temptations, for the sake of the world. Simply said, they become hints of hope.
If you say: I believed in God, I trusted God, and He didn’t come through – You only trusted God to meet your agenda. -Tim Keller
If you have only been born once you will die twice, but if you are born twice you will only die once. -Steven Lawson
By God’s grace, seek to make your home the most encouraging place your family knows. -Scotty Smith
We fall privately before we ever fall publicly. -RC Sproul
The gospel is not about what we have done or are called to do, but the announcement of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. -Michael Horton
Great sins draw out great grace. Where guilt is most terrible and fierce, the mercy of God appears most high and mighty. -John Bunyan
If you make the goal of your life just to stay alive, you’ll fail. If you make the goal of your life the kingdom, you cannot lose. -Kevin DeYoung
Fundamentally, Reformed theology is theology founded on and fashioned by God’s Word. For it is God’s Word that forms our theology, and it is we who are reformed by that theology as we constantly return to God’s Word every day and in every generation. –Burk Parsons
The people who have taught me the most about grace are those who have blown it so bad that they know how much they need it. -Tullian Tchividjian
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. -Charles Wesley
Just because we don’t see a reason why God allows evil and suffering doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Christmas is God going into the darkness for you. -Tim Keller
Martin Luther’s View on Why Clarity of Scripture Matters for Vocation. Andrew Spencer writes “Given the connection between the clarity of Scripture and a return of the doctrine of vocation, it should come as no surprise that the development of the sacred/secular divide in vocation began with a drift in the understanding of the ability for all people to interpret Scripture.”
What are You Hiding at Work? Jen Sanbulte writes “We’ve all done it. We’ve gone to work and put on the mask, afraid to be at work who we are in Church on Sunday. We hesitate to give people glimpses into our real life and emotions, because it is messy. Instead, we hide. God called us to be light, but many have a hard time figuring out what that looks like at work. And if we’re honest, we all want to be viewed as professional, as good workers, as normal.”
Your work is not as important as you want it to be: Called by Mark Labberton. Marcus Goodyear writes “This little book calls the entire faith and work movement to task, reminding Christians to focus on the First Thing. My career, my success, and my productivity are not elements of my primary calling. A Christian’s calling is not a personal one, but a shared calling with other Christians to something very simple and straightforward: love God and love your neighbor.”
4 Leadership Lessons from a King Who Finished Poorly. One of our favorite bloggers Kevin Halloran writes that “Unfortunately, we don’t have to look far to see failure in leadership. All leaders need to know what God wants them to do and NOT do.” He states that “Like many kings mentioned in the Bible Jehu is a mixed bag. I don’t want to leave a legacy like that. Here are a few lessons I gleaned from Jehu:”
Vocation and Jobs. Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. “Look for the vocation that is deeply rooted in your life, the way of being that expresses God’s calling on your life. Whatever happens, you are God’s gift to the world in the making. No job can give you that. No job can take it away.”
Reconciling the Call to be Productive with the Messiness of Life. Matt Perman writes “One of the difficulties in affirming that God calls us to be productive is that this can sometimes be mistaken to mean that there is always an easy solution to our productivity challenges. We can think that there is no place for messiness, difficulty, and even falling behind in the life of truly productive, God-honoring people.”
When You Are in Between Jobs. Luke Murry writes “How we handle unemployment ourselves and how we counsel others going through unemployment are both excellent opportunities to bring glory to God’s name.”
New Faith and Work Study Bible.The Bible: Faith and Work Edition will be a unique and engaging combination of doctrine, application, and community that can find its home not only on your nightstand at home, but also on your desktop at work. Its goal is to equip Christians to meaningfully engage various aspects of their work—even those we might not even think could be relevant—with a renewed sense of the power and relevance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Where Does Our Time at Work Go? Sue Shellenbarger writes “The causes of overload have long been suspected—email and meetings—but new techniques that analyze employees’ email headers and online calendars are helping employers pinpoint exactly which work groups impose the most on employees’ time.”
Faith and Work Book Clubs – Won’t you read along with us?
God at Work Book Club
God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr.
When we recently visited St. Andrews Chapel where R.C. Sproul is one of the pastors, this book was the church’s “Book of the Month”. I’m excited to read it. We’ll look at a chapter each week – won’t you read along with us? This week we cover Chapter 6: Your Calling in the Family.
What’s Best Next Book Club
What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman
I’ve always felt that the best part of the three Madagascar films were the penguins, so I was really looking forward to seeing this film – and I was not disappointed. The writing was sharp and the humor came fast from start to finish. Sometimes it came so quickly it was easy to miss, and much will go over the heads of younger viewers.
The film starts with Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), and Rico (Conrad Vernon), as young penguins marching along with the rest of their colony in Antarctica (being filmed for a documentary, as a humorous reference to the popular 2005 film March of the Penguins narrated by Morgan Freeman). As a penguin egg rolls by and the adults let it go, in a very pro-life statement Skipper takes off after it, not willing to let the baby penguin die as the adults were content to do. Instead, the baby penguin, who comes out humorously with an Australian accent, and is named Private (voiced by Christopher Knights), becomes part of the team. That begins a series of funny adventures for the four friends in locations all around the world, with references to the previous Madagascar films thrown in as their story is told.
In the course of their adventures, they run into someone they had met previously in zoos they had been in – Dave the Octopus (voiced by John Malkovich who attended Illinois State University). Dave also transforms himself into the evil Dr. Brine, and he isn’t happy with our friends, or penguins in general. I won’t share any more of those details with you here or I’ll spoil it for you.
We also meet a high-tech spy team, called the North Wind led by the wolf Classified (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). The North Wind are searching for Dr. Brine and help out our friends along the way.
The film does include a few nods to homosexuality – an extra-long kiss and some bottom-slapping. I found it sad that something like that had to be included in a film made primarily for children. On the other hand, in addition to the pro-life message, there are also good messages about self-sacrifice for your friends and a deep caring for friends.
Overall I really enjoyed this film. It was fast moving and very funny.