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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 710 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 12 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

THE MAZE RUNNER a Shadowlander movie review.

The experience of figuring out a strange, new world is a common science fiction plot theme. Sometimes it’s literally an alien environment, think Tatooine in Star Wars, but sometimes the strange, new world is a vision of our own future on Earth. Often, the central character of the story is also new to the environment, and we the audience learn alongside him or her. For example as Morpheus introduces Neo to the truth of the Matrix and the real world outside, he introduces us as well.

The Maze Runner opens with a boy waking up in a freight elevator rising through a dark corridor and then arriving in the Glade, a rustic colony of boys and young men. He remembers no details of his life before the lift other than his name, Thomas. He soon realizes that all the residents of the Glade arrived in the same state. They all know nothing of their lives before, including why they’re in the Glade, but they know that someone has put them there. Every month, a new boy arrives and goes through the same extreme culture shock.

The Glade is surrounded by four huge, stone walls. Each one has a door that is open all day, but they lead out into a giant maze. The doors close every night, and no one has ever spent a night in the maze and lived because of enormous cyborg scorpions called Grievers who inhabit the Maze. They know that the maze must be their way out, but they’ve searched for years and never found an exit so life in the Glade consists of producing food, building huts to live in and governing themselves to survive.

This Maze Runner is, in many ways, a fascinating update of the Lord of the Flies. The boys create their own society, learn how to exist peacefully in trying circumstances, and survive by sticking to clear rules and defined roles.

The kicker is the monthly introduction of a new boy. How do you sustain society in harsh conditions when you never know who will join you? The boys have to instruct new arrivals in the rules and define their role in the community. The Glade community depends on hospitality and inclusion for its survival.

The Maze Runner is based on a popular YA novel. The movie version moves at a brisk, tight pace. Instead of a cast of celebrities The Maze Runner features unknown boys who give raw, real performances.

In many ways the story of Thomas entering this doomed world and doing his best to save it is a subtle Christ allegory, for he is different from the other residents, and he comes with portents of irrevocable change. He certainly has no messianic image of himself but did Jesus always know his vocation as Messiah or did he piece it together from the evidence he saw in his life? Before you accuse me of denying the deity of Christ remember that I am asking questions not making statements! Here is another question: if Jesus came to Earth with a fully-formed Trinitarian theology doesn’t that lessen his humanity? Perhaps, like Thomas, he had his memory taken and had to figure out how to save the world. I won’t spoil the ending of the movie (which is well worth the price of admission) except to say that, just as when Jesus entered our world, life does not go on as it always has in the Glade.

When the Game Stands Tall: A Shadowlander Movie Review

Inspiring teacher movies are all about how wonderful teachers change the lives of young people–Dead Poet’s Society, To Sir With Love, Stand and Deliver, to name a few. Sports movies are generally about how a sports hero overcomes tremendous odds to win The Big Game–Rocky, Rush, Rudy.  The sub-genre of the inspiring teacher/sports movie is about how a great coach teaches his/her young athletes to succeed, and to win The Big Game–Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights. When the Game Stands Tall is a good  example of the inspiring teacher/sports movie subgenre.   I fancy myself to be a teacher, and always wanted to be an inspirational one so, I have to admit that I love inspiring teacher movies.  I’m also a sucker for sports movies.  So, yes, I’m a total sucker for Inspiring Teacher Sports Movies.  When the Game Stands Tall is a first rate example of the sub-genre.

It is based on the true story of Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) , football coach of the De La Salle High School Spartans, the team that holds the record for winning the most games in a row: 151 which is 12 years of consecutive wins.  De La Salle is a Catholic school, and Ladouceur teaches a Biblical studies class. He was (and is) a devout Christian, and that’s a main reason he has remained at De La Salle, turning down much more lucrative college coaching offers. His thinking is that he can have the most positive impact on young men’s lives by coaching at the high school level, initially very much to the dismay of his long-suffering wife Bev (Laura Dern). Her thinking is that it would be nice if he were home with his family occasionally, and also, the bigger paycheck wouldn’t hurt either.  That conflict doesn’t take up much of the film, especially after Ladouceur has a heart attack and has to turn over spring practice to his best friend and assistant head coach, Terry Eidson (Michael Chiklis).  When Ladouceur finally is able to return to coaching, the guys on the team are busy sniping at each other, and lack the unity that had previously been their legacy.  So, of course, they lose what was to be game 152; “the streak” ends at 151. They lose the next game as well.  This sets up The Big Game, a televised battle set up during “the streak” with Long Beach Polytechnic High School, a much deeper and bigger squad, against whom the Spartans basically have no chance. Think Apollo Creed, to their Rocky Balboa.

In lots of ways this is a pretty conventional sports movie including a brush with tragedy–a star player is murdered sitting in his car–and the coach and community have to deal with the tricky theological implications of random acts of murder, the unfairness that strikes us all especially when young people die unnecessarily. There’s the expected ‘inspiring team-building field trip,’ like the trip the team takes to Gettysburg in Remember the Titans. Coach takes his Spartans o a local VA hospital to brush shoulders with wounded soldiers. There are the obligatory ‘working hard in practice’ montages. The players gradually are distinguished from each other, individualized, and each gets a moment of triumph.  Although formulaic it is very well done, well acted, well filmed, and the football sequences are believable.  And, as usual with high school sports movies, the actors are consistently five years older than the kids they’re supposed to be playing. Even so the movie is well done and effective.

Where When the Game Stands Tall departs from convention is that it does not end with the Big Game. The Big Game for De La Salle was the third game of the season. There was an entire season to finish, and the movie takes another twenty minutes to finish it. But the focus shifts to the team’s star running back, Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig), and his story. Ryan is very close to breaking the state record for career touchdowns, a record his abusive father (Clancy Brown) very much wants him to break. Ludwig is very convincing as a big, John Riggins-style running back, a bruiser with speed, and he’s a terrific young actor otherwise.  All the Spartans in the movie are played by a fine collection of good young actors. A huge twist comes in the Spartan’s season’s final game, Ryan’s quest to break that record becomes the main storyline of the movie. I won’t give the ending away, but I found it very satisfying, viscerally and thematically.  The movie, it turns out is not about a football team with a long winning streak, but about the values of teamwork and sacrifice and character that the best coaches always stress and embody.

I never had an inspirational high school coach, but I did have some inspirational teachers. My high school speech teacher was a remarkable woman, a life-changingly inspirational coach to me and to hundreds of other kids in our high school. So I get the concept.  I believe if you’re someone who likes inspiring teacher movies,  even if you are personally indifferent to the game of football (say it ain’t so), you’ll enjoy this movie nonetheless.

It’s very easy to be cynical about a movie like this, a very Christian-centric movie about how sports build character and how life lessons are taught by brilliant teachers. Being cynical is in my nature but this movie won me over – I found it very powerful and moving

But like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m a total sucker for Inspiring Teacher Sports Movies like this.

The Giver gives and gives and gives!

THE GIVER is based of Lois Lowry’s young adult novel of the same name, which was the winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold over 10 millions copies worldwide.The story centers on Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who lives in a seemingly ideal world.  At the end of his childhood he is chosen to be the “receiver of memories” and is to become the sole keeper of all the communities memories which he is to receive from the Giver (Jeff Bridges), Jonas quickly begins to discover the dark and deadly truths of his community’s secret past. With this newfound power of knowledge, he realizes that the stakes are a matter of life and death for himself and those he loves most. Jonas finally decides that he must escape their world to protect them all – a challenge that no one has ever succeeded at before.

The message that I walked away with after seeing The Giver left me feeling renewed and ready for a change. It is easy to become so busy with school, work, church and family that we forget to just delight in what is around us and enjoy it. The Giver will inspire anyone that views the movie to look at the world with new eyes. 

 I truly enjoyed every second of the film. It’s one of this year’s top family movies for me. To be awestruck in your theater seating because the movie just captures your mind, heart and soul, not every movie can come close to claiming such a feat. I really encourage everyone, young, old, male or female to witness The Giver.

The story itself can carry the movie but what really takes the film to another level is the superb acting. Jeff Bridges (The Giver) & Brenton Thwaites (The Receiver) have fantastic chemistry together, they were meant to play their roles. The visual aspects of the film are beautiful, the way they went from the bland muted society in the present to slowly seeing the way the world was before as Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) receives his memories from The Reviewer was perfect. Honestly I didn’t see anything I can point my fingers at that I didn’t like, enjoy or agree with.

If you have read many of my reviews you know you don’t hear that from me very often!

Raiders of the Ark: A Review of “Noah”

Let me get this off my chest – “Noah” is a blockbuster film which is in no way the straightforward biblical epic that its trailers would suggest. I am not referring so much to what is added to the story (which is a lot!) as to significant things left out of it. Like these two biggies:
Gone is a loving God who gives clear and direct revelation in order to save the human race; in His place is a distant, petty, and silent Creator.
Gone is a prophet who preaches repentance in a desperate attempt to save humanity; in his place is an environmentalist who wouldn’t hurt a fly but considers killing babies out of a belief that the human race doesn’t deserve to continue.

It seemed to me that at almost every turn, “Noah” took whatever the Bible account said and did the opposite.

“But what did you expect?” some may counter, “after all it is a theatrical release big budget movie.” Fair enough. Theology aside, “Noah” fails as entertainment due largely to its preachiness about the environment. While much of the acting is superb the film’s tone is all over the place. It simply can’t decide what it wants to be. Early on the film plays like a mythological fantasy a-la Lord of the Rings, with fallen angel rock monsters, snake-dogs, and wizard-like magic dominating the scene. It gradually morphs into an action film, then morphs again into disaster epic, before settling on psychological thriller by having the character of Noah become more Jack Nicholson in The Shining than righteous prophet . Some films skillfully straddle the line between genres. This isn’t one of them.

There were things I liked about “Noah”. It had striking visuals and the sets, wardrobe design, and cast are impressive. I was very impressed with the full size ark used as a set.

Theology aside “Noah” committed the cardinal sin of failing to make me care about its characters. Let me explain. Noah is a complex protagonist and his moral dilemmas were well-defined, but I couldn’t connect with him. It’s not Russell Crowe’s fault; he’s a phenomenal actor, one of my favorites, and he is a true profession who delivers exactly what the script calls for (I think I just identified my connection problem). To me the supporting characters are underwritten, underdeveloped, and mostly one-dimensional. Much of the dialogue is melodramatic and heavy-handed (the kind that often elicits unintentional laughter). I can sum up all of the antagonist Tubel-Cain’s dialogue in three phrases: “Kill monsters, kill Noah, take Ark”. The story is just too dark and disturbing for the few worthwhile moments to leave a lasting impression or for scenes of real impact to shine through.

The biblical story of Noah is a story of redemption, of the remnant being saved from destruction, as it is about the wrath of God. The film “Noah” does finally arrive at a redemptive message: mercy and love are as important as justice, and the human race deserves a second chance. Those are beautiful principles, ones worth crafting a story around.

But “Noah” got there too little, too late to redeem itself.

Respect My Authority, part 3 of 3

Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:5-7)

Christians are obligated to be in subjection to civil government regardless of how happy we are with the government itself. The most obvious motivation for our subjection is fear of the consequences of rebelling against the authority but that motivation is a shallow one. Think of it this way. A Christian who remains sexually pure based solely on the fear of contracting AIDS has obeyed the letter of the law while missing the main point. A higher reason for subjection is found in verse 5: a clear conscience.

The fear of punishment is an external motivation that promotes submission. The motivation Paul calls for here is internal—that of a desire to maintain a pure and undefiled conscience. The standard which the law sets is the minimal standard for all men. The standard set by our own conscience is personal, individual, and hopefully higher than the minimum set by human government.

What is the conscience? It is an internal standard, defining right and wrong. It is not present only in Christians. All men have a conscience (Romans 2:15). The conscience of one may be stronger than that of another (1 Corinthians 8:7, 10, 12). Some consciences have become hardened and insensitive due to sin (1 Timothy 4:2), while the consciences of others are sensitized by obedience (Hebrews 5:14). We must never defile our conscience by doing what it considers evil, nor should we offend others by practicing what their consciences condemn as evil (1 Corinthians 8).

Our conscience is not an infallible guide to good and evil. While we must never do what our conscience condemns, we dare not assume that everything our conscience permits is good, since our conscience can become hardened and insensitive (1 Timothy 4:2).

Conscience was a very important manner to Paul. He sought to serve God with an undefiled conscience (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Timothy 1:3), which he urged others to do as well (1 Timothy 1:19; 3:9). A clear conscience is a prerequisite for love and service to others: But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

Whenever we violate our conscience we hinder our fellowship with God and our service to Him and to others. A violated, guilty, conscience makes us less sensitive to sin and more vulnerable to error (Hebrews 5:12; 2 Timothy 3:6). A guilty conscience makes us tend toward a legalistic, external obedience, based upon appearances rather than on reality (Luke 16:15).

What does our conscience have to do with submission to human government? Mere outward compliance with the requirements of government is simply not enough. This we can expect from unbelievers, if for no other reason than the fear of punishment. But God desires a fuller, deeper, obedience from the heart. This requires conscientious subjection—submitting done out of obedience to God. Such an attitude of submission enables us to retain the right attitude and actions toward government even when we must disobey specific laws in order to obey God.

An internal attitude of submission stimulates us to obey government even when our disobedience cannot be seen or punished. The actions of verses 6 and 7  are the outflow of an undefiled conscience and a spirit of submission. Paul does not tell us here to “obey the laws of the land,” but rather to honor those in authority and to pay taxes. Why is this specific form of obedience named? I believe it is because this is an example of something easy to avoid doing with little fear of being caught and punished.

We can be rude and disrespectful to officials and get away with it. We can even more effectively pretend to be respectful and never have our insincerity detected. We can quite easily report our income in such a way as to avoid income taxes. More often than not, if we are devious, we will not be caught.

But Paul has already told us that government has God’s authority and ministers for Him. Thus, when we fail to “pay our dues,”  whatever these might be, we disobey God. Even if the civil authorities never catch us, our conscience before God will be defiled. Our fellowship with Him will be hindered. Our service to others will be adversely affected. We are called to live by the higher standard: not only compliance to the government, but cooperation in a spirit of submission. Living by this higher standard keeps our conscience clear, our testimony untainted, and our service unhindered by sin and guilt. Living in subordination to civil authority is beneficial to our walk with God and our service to others.

The things which God requires us to give government officials are those things which facilitate the ministry of public officials: honor and money. Both are necessary for public officials to carry out their tasks.
Our subordination to those in authority not only means that we should do what we are required, but that we should provide all that is necessary so that our superiors can do their jobs. Our submission means that we serve and support them.

Romans 13:1-7  is not the only text in the Bible on the matter of “conscientious subjection.” Paul writes generally of this obligation to (Titus 3:1). Peter speaks of submission to human government in the context of suffering (1 Peter 2:13-14). But when Paul speaks of submission to government in this passage, he does so in the context of service.

This passage is part of a larger section with this theme in Romans 12:1–13:7. Paul opens the section in 12:1-2  with a challenge to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable service of worship. Paul then moves on to our sacrificial service in terms of the church, the body of Christ, and of the exercise of our spiritual gifts (12:3-8). Then in verses 9-21  Paul writes of our service in the context of love, whether we are serving our fellow-believers or our enemy. This is the context in which subordination to civil government is discussed in Romans 13:1-7.

Paul teaches on the importance of subordination in this whole section. We must subordinate our lives to God, presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. We must subordinate our interests to the interests of others if we are to walk in love. We must also subordinate our lives to those in authority over us as civil servants.


True service is only rendered if self-interest is set aside and replaced by a spirit of subordination. We cannot seek our own interests as a priority and serve others as a priority at the same time. It simply does not and cannot work. Subordination is prerequisite to service. This is precisely the point Paul makes concerning our Lord’s attitudes and actions in Philippians 2:5-8: Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Subordination is the key to loving God and others. It goes against the grain. It is not the spirit of our age. But it is what God requires and what the Spirit enables when we walk in Him.

As I said in an earlier post, I see Christians rapidly moving in the direction of opposing government more than submitting to it. We have lost our respect for those in authority and have come to disdain, en masse, those in public office. We have come to view government as God’s opponent rather than as God’s ordained instrument. No doubt there is reason for disobedience to certain laws, but there is no excuse for our spirit of insubordination and for an obedience which is more compliant than it is cooperative and supportive.

It seems to me that the church of today is much more intent upon producing Christian leaders than it is in producing Christian followers. While the disciples of Jesus had their heads filled with thoughts of position, power, and prestige, Jesus constantly talked to them about subordination and service. While we think much about leaders, Jesus talked most about being followers, disciples. Ironically, the way to become good leaders is by learning to become good followers.

Evangelical Christianity is probably more purposeful and aggressive in seeking to influence government and legislation than ever before. And yet I fear that we are less effective than in previous times. How can this be? On the one hand, we seem to be relying on the “arm of the flesh,”
on human mechanisms and motivations, rather than on those which are spiritual. We seem to think that we need large numbers to attract the attention of government officials, and that we will not be able to change men’s minds or voting habits unless we hold over their heads the threat of losing the next election.

Down through history, Believers have had a profound impact on kings and government officials—even though they served God and even though they were in the minority. John the Baptist was a man who stood for what was right and who did not shrink back from pointing out Herod’s sin. And yet, Herod found himself strangely drawn to John and his teaching. He listened intently to him. He would not have put him to death except for his drunkenness, his foolish offer, and his foolish pride (Mark 6:14-29).

Jesus had the attention of the governmental leaders of His day. They were eager to see Him face to face. It was only reluctantly that they played a part in His death. Paul too had a spiritual impact on some of the political leaders of his day. Even today, men like Billy Graham are sought out by presidents and powerful political figures. Why? Because even when they disagree with the powers that be they are subject to God, to His Word, and therefore to the government under which He has placed them.

We do not need to muster more votes or more political clout. We need more “moral clout,” gained by simple obedience to God, to His Word, and to the institutions He has ordained.

To honor God we present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, we subordinate ourselves to others and to the government He has ordained.