“…What the Bible asserts is, the necessity of presenting the sacrifice in the presence of God.  It was necessary to carry in the blood to the mercy seat, on the great day of atonement, as well as to shed it at the altar.  It was needful that Jesus should go up, and carry in His blood—His person as the Lamb slain—to the holiest of all, before the Father.  The presentation, and the acceptance that followed thereon, are the acts that are so vastly important in regard to reconciliation, and the consequent gift of the Holy Ghost, and all that was included therein.

“That the presentation of Himself was infinitely important is evident from such passages as John xvi. 10, ‘Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more.’ And ver. 28, ‘Again I leave the world, and go to the Father.’  The ancient types shadowed forth this truth in the sprinkling of the blood before the Lord, after the sacrifice was slain. And many are the occasions in the law of Moses where this is required to be done, sometimes ‘before the veil,’ or ‘before the Lord;’ sometimes, on the mercy-seat.  The reason is obvious.  This presentation of the atonement to the Lord was a public declaration of all claims being settled.  When Jesus ascended to the right hand of power, it was as if in presence of the hosts of God he had come up and put the gold pieces of the ransom money into the Father’s hand.  And thus the Father is able evermore to point to this ransom as the ground of all his gracious acts to sinners.

“Now, as this presented sacrifice was to be the ground on which the Father was to dispense all grace, it is put in that place where it is certain to meet every eye in heaven.  It is put beside the Father.  Jesus in our nature is seated at the Right Hand!  Every eye that looks towards the throne sees the Lamb too!  God’s vindicated holiness is seen—God’s honoured law is seen—God’s grace and truth are seen—in Him who sits in that seat of eternal glory.  Every act of grace to sinners turns the eye of all heaven anew to the right hand.”

 

(Andrew Bonar, Redemption Drawing Nigh: A Defence of the Premillennial Advent, “Leading Objections,” Chpt. VIII, pp 140-141, 1847)

Andrew Bonar on Christ’s Vicarious Atonement

“‘Rights have to exist in practice — not just on paper,’ Clinton argued.  ‘Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will.  And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.'”

 

(Hillary Clinton, quoted by Steven Ertelt, “Hillary Clinton: Force Christians to Change their Religious Views to Support Abortion,” April 27, 2015)

Hillary Clinton – Religious Beliefs must be Changed

A Story to Tell Others

Yesterday I posted three stanzas from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s masterpiece, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  I read this amazing poem for the first time during my college years.  It blew apart my mind.  At the time, I concluded that Coleridge had crafted a redemption story in verse form.  Boy did he pull it off, too.  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ranks as one of the best examples of the literary movement known as British Romanticism; consequently, it ranks among the finest works in all of literature.  Coleridge’s poem is the inspiration for the adage, “to have an albatross around one’s neck.”

albatross-mariner

I do not recall if my college peers picked up on the redemption message contained within Coleridge’s poem.  It seemed obvious to me back then, and it still jumps off the page each time I read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Truth be told, no two readers see the same things in a poem, a novel, you name it.  This reminds me of the contract scene in A Night at the Opera where Groucho says to Chico, “I can read it, but I can see it.”  All joking aside, the idea of seeing in order to make art, or seeing in order to perceive art, is a topic for another discussion.  Space, time, and purpose prevent me from delving into the relationship between art and seeing.

Here is what I want to discuss, which does relate to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Rather than quote the same stanzas like I did in yesterday’s entry, I will summarize their context.  Toward the end of the poem, the Mariner encounters an old hermit, who asks him what sort of man he is.  It is a simple question, but immensely pregnant with meaning.  Up to this point, the Mariner has been through hell and back so to speak; therefore, the last thing that he wants to do is relive the ordeal.  The irony here is that telling his story to the hermit is the very thing that frees the Mariner to move forward.  This is not unlike men and women today who find release, hope, and freedom from their past as they share their stories with others.

Back to Coleridge’s poem, the Mariner embarks on a new journey: sharing his tale with others along the way.   He cannot remain silent about it even though the memories are painful.  The Mariner’s motivation for teaching others about his tale stems from a burning desire in his heart.  Keeping silent only adds to the agony.  The story needs to come out.  It is no longer the Mariner’s to hideaway greedily.  He must give it away to others for their freedom and his:

“Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.
“I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.”

(Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Book VII, revised version, 1817)

These two stanzas depict the inner drive of the Mariner to share his adventure.  He realizes that there is power behind his speech.  When the Mariner characterizes it as strange, this suggests that the power is not of his own making.  Someone or something else seems to be driving his actions.  Along the way, he gains discernment and insight into those individuals who are ripe for his message.  If I may venture out onto a limb at this point, it seems to me that Coleridge evokes a strong parallel between the Mariner and a few Old Testament prophets.  For example, take a look at these words spoken by the Jeremiah the prophet:

“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9, ESV)

Nearly 2000 years before Coleridge, Jeremiah lived a rough life as God’s messenger facing the scorn and abuse from family, friends, fellow prophets, and priests.  He walked a path that set him apart from the surrounding culture.  His attempts at keeping silent about God’s message only stirred up the fire inside of him.  It is this last point that bears striking resemblance to the Mariner.  When he kept silent about his message, it burned inside of him like Jeremiah.  Both the Mariner and Jeremiah needed to speak their message.  Of course, these similarities hint toward Coleridge’s familiarity with the Old Testament.  According to the Poetry Foundation’s page, Coleridge immersed himself in the Unitarian church during the 1790s giving lectures and sermons.

It is also true that Coleridge’s father was a minister, so he grew up around the Bible, too.  I do not want to stretch the one-to-one comparison too much between the Mariner and Jeremiah.  What I will say is that there seems to be a strong undercurrent of it within those two stanzas.  In many ways, Coleridge does not portray anything new or earth shattering about the Mariner’s drive to share his story.  Rather, he provides the reader with a vivid and fresh expression to an old principle, Biblical one, too.  It could be that one aspect of Coleridge’s poem is akin to a sermon.  He is the Mariner who must convey his story or message to those around him.  Like the prophet Jeremiah, Coleridge walked an existence filled with hardship, which grounded and fueled his message.  His poem oozes with struggle and turmoil while holding out the reality of redemption.  Coleridge is like the Mariner who is like Jeremiah.

I see bits of myself in Coleridge, the Mariner, and Jeremiah.  When it comes to writing, there is a fire that burns inside of me.  There is a story, a message, or truth, aching to be expressed in full.  Beyond the artistic work lies someone and something greater than the story or the message.  According to the Scriptures, the master storyteller orchestrates human history.  He is the author of any and all good in this life.  Now, his thoughts, ways, and means far exceed our ability to understand or to know them in full; however, the Lord has disclosed to his people that a day is coming when this will no longer be the case (1 John 3:2-3, ESV).  It is glorious, magnificent, and sobering.  I really am so ignorant about all that God does and continues to do for me.  Nothing can thwart his purpose of conforming the redeemed into the image of his son (Romans 8:29, ESV).

“Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woeful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.
“Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.
“I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.”
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Book VII, 1817)

This Heart within Me Burns

Rocking the Boat

How hard can it be to search for a new church?  My wife and I live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.  Surely, we can find a community of God’s people who are committed to worshiping and following him while standing upon his inerrant word.  My brother-in-law and his wife are in the same boat as us.  We enjoyed a simple dinner together over the weekend.  During our time together, the subject of looking for a church came up during our conversation.  My brother-in-law and I acknowledged the desert-like conditions for church searching here in Southern California.  In fact, I discovered this a few years back after leaving my previous worship community.

Frankly, there is too much “spiritual” niceness in this town.  Because some pastors harbor fear over how the surrounding community or culture will perceive or receive them, they dilute the gospel message in order to avoid rocking the boat.  It is true that some pastors/shepherds have grown tired of the controversy surrounding same-sex marriage, homosexuality, religious liberty, the inerrancy of Scripture, evolution vs creation and so forth.  None of these topics are going away any time soon.  The average churchgoer would love for that to be the case, but reality is reality.  The fight to preserve religious liberty is alive and well in the United States.

I am not saying that pastors must politicize the pulpit.  What I am saying is that they should not shy away from clearly defining God’s truth in relation to marriage, homosexuality, religious liberty, evolution and creation, the inerrancy of Scripture, and on and on.  If the body of Christ capitulates to the surrounding culture on any of these issues, then Christ died in vain.  The very existence of the church becomes an insult about Jesus’ earthly ministry.  This renders the Great Commission meaningless in all of its aspects.  Sunday, church services soon devolve into glorified, social events with spiritual activities thrown in for good measure.  How would that be any different than taking a yoga class?

Proclaiming the gospel must be the focus of any church, its leaders, and its congregants.  The apostle Paul describes it as “…the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes [because] in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (Romans 1:16-17, ESV).  In this passage, there is hope for transformation.  Paul takes the next seven to eight chapters of Romans to develop that one idea into the most profound teaching on the reality of salvation.  Churches must be clear regarding the gospel message.  They exist because of it not in spite of it.  Again, the apostle Paul raises this point in his letter to the Ephesians by explaining to them that the church displays the manifold wisdom of God throughout all of creation (Ephesians 3:6-7, 10, ESV).

Let me end with the beginning.  Is it hard to find a church in Southern California?  That is an easy answer: no.  If someone asks me about the difficulty or ease in finding a gospel-centered church, then I would say that this is an immense challenge.  It is much easier to give into the peer pressure rather than standing firm for God and his word.  The consequences are real.  Some will enjoy our scent while others will find us repugnant (2 Corinthians 2:15-16, ESV).  It is time for God’s people to wake up.  It is time for us to open our eyes.  We must be willing to look and sound foolish in the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV).

Reviewing the Machine Gun Preacher

I finally saw the movie called the Machine Gun Preacher.  Gerard Butler plays the title character, who’s real name is Sam Childers.  He published a book titled Another Man’s War, which forms the basis for the movie.  There is no denying the thousands of children being saved by Mr. Childers and his associates each day, each week, each month from the war-torn region of Southern Sudan.  There seems to have been the potential for suspense, action, and drama.  Instead, none of those qualities materializes as the movie loses its way in the first thirty minutes.  Another way to say this is that the screenwriter and director take their eyes off of Childers.  This leads to the character going out of focus along with the plot and the story.

Normally, director Marc Forster is a reliable storyteller behind the camera.  He has a penchant for seeking out the hot potato stories and turning them into thoughtful and compelling dramas.  For example, Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, and Stranger than Fiction represent some of Forster’s best work.  When it comes to the Machine Gun Preacher, I do not know if the director ever bought into Childer and his life’s work.  Forster’s strength is usually depicting tremendous depth and heart to his characters.  He gets up close and personal so to speak.  In the Machine Gun Preacher, the audience is always at arms length toward Childers whether at home or in the Sudan.  I would go so far as to say that Forster’s movie works best when it is stateside.  The Sudan scenes are contrived and/or exploitative, which take the viewer out of the movie.

Another key point to mention is that the screenplay tackles too many big themes: violence in the name of freedom, personal faith as it relates to life expression, poverty and violence in the Third World, and much more.  Each one of these themes by themselves is more than enough for one feature film.  When the script is not clear in its message, the movie will not be any clearer, too.  There are rare instances when a film is better than its script.  2001: A Space Odyssey and Crimson Tide are two examples that come to mind.  Normally, this is not the case.  If the script lacks solidity, then so will the movie.  The Machine Gun Preacher seems to have been made from a rough draft.  I do not think the screenwriter ever had a clue about Childers and his life.  The proof is in the pudding.

There is a documentary about Childers, which is everything Forster’s picture is not.  Should one see Machine Gun Preacher?  If there is nothing really worth watching on television, then I say give the feature a glance.  It does shed light on the humanitarian situation in Sudan.  I recommend balancing the fiction movie with the documentary, which illustrates quite poignantly why Childers is who he is, and why he does his work.  This is precisely the gaping hole with Forster’s picture.  Plus, the director’s movie comes off exploitative at times, which leaves a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth.  It is a shame that an important subject and setting finds its way into a subpar story.