Monday, December 27, 2004

From My Christmas Stocking

...being an account of some of the things I got for Christmas this year...

Luther The DVD. With Joseph Fieness as Martin Luther and Sir Peter Ustinov as Sir Frederick.

Heaven by Randy Alcorn. After reading Alcorn's novel Deadline, and hearing he had written a more theological work on Heaven, this was added to my Christmas list, and consequently found in my "stocking". Will it be that once and for all a faulty Neo-Platonism will be exorcised from the Christian view of heaven? There is a C.S. Lewis influence in Alcorn's writings. Yes Dorothy, we can expect to see Toto in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Even with Pseudo-Puritan Neo-Platonism to the contrary.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Now I have my own copy. Make sure you read Mitch Albom's dedication of this book to his Uncle Edward before preceding with the story.

The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. The sequel to My Name is Asher Lev... See previous posts regarding Chaim Potok.

Admiral Hornblower In The West Indies the 11th in chronological order of the eleven book Horatio Hornblower series by C. S. Forester. Now I have the whole set; Midshipman to Admiral. Though the Forester series is fiction, it gives a very realistic portrayl of life in the British Navy. If you enjoyed Master and Commander, you will probably enjoy the Hornblower series.

Money... to spend on more books and at least one more DVD, The Passion of the Christ. We already got the extended version of The Return of the King as a family Christmas present to ourselves.

But of all the Christmas gifts from over all the years, there is the one best gift I have ever received... Jesus Himself... (John 3:16)

Sola Christo,

~ The Billy Goat ~

Friday, December 24, 2004

Prayer needed for Ukraine

The following letter is from a missionary in the Ukraine who is supported by our church. ~ The Billy Goat ~

"Dear praying friends,

The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord."..... Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests." Luke 2:10, 11,13

Urgent! We ask that you remember to pray for God's peace and guidance for these precious people of Ukraine as we pass through difficult days.

Here in Odessa, there are few signs that Christmas is even approaching. Part of that is due to the fact that Ukrainians do not exchange gifts until New Year's Day, then celebrate Christmas on January 7th. Another reason is that Ukrainians are heading to the polls for the third time in two months, and the tension is felt everywhere.

While you celebrate this Christmas season, we would again ask you to pray for the country of Ukraine as we head into elections on Sunday, Dec.26 (appropriately named "Boxing" Day in Canada). The stakes have never been higher in this country of 48 million.

The Supreme Court nullified the results of the second round of presidential elections, citing massive and systematic fraud in favour of the government-backed candidate, who had been declared the winner by a narrow margin. Since then, measures have been taken to avoid government interference in the public media, and the laws have been changed to assure more honest elections. A record number of international observers are descending upon Ukraine to assure that the elections are fair. All of this is being hailed as a victory by the millions of supporters of the "orange revolution" in favour of the opposition candidate.

There are fears and rumours that the government is planning violent incidents if the election does not go their way, which could bring Ukraine into a state of emergency and a return to the previous president. There are also fears that if the government-backed candidate wins, the "orange revolution" will intensify and lead to an economic crisis. Please pray for calm and a peaceful resolution on and after Dec.26th.

Pray also for God's moral will to be done in the selection of a new president. The result will significantly impact our ministry in many ways:

- freedom of religion
- relationship with the West
- economic level of the country, which could enable or hurt Ukrainian churches in becoming self-supporting
- reforms that would facilitate or hinder the development of businesses

Thank you praying, and we wish you all a Merry Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Saviour and Lord!"

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Christmas is Coming

Immanuel, God with us...

Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins...

"A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel"
(Luke 2:32)

"..Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."
(Isaiah 9:6)

"...the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
(John 1:29)

Merry Christmas to all....

~ The Billy Goat ~

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Brooklyn Crucifixion: The Cross as Universal Suffering

In the novel, My Name is Asher Lev, Asher, the orthodox Jewish artist, paints two pictures using a crucifixion symbol to portray suffering. The pictures are labeled The Brooklyn Crucifixion,and it is those pictures that enstrange the artist from his immediate Jewish community. It did not help that in the novel, Asher Lev also pictured his parents and himself along with the crucifix theme. For Asher Lev the artist, the crucifix was an artistic symbol of suffering, and thus a legitimate symbol to portray the suffering he had seen in his mother's life. The firestorm of controversy surrounding those paintings came from all sides, Jewish, Christian, and critics.

What may not be known is that Chiam Potok, the author of My Name is Asher Lev, was an artist as well as a writer, and he actually painted a picture called The Brooklyn Crucifixion. David duChemin at Fearfully Human has a posted a Jewish passion which includes an image of Potok's The Brooklyn Crucifixion. (Click here for a view of that image.) Here is a brief quote from duChemin's post:
"...The painting is an extraordinary one, not only because of the subject, but because of the context. In his novel My Name is Asher Lev, Potok writes lucidly about the often painful relationship between art and faith. He also seems to imply that for the Jewish Asher Lev, at least, an understanding of the crucifixion is, well, crucial.

The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth may be different things to different people, and it's representation in art - including the recent Passion film by Mel Gibson - may stir deeply, but it is at it's most elemental a picture of the plight of man..."

In Isaiah 53, the Prophet sets forth a word picture of the suffering of Messiah. For 2,000 years the cross has represented to Christians the suffering of that Messiah. But Yeshua of Nazareth was not the only person to be executed by crucifixion. Neither was he the only Jew to be crucified by the gentile Romans.

Those of us who believe he is Messiah, also believe that on that cross He took upon Himself the suffering of the world. It is for those out of every kindred, tribe, and tongue, and nation that He suffered (Revelation 5). So it is fitting that crucifixion is a symbol of the suffering of all humanity; the concentration camps, the killing fields of Cambodia, the gulags of the former USSR, the kids in Africa orphaned by Aids and carrying the virus themselves, the starvation in the Sudan, the carnage of war, and on and on it goes.... Suffering... A universal human condition....

"...and God Himself shall be among them. And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain... (Revelation 21)

~ The Billy Goat ~

Monday, December 13, 2004

Chiam Potok: 1929 - 2002

There is a paradox of sorts in the above title to this post; a Jewish Rabbi's life is counted in those years that I call "the year of our Lord", but which his people call the "Common Era". That paradox in some ways exhibits the novels of Chiam Potok.

My first introduction to Potok was several years ago when I read The Chosen, and its sequel The Promise. In this past month I had occasion to read My Name is Asher Lev. Its sequel The Gift of Asher Lev is on my Christmas wish list.

Again as I type this, I am hit with the irony of positioning a book written by a Jew and about Jews in the context of my Christian celebration of the advent of a Jewish baby boy to a Jewish young mother some 2,000 years ago.

There is a psychological intensity in Chiam Potok's novels that is gripping. It is hard to put one of his books down. I devoured all 369 pages of My Name is Asher Lev in a two day period.

Take the tensions and conflicts of the musical Fiddler on a Roof without the humor and music that tended to shade and mitigate the reality, and add to that the grimness of the 1969 movie release The Fixer which was the story of a Jew in Tsarist Russia passing himself off as a "goy". You will then have an approximation of what Chiam Potok portrays, but only an approximation. There are probably some people who would find Potok's novels hard to read because of the same psychological intensity that I found so compelling.

Potok's heros struggle to maintain their Orthodox Jewish identities in a world that is changing. That change challenges their identification with their community as they seek to maintain their own self-integrity within the bounds of the community's tradition. In that respect, it is the same kind of challenge Tevye faces in Fiddler.

As an Evangelical Christian, I see a number of positive values in Potok's writing that not just Christians, but humanity at large should and can relate to; things that C. S. Lewis would call the "Tao". To balance self-integrity with community responsibilities is something all mankind to one degree or another wrestles with. To embrace change without bankrupting tradition is a struggle that cuts across all cultures and communities. In writing these novels, Chiam Potok has allowed us as gentiles a peek into the struggles in his community, culture, and tradition. Such a peek is a privilege not to be dismissed or taken lightly, but one to be respected.


~ The Billy Goat ~
The Joyful Christian
127 Readings from the writings of C. S. Lewis

The 127 excerpts gathered together in The Joyful Christian give an excellent introduction to the scope and range of C. S. Lewis' thought. The bibliography and list of sources in the back of this book are a panoramic picture of the legacy Lewis has left us.

These 127 excerpts also illustrate the cohesiveness of Lewis' thought. An excerpt from Surprised By Joy is consistent with what is found in The Abolition of Man. Other readings from Christian Reflections are consistent with what you would expect from the author of the Narnia and Perlandra series.

Most of the excerpts are relatively short. One or even two readings can be completed in a relatively short time. A "daily reading" approach allows time for cogitation and meditation on the thoughts presented.

C. S. Lewis remains one of the most influential Christian writers coming out of the 20th century, and rightly so. His influence reaches beyond our theological boxes, nor can his thought be constrained by those boxes. This collection is an excellent representation of the breadth of his philosophical and theological thought.

~ The Billy Goat ~

Saturday, December 11, 2004

This is Compassionate Calvinism
by Aaron at Grace and peace to you!

"...This is compassionate Calvinism: to get a handle on the core values of Christ, the God-man. To zero-in on the crux of what it means to be godly: worshipping God and loving your neighbor. To subordinate all theology to the aim of love which issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

This is compassionate Calvinism: not to obliterate a man’s house of mind and leave it unsupported, but rather to gently, gradually, lovingly supply a better foundation. One conversation at a time. This new foundation is to be Biblical, solid, God-honoring, and man-humbling. It is to inspire acts of unseen love and obedience and prayer, all to the glory of God...." (Complete post found here.)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Five People You Meet In Heaven - The ABC TV Special

Recently ABC presented The Five People as a made for TV movie. In cogitating on the book and the TV movie, it is in my mind to write a "chapter 2" of the review of The Five People I posted last week.

There is a complexity involved in presenting, in visual movie screen format, scenes from three different places, in this case, the present on earth, Eddie's present in heaven after his death, and the past which focused mostly, but not exclusively, on Eddie's past. A real physical wooden door in Eddie's past opens onto a scene in heaven... Effective if you've read the book and know the story. I'll never know if I would have been able to follow the movie's story line if I had not read the book first.

As a made for TV movie, it was done as well as any, given the nature of the subject matter. The movie stuck pretty close to the book as much or more then any movie ever does. But I'm not so concerned about reviewing the cinematic technology and quality of the ABC Special as such.

In "Chapter 1" of this review, I commented on the shared values Christians could connect with in The Five People. I qualified that by acknowledging that Mitch Albom was writing from a background in the Judeo-Christian tradition, though not from an Evangelical Christian perspective. In that sense, Albom is in the tradition of Frank Capra and It's A Wonderful Life. We enjoy our annual December viewing of It's A Wonderful Life,and we'll always remember James Stewart as "George Bailey". But as the video tape is rewinding after Clarence gets his wings, we know it is apocryphal.

Where is God in stories like It's A wonderful Life and The Five People? What kind of God is He in these stories?

All the time we see Eddie in heaven, he never actually stands before and meets God. At one point he asks, "Does God even know I'm here?" To which the answer is "Yes". But God Himself is always in the background, distant and unseen.

Then there are the five different parts of "heaven" where he meets each of the five people. The Blue man finds "heaven" at Ruby Pier where he was happiest in life. So it is each of the five are in a heaven that is heaven to them... And happy and content... Again I ask the question, where is God?

It is a Biblical truth that the chief end of each and every human being is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. Ultimate enjoyment and contentment is found in the Creator, not in the things created. It is true that in the New Heavens and New Earth there will be those created things that we will enjoy and delight in. (See Heaven Is A Place On Earth by Mike Wittmer.) But our greatest joy and our greatest delight will be in the Creator and Giver of those gifts.

It is at this point that stories like It's A Wonderful Life and The Five People depart from a Biblical view of heaven. In the Biblical view God is personally interested in and involved in the lives of His creatures. In Jesus Christ, it's not angels who come to earth to help out the George Baileys of the world, it is Emmanuel Himself... God with us.... And that is the true story of Christmas...

~ The Billy Goat ~

PS: .. I know I have not even got to the soteriological issues regarding how salvation is pictured in these stories... That part you should be able to figure out for yourself... (John 3:16)

Saturday, December 04, 2004

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Movies I Remember

My daughter, the one known as Elfstone, just introduced me to the All Posters on-line gallery. She wanted to order some Lord of The Rings stuff.

I started browsing the movie poster gallery, doing lookups on movies I remember from long ago and not so long ago. If I had enough wall space, these are some of the movie posters from All Posters I'd hang on that wall. (Listed in no particular order.)

To Kill A Mockingbird :
I think I was about ten years old if that. We went to the theater in Arcbold, Ohio with some of our cousins to see this. Gregory Peck will always be "Atticus Finch" in my mind. The best black and white movie I ever saw on a big screen. How The West Was Won We went as a family to Toledo, Ohio to see this. I think mom wanted us to get a sense of the history behind this. The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. I took some friends to the drive in theater in Hillsdale, Michigan to see this. During the intermission the guy in the car behind us came up and politely asked me to take my foot off the brake. I'd unconsciously rested my foot on the car brake, and he and his family were getting my rear brake lights in their face... Not cool... What was cool was to see Moses parting the Red Sea on the gigantic screen. Spartacus My childhood friend Jim invited me to go with him and his family to see this at the theater in Morenci, Michigan. What an epic story. Some years latter I found out there really had been a Spartacus, and he really had led a slave revolt against the Roman Empire. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly The big screens in those days were the big screens at the drive in movies. Those big screens were well suited for the big movies. I saw this movie two times. Both times were at the drive in movie at Bryan, Ohio. This was my first introduction to the "Spaghetti Western" and Clint Eastwood. True Grit This remains my favorite John Wayne Western. I saw this at the old movie theater in Hillsdale, Michigan. Sitting on a horse... Reins in his teeth... Both hands holding a six shooter... Just classic... The Graduate OK.. I know Anne Brancoft seduces Dustin Hoffman. I was a freshman at Michigan State University, and went to see this three times at an East Lansing theater. One of the big draws for me was the Simon & Garfunkel sound track. Looking back, I see that The Graduate was anticipating and on the edge of Post-modernism... I am also pretty sure my wife would not let me keep this poster on the wall. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Of the two Star Wars movies I've seen in the theater, this is my favorite because it's where Yoda gets to really strut his stuff. This poster is for the IMAX version. I didn't see Episode II at the IMAX, but this is the only poster with Yoda on it... I took my daughter and a few of her friends to Celebration Cinima in Grand Rapids, Michigan to see Episode II. We saw Episode I at the same place, but that didn't stick with me like Episode II. 2001: A Space Odyssey I saw this at the old Hillsdale, Michigan theater. Now 2001 has come an gone... Yes, I saw the 2010 sequal on vidio... Now we know HAL was doublecrossed...

~ The Billy Goat ~

Who Is John Stott?
By David Brooks, November 30, 2004 (The New York Times)

"...This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored...

...There's been a lot of twaddle written recently about the supposed opposition between faith and reason. To read Stott is to see someone practicing "thoughtful allegiance" to scripture. For him, Christianity means probing the mysteries of Christ. He is always exploring paradoxes. Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much? What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience? In many cases the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes simultaneously.

Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock - especially if you're a Jew like me - when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," except he has a backbone of steel. He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues.

Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed.....(Complete article found here.)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Review of Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven

So how should an Evangelical Christian view The Five People You Meet in Heaven?

An essay on eschatology? Though this book has an eschatology, I came away with the sense that any "eschatology" so called, was really secondary to the main story, and in fact was only a tool used to convey the more primary message.

It may be more accurate to view The Five People as a parabolic story designed to convey some fundamental thoughts concerning values and human worth. It is in those fundamental truths and values that a Christian can connect with this book.

It is a Biblical truth that we do not exist in isolation. Our lives interweave, and everyday, in the mundane habits of ordinary life, we touch the lives of many, many people, some we are aware of, but many more that we are not aware of. So Eddie finds his life had touched more lives then he ever realized. In Scripture we face that God who interweaves Himself into history, and into our lives.

Along the way of life we encounter sacrifice, our own sacrifice and the sacrifices of others. Eddie finds out about sacrifices made for him that again he was not aware of. In Scripture we encounter that Great Sacrifice, and faced with that example, we see Love personified.

In The Five People Eddie sees the love he had in his life. For we who are Christians, there is no greater love then "For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life..."

Forgiving and being forgiven... Eddie learns both sides of the forgiveness coin. So, even as we have been forgiven, we are to forgive others.

I'm under no illusion that Albom is writing from an Evangelical Christian perspective, but he is writing from a view influenced by a Judeo-Christian culture. He is not writing primarily an eschatological theology, but he has written a philosophy grounded in values to which Christians can relate and connect.

~ The Billy Goat ~