New Life in the Desert

Earlier this year, I married my beautiful wife.  It was a joyous and memorable day.  In fact, there are many reasons to give not the least of which pertained to the torrential downpour on that day.  Many of the roads looked like tributaries leading away or toward a river.  Each time I attend someone else’s wedding, I recall images and moments with delight.  Part of me would like to believe that my wife and I inspired some friends and relatives to incorporate similar elements into their own ceremony and reception.

Last weekend, my wife and I traveled to Yuma, Arizona for a wedding.  I remember the stress and pressure leading up to the big day.  In all fairness, my wife shouldered way more as she had the day planned to the letter.  Despite this fact, I still experienced a level of stress and pressure that no longer afflicts either of us.  Once the wedding day ended, so did our deadlines, planning, scheduling, you name it.  Somehow this flooded my mind at the wedding last week.  I have way more compassion toward the bride and groom after experiencing my own.

Truth be told, Yuma, Arizona is very very hot.  It also reminds me of the many Western movies that I have seen over the years.  I do not know how those cowboys wore those outfits in that heat.  The desert demands rugged people in order to handle the rugged climate.  I drank more water than I ever thought possible, but I cherished air conditioning in a whole new way.  This might sound strange coming from someone who lived in Miami, Florida for two decades prior to moving west.  Nonetheless, it was true.

In the middle of the sweltering, Arizona heat, a wedding took place in stark contrast to the surrounding climate.  That remained the best part.  New life began in a desolate place.  In many ways, the wedding celebration brought life to the region.  It provided a joyous occasion to travel into Arizona and celebrate with family.  The newlywed couple begins a stage of their lives together as their former ones cease to exist.  Something dies in order for new life to begin.  It is a process, and one that requires the support of friends and family.  There are so many people, places, and things that seek to disrupt marriages.

What I enjoy so much about reflecting on last weekend is that nothing prevented the wedding from taking place.  My wife and I arrived safely along with her parents.  The desert heat was not as intense as it good have been for Yuma, Arizona.  The hotel had a pool, which refreshed me and so much more could be added.  The main thing is that life continues even in the desert.  A young couple began a new journey with the support of family and friends.  Life broke through in the desert.  In fact, I like how the prophet Isaiah words it: “the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes” (Isaiah 35:7, ESV).

There is one more thing that needs to be said.  I had excellent Mexican food in Yuma.  My in-laws, wife, and I raved about the little Mexican place that was walking distance from our hotel.  It was a hole in the wall, but those establishments usually own the bigger and more flashy places.  Life and food are in the desert.  This might sound counterintuitive, but it was true.  I think it is important to realize that it is possible to enjoy and experience genuine life in the most unlikely of places.

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J. C. Ryle served as an Anglican minister in a working class parish during the 19th Century.  He commanded the respect of many contemporary pastor-scholars in his day such as Charles Spurgeon, B. W. Newton, S. P. Tregelles, and many many more.  Ryle’s works have been reprinted by the publisher Banner of Truth.  Many of this Anglican minister’s works are available online as they are in the public domain.  His expositions on the four gospels are among the best works of its kind from his era or any era.  Below is an excerpt from his exposition on the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, verses thirty-six to fifty-one.  Ryle’s words are every bit as relevant today as they were in 1873.

“There are verses in this passage which are often much misapplied. ‘The coming of the Son of man’ is often spoken of as being the same thing as death. The texts which describe the uncertainty of His coming are often used in epitaphs, and thought suitable to the tomb. But there is really no solid ground for such an application of this passage. Death is one thing, and the coming of the Son of man is quite another. The subject of these verses is not death, but the second advent of Jesus Christ. Let us remember this. It is a serious thing to wrest Scripture out of its true meaning.

The first thing that demands our attention in these verses, is the dreadful account that they give of the state of the world when the Lord Jesus comes again.

The world will not be converted when Christ returns. It will be found in the same condition that it was in the day of the flood. When the flood came, men were found “eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage,” absorbed in their worldly pursuits, and utterly regardless of Noah’s repeated warnings. They saw no likelihood of a flood. They would not believe there was any danger. But at last the flood came suddenly and “took them all away.” All that were not with Noah in the ark were drowned. They were all swept away to their last account, unpardoned, unconverted, and unprepared to meet God. And our Lord says, “so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Let us mark this text, and store it up in our minds. There are many strange opinions current on this subject, even among good men. Let us not flatter ourselves that the heathen will all be converted, and the earth filled with the knowledge of God, before the Lord comes. Let us not dream that the end of all things cannot be at hand, because there is yet much wickedness both in the Church and in the world. Such views receive a flat contradiction in the passage now before us. The days of Noah are the true type of the days when Christ shall return. Millions of professing Christians will be found thoughtless, unbelieving, godless, Christless, worldly, and unfit to meet their Judge. Let us take heed that we are not found among them.”

(J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew, Chpt. 24, 36-51, 1873)

J. C. Ryle on the Condition of the World during the Second Advent

“1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.

( Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11; Hebrews 6:17; Romans 9:15, 18; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Numbers 23:19; Ephesians 1:3-5 )

2. Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
( Acts 15:18; Romans 9:11, 13, 16, 18 )

3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice.
( 1 Timothy 5:21; Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:5, 6; Romans 9:22, 23; Jude 4 )

4. These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
( 2 Timothy 2:19; John 13:18 )

5. Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto.
( Ephesians 1:4, 9, 11; Romans 8:30; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Romans 9:13, 16; Ephesians 2:5, 12 )”

(1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 3, “Of God’s Decree”)

 

A 17th Century View of Unconditional Election

Inherit the Earth

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5, ESV).

I find this beattitude to be a wonderful promise held out for the redeemed of the Lord.  One day the whole earth will be ours.  Jesus does not promise a few acres of land with boundary markers.  He promises to give his people the whole earth.  In many ways, this promise and beattitude overturns the fall of Adam and Eve, who rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden thereby forsaking their mandate to exercise dominion over the planet.  What the first man and woman lost due to sin along with all of their descendants, Jesus promises to give back to those in union with him.

From my perspective, this blows my mind to the nth degree.  If I recall my Sunday school lessons and bible reading, the serpent used deception to steal Adam and Eve’s authority over creation.  This resulted in sin and death infecting all of it; however, Jesus won back mankind’s authority over the earth and creation by his death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father.  The Son succeeded where Adam failed: Jesus overcame the enemy.  If this was not an objective fact, he could not have said that all authority had been given to him in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18, ESV).  This statement would be an outright lie.

Because Jesus won the victory over the adversary, he has the right to grant his inheritance to all those who call upon his name.  What this statement means is that Jesus occupies the role of the firstborn son.  In ancient, Hebrew culture, the eldest son stood first in line to inherit all of his father’s possessions.  This exchange did not have to occur at the father’s death.  It could take place beforehand, especially if old age prevented the father from functioning as the head of his household.  At some point, the father handed over to his firstborn son all of his possessions and his authority to oversee them.  Now, the oldest son’s entire family, friends and strangers interacted with him in the same way that they used to with the father.  This entire portrait applies to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Son of God is the firstborn of all of the redeemed throughout redemptive history.  He stands first in line to receive everything from the Father.  According to the second chapter of Hebrews, the Father has promised to subject all of creation to the Son in the world to come; however, in the present age, the Son’s work of salvation inaugurates this rule (Hebrews 2:5-13, ESV).  This is the famous already-not yet tension within the New Testament.  This tension gets to the heart of the word meek.  In the Greek, the word means exercising God’s strength under his control or demonstrating power without undue harshness.  Jesus is all that and more.  In fact, his picture needs to be next to the Greek word praeis (translated meek in English) since he lived it out to the full during his suffering and death on the cross.

If redemption’s goal is to conform the redeemed to the image of his son, then meekness characterizes them as it did their savior (Romans 8:29, ESV).  When persecutions come my way, do I retaliate or compromise my witness because of them?  Jesus did not retaliate against his persecutors, and he remained true to his testimony.  At no point in his life and ministry do we see Jesus caving in to culture and society.  He remained steadfast to the end, and he commands his people to do the same (Matt. 24:13; Mark 13:13; Revelation 2:10, 17, 26, ESV).  Jesus is the example for the redeemed.  His meekness is to be ours via the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  In turn, our Lord will reward us with inheriting the earth alongside him.  It is a promise that stretches back to the Old Testament: “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace” (Psalm 37:11, ESV).

 

A Tribute to those Who have fought and died.

Glory is one of my all-time favorite movies ever made. It boasts an amazing cast to include Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes, and Denzel Washington, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Trip. The story itself has been derived from the personal journals of Col. Robert Gould Shaw (played by Broderick in the film) and the historical records from the Civil War. Director Edward Zwick tells the inspiring story of the 54th Massachusetts infantry, which engaged in key Civil War battles as they exemplified the best of the United States as mighty men of valor and color.

The following scene is both powerful and stirring as two soldiers give their words of encouragement and gratitude for fighting alongside each other within the 54th Massachusetts infantry. Zwick’s movie is a masterpiece, and this scene is a perfect example of performances and direction blending seemlessly.

“In desperation, the major bodies of Protestantism have turned from liberalism to post-World War neo-orthodoxy with its emphasis upon a transcendent deity, who confronts man in a subjective experience.  Scripture may thus ‘become’ the word of God, whenever it mediates Christ, the living Word, in a personal encounter.  In theory, this new theology, together with a number of other post-liberal movements not specifically claiming its name, attempts to recover the values of Biblical orthodoxy while at the same time retaining man’s intellectual ‘respectability’ by its refusal to submit fully to the objective authority of Scripture.  Present religious thought is therefore marked by a renewed interest in eschatology; Christ’s second advent has even been associated by many with the theme of a recent gathering of the World Council of Churches.  But as the saying goes, ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too.’  In practice, neo-orthodoxy, at least in the area of eschatology, is simply liberalism’s negative skepticism without its positive humanistic hope.  It can only attempt, on subjective grounds, inconsistently to ‘pick and choose’ — from among the teachings of a Book whose authority it has already denied — such specific doctrines as may seem central (critically acceptable).'”

(J. Barton Payne, “Historical Introduction,” The Imminent Appearing of Christ, pp 28-29, 1962)

Post-liberal Eschatology

A Tangled Web

I work for a motion picture camera rental company in Hollywood, California.  This means that I see the ins and outs of the moviemaking business.  The left hand truly has no idea what the right hand is doing.  If one is a CPA out here, he or she must engage in some very creative accounting.  On some level, I am so thankful for not being a numbers person.  I am bald due to genetics, but if I was not, the work would force me to pull out my hair.  Grace and mercy have rarely looked this good; therefore, I am beyond thankful.

Earlier this afternoon, I received an earfull from a Unit Production Manager (UPM), who proceeded to tell me how she could not have any paperwork reflecting my company’s name on it.  Here is the lowdown, and this sort of thing is the norm within production.  The UPM works for a television show owned by one of the big studios in Hollywood.  Because of budget constraints and the like, the studio said see you later to Los Angeles for Atlanta, Georgia for principal photography.  The latter is a word phrase to describe that most of the shooting will take place in Atlanta.

Some of my readers and followers might be wondering the reason for a Hollywood-based studio to take its entire production clear across the country.  The answer is simple: money.  If I wanted to be more specific and precise, and I do, the better answer is a tax break. One of my good friends runs a blog, which recounts his nuts-and-bolts approach to moviemaking.  He and I attended film school over ten years ago, and both of us have no pity for California and Hollywood.  When we were film students, what is the norm today, productions going elsewhere, had been a new trend that many in this state viewed as a passing fad.  Well, Hollywood is no longer the center of production.

How does all this relate to the point of this post and creative accounting?  The UPM who chewed me out informed me that my company cannot send her paperwork with our name on it.  This will blow her show’s cover with the state of Georgia, who is under the impression that the Atlanta-based company provided all of the equipment.  On paper, whatever deal the studio worked out with the state of Georgia, looks and sounds great like any creative and clever sounding theory.  If anyone with half of a brain toured the set (which isn’t possible as these are closed sets with Fort Knox-like security measures), they would see camera and lens cases with my company’s name and logo.  Hilarious, right?

Because actual film is now a relic of the past, this means that digital rules the day.  My company’s high-end cameras are essentially computers from big-time manufacturers such as ARRI, which is based in Germany.  Here is the issue.  Digital technology is very finicky and high maintenance.  When one of our cameras goes down, who is liable for providing a replacement?  The Atlanta-based company could give a rip as its being used as a front.  My company remains on the hook, but we do not exist according to the studio’s deal with the state of Georgia.  It gets even better.  Guess who eats the shipping cost for replacing the downed equipment?

Every single man, woman, and child knows how touchy digital technology is in our day and age.  What I mean by this is that PCs work best with other PCs and the same is true for Macs.  On a movie or television set, there will be a mix of equipment brands.  There is no way to standardize digital technology across the board like the dinosaur known as film.  Now, in ARRI’s defense, they know how to manufacture a robust camera that meets and exceeds the demands of production.  Still, the tangled web of paperwork, companies that exist, but not really, and more, adds to the lunacy of Hollywood.  It seems like its an industry flailing for its life.

There are moral and ethical questions aplenty, which my company and others like it face on a daily basis.  In the end, the producers and studios are doing their job by getting the most bang for their buck.  Even though the studios leave LA constantly, they make their money and then some.  You can bet that the UPM will do everything in her power to keep the studio’s tax break.  This is the entertainment business.  It is not for the faint of heart.  My oh my, how tangled is the web of production.