Monday, January 28, 2008

Analysis of the Worldview in 'There Will be Blood'

In the vein of Debate about Fantasy Literature, I've been continuing my thoughts recently.

1. I'm part of a small group for high school girls at my church that is just starting. No, I'm not in high school. We're working on planning the format and lessons (along with getting people to come, finding a place to meet, etc.). I had the idea that we could watch an episode of Joan of Arcadia each week and then talk about it. Not only does Joan bring up theological questions and experiences; she is popular media's version of a modern teenager. She and her friends and family have strengths, weaknesses, triumphs and struggles that I can relate to, let alone other high school girls.

Thing is, Joan of Arcadia's theology is very off. And there is some content that is lacking virtue. There's that verse in Philippians 4. Yet the show could be iron against which to sharpen our own worldviews. We could take their theology (similar to that offered by peers, neighbors, clerks, teachers, and obviously TV) and look at the Bible's take on it. The benefits would be preparation for apologetics; and critical thinking whenever we're consuming media.

2. Yesterday I saw August Rush for the second time. I like the music. And Keri Russell is beautiful. Jonathan Rhys Meyers has a wonderful accent. Freddie Highmore is an excellent young actor. The ending is satisfying. The entire movie is poetic and like a fairy tale. But there is some bad language, and the whole story revolves around the fact that a single woman lost contact with her child as an infant and is now looking for him. Clearly we can object to that, and refuse to emulate it. On the other hand, the consequences of giving yourself away without commitment are pretty well laid out. I thought the movie was a pretty good argument for abstinence until marriage.

3. Tylerray at Elect Exiles posted an analysis of the movie (which I have not and will not see), There Will be Blood. I want to just encourage you, if you are going to consume media, to be interactive. Ask questions about it. Hold it to the light of God's Word. To quote Tyler: If we passively consume media, we actively assume it.

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Survey about Truest Expression of Love

What is the truest expression of love:



Eternal commitment?


These are extremely relevant questions. Comment with your answer, and why you believe that.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Works of Art

After this weekend, I’ve been thinking about art, and the levels by which it becomes more difficult. Here are my rough draft thoughts:

Art is work. Have you ever thought of that? One of my favorite words for the product of art is wrought. defines it as (among other things):
3. elaborated; embellished.
5. produced or shaped by beating with a hammer, as iron or silver articles.

Writing tends to be the most vague. Composition can be creative, poetic, skilled and beautiful. But it always relies on the reader’s imagination and experience to get a mental image of the suggested idea.

Painting or drawing is a two-dimensional representation of an idea. The observer has no freedom to add to what is given, but the artist must put more definite thought into his work. He must take the risk of his specific expression being rejected.

Sculpture, set design, home decorating, costuming – these are three-dimensional, still manifestations of an idea. I crave this sometimes. I will be inspired with an arrangement, or want to imitate a form – a shape that is not quite expressible in a drawing. A room may be visited. As a connoisseur of art, I want to tour locations of beauty or meaning, not just read about them or look at postcard-pictures.

These last two art forms get more complicated. There is more work involved in their creation, and less control. There is risk not only that the concrete vision may be rejected, but that it may be marred. On the other hand, our visions can benefit from the dye and sculpting of human interaction.

A moment may be crafted. The idea that comes to mind is when a man proposes. Or it could be like a party. Last night I was at a Christmas party – yes, in January – where the hostess had engaged in three dimensional art (her clothing and hair, and the table setting) which contributed to the moment she created when she made a speech (really a toast without glasses). She designed a moment to make us feel special. We lived through gifts, smiles, and words that communicated emotion, atmosphere, ideas.

Life is a work of art. Fundamentally a life is God’s work. Paul tells us as much in Ephesians 2:10. To different extents friends and parents are artists shaping moments for others, which in combination shapes the friends and children. Those who are molded in this way go on to make a series of decisions, to have a sequence of experiences that come together to make a life. Here we have relationships, characters, feelings and thoughts, intentions – and failures.

2 Corinthians 3:2-3 - "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart."

To God be all glory.

Young Ladies Christian Fellowship "Retreat"

Where have I been, and why haven't I been writing? For one thing, I went to Omaha:

“They’re not from a different planet, Mama.” – North and South, the BBC adaptation

The YLCF retreat was a fellowship of likeminded ladies. We all knew that going in, I think. Our differences struck me, though. Sometimes we had to reassure each other that we were not from different planets. Ranging from Colorado natives to a teacher from New York, and the Midwest towns and cities in between, there was plenty to compare. A few of the ladies attending (including Natalie – remember that, girls?) even lived in Japan for a while. So we enjoyed discovering how the same values applied in different lives, different families, at different places and to different interests. Some of us are writers. Some love to clean houses. Students, teachers, wives, mothers, sisters were there. There were seamstresses and dancers and photographers.

By design YLCF is an ecumenical organization, a place where ladies who share a common Savior can gather to encourage each other without debating theology. We retreated from our own churches and lives, our everyday friends with their spiritual problems, from the pressures of our ministries to engage in a real life version of that unity in diversity. Life at home was not forgotten, for once, but nor was it pressing. We took our families with us, whether by photos or book lists or cell phones or real live sisters. I saw God relating our conversations to what was happening in our lives at home. I know we each came away encouraged and refreshed. God is at work so creatively in so many lives and locations. He is awe-some.

I have to report that the YLCF gathering was most unexpectedly, but actually quite reasonably, quiet. 15 or so ladies variously occupied shared quiet conversations about lives, families, and God’s lessons for the year. For a while it felt like twenty questions or the game where a character’s name is on your back and you run around asking questions of everyone until you figure out who you are. By Friday evening, between some sort of synchronized driving by which we left Natalie’s gracious home in a caravan and arrived at the Christian bookstore independently and from different directions, and the frigid parking lot just outside the base, we hit our stride.

For me it was fascinating to observe the humanity of our online friends. Natalie is a real human being with everyday strengths and weaknesses. She is a transparent writer, and I appreciate when she shares her struggles and triumphs, her reflective journal entries. Seeing her in action was different, though. Her dogs bark at strangers. She looks different moving: laughing, walking, thinking – than in pictures. You’ve heard of the widow’s oil? It didn’t run out until all of her jars and pots, and her neighbors’, were full? We experienced Natalie’s pizza, where every pan in the house was filled before we ran out! All roads may lead to the Christian bookstore near her house, but no maps lead to her home. Every one of us got lost on the way, some worse than others. After reading YLCF, that adventure gave us all a common experience on which to build.

Maybe you had to be there, but we all dissolved into laughter when Natalie was reasoning with the security guard at the gate of the Air Force base to let all of us girls stuffed into three cars onto base. I think he liked us, because he was very cooperative. But each car wasn’t really communicating with the others, so we were trying to guess what would happen next, what was going on – reading lips and hand gestures and then proceeding with trial and error.

Gretchen was mentioned often. We peppered Natalie with questions about the origins of YLCF, and how she and Gretchen met. I was most surprised to hear that they’ve only been in each other’s physical presence five or six times. Yet what friends they are to each other!

The weekend was about ladies fair, traipsing through bitter cold and token snow cover. Our experiment with blooming tea was successful. Our trips to the thrift store were totally girly. And most of us more or less stayed up in one little hotel room watching the four hour miniseries, North and South.

Saturday, my friend and I chased the sun home to Colorado, not ready to surrender the day and its memories. For a while it seemed to be working. We kept it overhead, and the sun didn’t descend very quickly. The weekend’s activity was reviewed aloud. Heat invaded the piercing cold. My friend settled in and slept to the soundtrack of Anastasia while steadily the light dropped beneath the clouds until it regaled us with a prolonged sunset.

Then the moon, rising early, pursued us like a lamp from behind. I caught its beams over my shoulder like a car overtaking us on the highway. Even that night, at midnight finally home in Colorado, the pearly glow reflected off the day-old layer of snow welcoming me from my back yard. It was the after-glow, the still illuminating remnant of the light of a lovely day.

"For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness." ~ Psalms 107:9

To God be all glory.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Debate about Fantasy Literature

The Hobbit is being made into a major motion picture. I’m sad. There is a terrible fear in me that this will be like those daily cartoon spin-offs from excellent Disney movies. All my friends tell me how necessary the story of The Hobbit is to the plot of The Lord of the Rings. I am glad of its existence, and even glad I read The Hobbit. There are some enchanting passages about moons and maps and elves and mountains. Of course Tolkien’s fame and further publications were built on the success of The Hobbit, too.

One part that excites me in seeing Peter Jackson’s skill at fantasy movies is to see Smaug, the dragon. I love seeing dragons in action. Not the silly Chinese paper ones that have hundreds of little human feet sticking out the bottom as they run in the parade. But the dragon in Sleeping Beauty, or those in Reign of Fire, in the old Chronicles of Narnia movies… and now The Hobbit. What’s more, this dragon must talk. That will be interesting.

As I first pondered this one positive point of the upcoming Hobbit movie, I found myself being reproached. “How could you be a fan of dragons? You’re a fantasy lover, aren’t you? Don’t you know that there is a group of Christians who reject fantasy literature because of things like dragons?” The criticizer was also myself, so I suppose I could be as hard as I wished, in defense or offense.

I think the defense began with a afore-unthought fell blow. God used dragons in His stories. Revelation is the most prominent example. Though my interpretation is generally literal, I believe the dragon in Revelation is an image for a being invisible on the earth, but powerful. But isn’t the imagery powerful? Our imaginations are excited. We shudder. In most myths, the dragon is a feared and loathsome beast.

God used dragons and other fantastic imagery to connect to our imaginations, which He also created. Have you ever wondered why God gave us imagination? Michael Card calls it “the bridge between my heart and mind.”

Respecting Dr. Paleo’s reasoned position on fantasy literature, which he was so good as to share with me, the offense half of myself recovered from this powerful strike to offer further evidence (borrowed from my fellow blogger). Why would you want to read a story in which the laws God created don’t exist?

Testimonial rebuttal was provided by the defense. When I read fiction – and fantasy especially, it is like a lens by which I can focus in on one issue. CS Lewis wrote his Space Trilogy addressing hypothetical questions. What if God hadn’t given Adam and Eve the choice in the garden? Through his fantasy world in which there was no choice, I came to better understand my world where there is one. Lord of the Rings is excellent at showing a strong line between good and evil. There were falls, temptations, and betrayals. But the moral right and the moral wrong were always clear. Good guys could fight bad guys without doubting who was bad.

Tolkien was Catholic, and his worldview is pervasive in his work. Harry Potter is, I understand, also a series of fantasy books reflecting the author’s worldview. The reason I am opposed to Harry Potter is that the book directs children to real Satanism, and employs real language from the occult. There are other more minor issues, like the portrayal of parents and authority, that would make these books unsuitable for children.

My objecting side refused to surrender the point that the two forms of fantasy are substantially different, and made another attempt at dissuading my Lord of the Rings loving side from its stand. Don’t you have anything better to do or read?

One of my best friends was aghast when I informed her that I am willing to give up my Lord of the Rings collection if the man I marry disapproves of them. They helped form my philosophy and interests. At this moment I do not believe God wanted me not to read them. But it seems remotely possible that with the other characteristics and values I’m praying my husband will have, he might also disapprove of fantasy literature and even of dragons. In which case there are a lot of things more valuable to me than my stack of Lord of the Rings books, movies, memorabilia, and games.

For a black and white person like me, strong-willed and defensive, a resolution to change my mind if warranted in the future is an interesting position. I am in a similar place regarding skirts. I love skirts, and feel I can do almost anything in them. But I enjoy wearing a good warm pair of jeans some days, too. It’s always better to err on the side of excellence, isn’t it?

At the end of the debate, the defensive me was winning. That point about the Bible using a dragon to represent the manifestation of evil encouraged me. Tolkien, at least, classifies dragons in the same way: representing embodied evil: greed and destruction and deceit. Without familiarity with these or other mythological dragons, how could one even come close to comprehending the abhorrence intended by John in describing the devil on earth that way?

To God be all glory.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Weather is God's Plan

In a couple weeks I am planning to go on a weekend roadtrip with a friend. This being January, and living in the blizzard-prone midwest, I am praying already for good weather. (You can join me praying for good weather, too.) My excitement over this trip is such that I'm rather worried about the disappointment a weather cancellation could bring.

While pondering these facts in church this morning (not because I was distracted, no-o, but because church is relevant to real life), I decided that if the weather changed my plans, I would delight in what God does have for me that weekend. See, the weather is quite out of my control or yours, and it is my belief that whatever not in my control is particularly in God's. (This is only a way to look at the world, because I believe that God is in control of everything; but I must take responsibility for my stewardship of the things over which I have "control.") So weather is a gift from God. Every gift that comes down from above is good. God works all things together for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose.

So weather is God's good gift to me. I often feel that way. I could lie back on the ground and watch wisps of fine vapor float over a few stars at a time, contrasting the sharp clarity of the uncovered stars with the pearly veiled stars. Or there is the brilliantly blue sky deepened and darkened by scattered enormously tall cumulous, filtering out the sunlight to let us glimpse the midnight color of the sky by the light of day. While out sledding over the Christmas holidays, I lay back in the foot-deep snow, crossed my arms beneath my head, and watched the currents blow geese across the wind-swept sky.

If the weather alters my plans, I can only conclude that is because God's plans were so much better. Whenever God doesn't give me something I deeply want, I'm almost excited, because it means He has something else - some other course for me. His ways are always better than my ways.

Weather. Lightning. Rain. Snowflakes. Clouds. Fog. Wind. Sunshine. God's gifts.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Plans of an Empty Man

It’s January, and the only reason I’m bringing this up is to immediately draw some relevance to your life. In January the custom is to make at least one New Year’s resolution, something you’re intending to accomplish or change in the upcoming twelve months. Have you ever made a resolution that was not fulfilled, through no fault of your own?

"A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps." ~ Proverbs 16:9

"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand." ~ Proverbs 19:21

About eight weeks ago I saw the movie Bella.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

That day I had a list of things to do a mile long. The theater I chose was across town, the one offering the cheapest tickets. (Even though we only broke even for gas, I like to exercise my rights as a capitalist and boycott expensive movie tickets.) By the time we got across the city, we were about ten minutes early. But being out of our neighborhood, we didn’t know where the theater was. I saw one on the left side of the street; Mom turned right.

Finally I explained I saw the sign across the street, so we made it over there. Like a theater ashamed of its existence there was no marquis. We parked and went in, but did not see Bella listed. Sighing, I asked the cashier, “There’s another theater across the street in the mall, isn’t there?” Back in the car, we returned to the exact spot we had accidentally visited earlier, but still there was no theater in sight.

You know how malls work, though; you can start anywhere and get anywhere, especially in this one, which has a shortcut through the food court. So we parked. I hurried in and analyzed the map while Mom followed. At this point the listed start time of the movie was already upon us. I found the theater on the directory and took off in the direction, hoping my recent venture into map-reading would pay off.

The whole race I was coaching myself, “God knows what He’s doing, Lisa. This is for a reason. Relax.” Finally through the mall and across a little drive, we entered the theater, bought our tickets, and were at last standing just inside the door for screen 12. And everything was pitch black. The movie was just starting. Once there was a little more light, we found our seats and heard the line, “…tell God your plans.”

Hang with me, I’m not done. About twenty minutes into the movie the entire screen went black. Small fluorescent emergency lights began to flash and a calm voice informed us that an emergency had been reported in the building; everyone should move toward the exit. Outside we moved back across the little drive.

My brother has this laugh and dance he does when life is so unbelievable. Rosalee on Win a Date with Tad Hamilton says, “Yikesabee.” I sit down and watch with a smile ready to burst into a laugh. Some people say, “You just can’t make stuff like this up.”

In the end we got free movie passes for anytime, any in the family of theaters, with no expiration date or restriction – and we got to finish our movie after a mere 15 minute intermission. I would have been fine if they carried sodas and popcorn to us on trays, but then they were already over the top on customer service.

That day God was driving home a point. Maybe I needed to lighten up, to laugh at surprises, to recognize that He is in control and I’m not, to trust that He is in control, and to be at rest with that. In fact, that is pretty much the way I’ve learned to live life. I learned because the Bible teaches all those things; in fact I’d say it emphasizes the need to submit our plans to God.

Look at the parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-33. Remember, it’s a story. Pretend you’re reading what happened to your uncle last week. What reactions do you have to the word “fool”?

Mark Schultz wrote in a song, “I’ve dreamed my dreams; I made my plans. But all I’ve built here is an empty man.” The word fool, that God used in the parable, makes me think of emptiness. The rich man was only an empty man. Jesus called His disciples to something better. What was it?

How many of your decisions are made based on the concerns Jesus said to give no thought? Do you encourage your husband, or your kids, or your friends and family to gauge their decisions by those things? What does Jesus teach about God in this passage?

Next time you find yourself thinking about those things, ask yourself what part of God’s character you’re doubting. Is He unable to take care of you? Does He love sparrows and lilies more than you? Does He not know your needs? Does He not want to take care of you? Does He want you to make those decisions? Now?

"I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart." ~ Psalm 32:8-11

Psalm 32:8-11 compares the kind of faith God is looking for with a life of utter dependency. God is not expecting us to never think of the future; He wants us to make decisions. But He wants them made by His wisdom, even when we have ideas of our own. What is possible when we trust God?

James brings up a twin aspect of the foolishness from which Jesus taught about faith: James talks about pride, assuming like the foolish man that we know what will happen and can control our futures.

"Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." ~ James 4:13-17

What happens when we spend so much time planning our future? Is there something else we should be doing?

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing this lesson everywhere I look. God’s plans, not our plans. Again and again. Not only am I seeing the truth of this; I’m seeing the vastness of God’s plans.

"Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise. For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth. He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD. By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works. There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee." ~ Psalms 33:1-22

Also these past few weeks I’ve been reading a book on chess. Do we have any math geniuses in the room? Has anyone heard the legend of the chess board and the rice grains? Does anyone know how many board positions are possible on the 64-square, 32-piece chess board? I guessed you wouldn’t. I’m not sure I can even read it properly, but I’m going to try. This is from The Immortal Game p.68-70:

"It all starts out so simply: in the first move, White is limited to twenty options... Black has the same twenty possible moves iwth his first response... there ar eactually 400 possible board positions in herent in those moves. That's because for every one of White's twenty moves, Black's response can lead to twenty separate positions...

"...the total number of distinct board positions after the second complete move (two moves per player) is - you'll have to trust the number crunchers o nthis - 71,852.

"...After three moves each, the players have settled on one of approximately nine million possible board positions.

"Four moves each raises it to more than 315 billion...

"The total number of unique chess games is... in scientific notation, 10120.

"... In conversational English, it is a thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion games."

I read that passage and something struck me. God is working on a board the size of the universe, and He has billions of pieces at any given moment. I don’t think we have numbers to express all the possible combinations that entails. But God knows when each sparrow falls; He has a plan for every individual. Out of all the possibilities, there is one that will happen. Wow. How great is our indescribable God!

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." ~ Isaiah 55:8-11

God doesn’t give us problems in which there is insufficient information to find an answer or make a decision. He likes us to know how the world works. One good Law of the Universe to keep in mind is in Isaiah 55:6-11. What is the difference, according to this passage, between our thoughts/plans/ways, and God’s? I would say the difference is that God's plans always happen.

Jeremiah 29:11 was preached originally to the Israelites. What does it tell us about God’s plans? "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." ~ Jeremiah 29:11 Is God out to get us?

We all remember Romans 8:28, that all things will work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose. Again: God works things out. God wants good. God called us. God will accomplish His purposes. When God makes a resolution, it cannot fail to be kept.

So how should we live? Luke and James warn us against worrying about and planning over our futures. Psalms forbids us from being like animals, which are so dumb that they need to be dragged wherever their master wants them to go. There must be another way to live. All of the books mentioned it.

"Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established."
~ Proverbs 16:3

John records Jesus’ words to Nicodemus about this different sort of life. Chapter 3 verse 8 says, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."

2 Corinthians 5 is not alone when it commands Christians to walk by faith.

"Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him."
~ 2 Corinthians 5:6-9

What is the motivating factor of the life Paul describes? Where does a Christian’s confidence come from, if he never knows where he is going (as in John 3)? Did Paul plan to live his life walking by faith? What did Paul plan as a young man?

What did you plan?

By the end of Paul’s life, he had discipled successors, spread the gospel, led churches, written part of the Bible, and stood before kings. How did Paul get from what he planned to those things?

When Paul was saved after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, did he understand: we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians), or God works all things together for good (Romans), or God shall supply all your need (Philippians)?

Philippians, perhaps one of Paul’s most personal and mature letters, contains Paul’s confessions that he learned. (Philippians 4:11) He didn’t hit perfection and run on through life without any problems. But he pressed forward. (Philippians 3:12-13) He learned in whatever state he was, to be content. And because he knew who God was, and believed those things, Paul could rejoice.

How has God taught you to walk by faith?

Are you empty?

I am overwhelmed by the possibilities for my life, for one piece, and the implications for those around me. No wonder people go crazy. No wonder humans end their own lives, especially if they don’t acknowledge that God is directing this world. A philosopher once said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” The terrifying God of power and wrath and holiness relates to us in grace proportional to His awesome understanding and might. He is a God worth trusting in a life that cannot be peacefully lived any other way.

To God be all glory.

Books Read in 2007

I saw this idea on another blog, and thought that since I'm so negligent of keeping my own list, I'd try to post for you all what books I read through the year (on this one page) and whether I recommend them. As a matter of fact I have just catalogued all the books in my room like Gretchen and Natalie and YLCF blogged about, and I have over 300 (and a few duplicates to give away!).

Arena by Karen Hancock (mature scenes, science fiction/allegory, really vivid story)

St. Elmo by Augusta J. Evans (good writing, gripping story, inspiring)

The Shaping of Things to Come (a perspective on how the Church could react to the changing culture; definitely can't endorse all of it; thought-provoking)

The Light of Eidon by Karen Hancock (an enthralling - do you know that word means "enslaving"? - fantasy; mature scenes, violent, theological; the first of a four-part series)

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (one of her later books, some familiar characters, but developed into less extreme versions than the other books. To be honest, I didn't like this one nearly as much as her other books, but I did find myself relating to some of the conflicts in the story.)

Present Concerns by C.S. Lewis (a collection of many short, easy to read essays written by C.S. Lewis for newspapers and magazines and forwards of books, dealing with politics, philosophy, and issues of the day.)

Basic Essentials: Weather Forecasting by Michael Hodgson (an easy to understand crash course in predicting the next 48 hours' weather without all the doppler and satellites and other technology. Using cloud observations, wind velocity, and barometric changes, you can get a feel for what is going to happen in the weather. I'm especially fascinated to know what the different clouds mean, and to discover that there are logical reasons connecting how they look, where they are, and what they do.)

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald (a Christian classic, so I'm told, which influenced both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The story of Diamond, a young boy who learns about faith through his friendship with Lady North Wind.)

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery (a friend told me this was the best book of the Anne of Green Gables series. I'm not sure, since I read most of the Anne books long ago. The setting is Prince Edward Island during World War I, and in the respect that it revealed what life was like during those oft-overlooked days of history, I greatly appreciated this tale. It is also a nice story, filled with deep characters, as anyone who has read L.M. Montgomery might expect.)

Journey of the Heart by Jeannie Castleberry (The tale of a girl about my age dealing with feeling left behind by older siblings and friends who have husbands while she doesn't. Through a lot of guidance from practically perfect parents, she learns about her relationship with God and her family, and about not settling for a man about whom God has not given you peace. I have to say that this story is not the best writing I've ever read; sometimes it reads like a bullet-point list of what it means to be committed to courtship.)

Epicenter by Joel Rosenberg (A hard-to-classify book explaining the Ezekiel prophecy, world events, and opinions of experts and world leaders that led Joel Rosenberg to write a series of novels recognized as prophetic. I appreciated the grasp he has on worldwide trends, and his emphasis on taking the Bible as a guide even for real-life decisions like drilling for oil in Israel or taking Bibles to the Middle East.)

The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers (a metaphor-charged story of a little girl who, burdened by guilt, turns her village upsidedown looking for someone who, instead of eating her sins once she died, could relieve her of her sins right now. I don't agree with all of the theology, and the village people seemed to have more than their fair share of horrible sins, but the story was really good and well written.)

Living the Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney (a short book reminding me of the gravity of the gospel and the grace remembered when you focus on the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross while we were yet sinners.)

I, Isaac Take Thee, Rebekah by Ravi Zacharias (originally I thought this was a book for married people, but since I am preparing a Sunday school lesson series on the Church as the Bride of Christ I decided to read it. That is not the topic of this book. Ravi writes this application of the story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis to teach young people to prepare for or be diligent to work on their marriage. A theme is the will behind marriage. One of the most memorable illustrations is that of Ravi's own brother who with his parents and aunt arranged his own marriage.)

Waking Rose by Regina Doman (the third in a series of modern retellings of fairy tales. Based on Sleeping Beauty, experience an exciting tale about waiting for love, about redemption, heroes, and the sanctity of life. With ample references to literature, and a Christian worldview, this approximately 300 page-book with a beautiful cover is a great read. I only need to mention that whereas her prior books were not distractingly Catholic, this book has more Catholic references: Mary, praying the rosary, etc.)

Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis (Another great CS Lewis collection of essays. This book has the seeds of most of the ideas you find cunningly presented in his novel. The first one - Weight of Glory, and the last two - Slip of the Tongue and Membership are my favorite, covering the more Christian and less philosophical topics. A good book for underlining.)

Pearl of Beauty compiled by Natalie Nyquist (I read this in one day. It is a collection of classic tales similar to Aesop's fables in that there is a moral - for young women - to every story. Louisa May Alcott and George MacDonald are both represented. I'd recommend this book, not only because the stories are enchanting, but also because of the study/discussion questions Natalie included. I think it's a great resource for raising or mentoring young ladies.)

Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham, Jr. (see full review, recommend)Love and Freindship (sic) by Jane Austen (see full review)

Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings by Charles H. Hapgood (Focuses on the Piri Re'is map discovered in 1929, but compiled in 1513 by a Turkish sailor. Through a discussion of comparative geography, navigational grids called portolanos, and projection; Professor Hapgood and his team of students and collaborators were able to show that: 1. The map more accurately represented Middle America, Antarctica, and Africa than maps drawn at the time. The existence of an antarctic continent was dismissed during the age of exploration for about three hundred years until it was, apparently, rediscovered. 2. The reason the map was so accurate was because the makers of the map - it was a compilation of many local maps - could accurately compute latitude and longitude, technology absent during the Renaissance and the next couple centuries. 3. The projection(s), or the way the map displayed the continents relative to each other, required trigonometry to account for the spherical surface of the earth. Trigonometry was in use by the Greeks, but not in cartography during the sixteenth century. In second grade I was taught that Columbus discovered the earth was round, and discovered America even though he thought it was India. This book proposes that Columbus had access to an ancient map and was using it to search for land across the Atlantic. He may have even had one identical to the Piri Re'is map, evidenced by a 70 degree tilt in that map of only the islands of the Caribbean. You should read this book, but with a critical mind. The author never considered the Bible as an explanation for his findings, and gives dates for his archaeology and geology inconsistent with the Bible, putting confidence in radioactive dating techniques.)

The Highlander's Last Song by George MacDonald (beautiful descriptions, some good philosophical things to consider, but don't read it if you aren't solid on biblical theology. I love Scotland, and the hero was a wonderful leader. The story shows real progression in each of the characters.)

The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager by Thomas Hine (A history of America centered on people between 10 and 20 years old. Deals with economics, morality, media, and education. I enjoyed a sweeping look at US history as well as perspective on what we consider normal for teenagers and adolescence. The author does not have a biblical worldview; import your own into it for some impressive conclusions. A good book, but for adult readers only.)

The Immortal Game by David Shenk (Brilliantly organized, well-chosen information, at a captivating speed; this book traces the history of the world as associated with chess: Islamic Caliphs, the rise of queens in Europe, and artificial intelligence, among many others.)

What did everyone else read? Share in your comments, or submit a link if you have your own list

To God be all glory.

Fairness of Dice

Two Spaniards took a break from the sauna-like heat of the borderlands between Arabic-influenced Moorlands, and fiercely Roman Catholic Spain, to play a game of chess on the shaded veranda. Both men were enthusiasts for the game that by this time was popular on three continents and most of the classical “known world.” Time was short this afternoon, with demands of the plantation promising interruption of the historically slow-paced, strategic game. Rather than pausing their game, both were interested in options to shorten their match.

In other parts of Europe, more liberal rules were proposed as solutions to the same problem. However, these serious players, comfortable with the legal moves of the present game, had a different idea. They could introduce dice to the first game in history that was played entirely without chance.

Philosophers and aficionados of the game appreciated the raw intellect of chess. Human minds and wills warred with each other, ignoring fate, defying the existence of fate, and asserting a freedom. Unlike other popular games in each country prior to the introduction of chess, there was no element of chance. The game always began the same way, with the same rules to each player. Then it proceeded matching man to man, mind to mind.

So why would any serious chess players submit their glorification of the human mind to dice? The answer may have been that they were not creative enough to try modifying rules to shorten their game. They may have liked the challenge afforded by the limitation on their control of the game (dice were used to regulate which piece had to be moved each turn). Or, the first answer that occurred to me, it’s fair.

A skilled player might approve the challenge of thriving under such constraint. The common man would submit to his lot in the game, as he seemed to do in life. Do you see the distinction? We all have the choice between being dominated by the circumstances of our life, and responding to the circumstances in a strategic way. Profoundly connected to this option is our decision to endure all of life in the sinful nature bestowed upon us as heirs of Adam, and God’s offer to be saved. God offers the power we were without, to live and to resist sin. This is relational, the mystery of the Holy Spirit indwelling a disciple of Christ in a way that affects his choices.

But that isn’t what made me stop to write. A simple solution to a fundamental question about the story The Immortal Game’s historian told of Europe provides an apt illustration of the very God whose sovereign rule of fate has drawn so much attack. Why would two competitors of chess introduce dice into the game of sublime skill? I for one hate games that are entirely chance, and am immensely frustrated by those games which are mostly chance. Take Yahtzee. The substance of the game is five dice. I cannot control the outcome of each roll, but I am required to choose after each roll which dice to set aside, for what purpose. At the end of each turn I make a decision where to fill in points. With hindsight one sees that any number of decisions could have been wrong. I had nothing, so I zeroed the coveted 50 point Yahtzee, only to roll five of a kind my succeeding turn. This is too frustrating for me.

For me, chess is humiliating. I’m not good at it, and unless my challenger is an amateur, I lose. But I would rather, if a loss is to be credited to my name, have earned it entirely myself. So what strange Spaniard (it was a Spaniard quoted explaining the use of dice with chess) pair sat at their board and decided to inflict chance upon themselves? Even if one man suggested it, why would the other agree?

The answer that struck me was fairness. Neither player was controlling the dice. Each submitted equally to the fate of the roll. Were there other fair rule changes that could have sped up the game? Yes. So my answer doesn’t entirely explain the emergence of dice with chess.

However, think about the fairness of dice. If any of you have played Yahtzee, or some other dice- or card- dependent game, no doubt you sensed at some point that the fair chance of the dice had dealt you an unjust blow. The outcome of a game did not rest on your choices or your merits. Winning by chance was occasionally unjust. The better player could lose. Do we really want fair? The same fate to everyone? Each person equally born, equally bred, equally fed? Storms of the same number, death at the same age?

See, God isn’t about fairness. He is about justice. And justice means when something is earned, it is granted. The marvel of Christianity is that Jesus became the propitiation, complete substitution, for our sins so that He might be just toward Himself and justifier toward us. What we earned, death, was executed.

"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."
- Romans 3:24-26

To God be all glory.

Update: What's making me Joyful

Sean Hannity is back on the radio after Christmas vacation!

Natalie from YLCF has opened her Heartthoughts Literary Retreat!

2008 has come!

My room is, relative to the past few weeks, clean!

I realized that I made so many commitments in 2007 that extend into 2008, that I don't feel obligated to make any resolutions for 2008 (just to keep the commitments with excellence - and relying heavily on God's grace and planning).

To God be all glory.

The Matrix

I just watched The Matrix for the first time last night. When I was in high school, I remember, a couple friends were crazy about the Matrix and would sit apart from the group talking about it. And my friends said that everyone had to see it at least a couple times to "get it." The concept just blew their minds.

Well now I'm twenty-three, which is a lot older than the friends I had in high school, but I can't figure out what is so hard to get. Are there any questions I should be asking, but didn't think of?

Over all, I guess I liked it. The story was well-thought. There were warring philosophies, which the movie choreographed into one cooperative plot. This philosophical war fit well with what God's been teaching me of late: something about our plans and His plans. Also in reading The Immortal Game, I've been contemplating the ideas presented by chess: does fate govern your life, or are your choices supreme? Can you win by intellect, or is there something to be said for brute force? Is it every man for himself, or every man for the collective goal? Should life be lived tactically (moment to moment, choice by choice) or strategically (long term)? How well can any one person's decisions manipulate another's? These were the various positions and questions dealt with in The Matrix as well.

Of course trench coats, leather, and machine guns were rather glamorized. There was violence, and I didn't watch some parts (not because anyone warned me or they were getting too gruesome, but I had been multi-tasking, and felt the long violence/chase series were missable). In fact, I asked my brother what the point of the long fight scenes was, as everyone knew what would be the outcome (of some parts). He told me that the movie makers got their awards and notoriety for the filmography of the sequences and the special effects. I still protest that they did not add to the movie. Anyway, at one point I was also curious whether anyone spoke regular English, or if all the humans used bad language to express themselves. So I'm not really endorsing the Matrix, but it didn't bother me enough to make me dislike the movie.

If I were to identify the central theme of the movie, after this first viewing, I would eschew the philosophical questions and say it was about the power of the mind over the body (and delving back deeply into philosophy, over destiny).

One thing I noticed: it didn't end. The sequel is probably at the library right now waiting for me to watch it, and I might have to get the last one on hold. Do the next two get better or worse?

To God be all glory.