It’s the end of the world….and I feel fine….

The world 1.

The Mayans 0.

The world is still undefeated against predictions of its apocalyptic end.

funny-mayan-end-of-the-world-quote

Enjoy your weekend and Christmas if I don’t see you around before then.

His peace and grace be upon you and yours.

Bryan Daniels

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan (71) – You Got To Serve Somebody

Happy birthday to one of the pioneers of bare bones singer-song writing folk music that was supplemented only by no frills acoustic guitar. Ever since high school I’ve appreciated Dylan’s brutally honest,  sometimes enigmatic, always timeless voice.

Much of his music has strong spiritual overtones. Some may say overtly “Gospel.” Maybe none are so strong and anthemic as “You Got To Serve Somebody”:

In his early musical years Dylan moved from an infatuation with the Little Richard type Rock and Roll towards the mellower Woody Guthrie-esque folk music of old. His explanation:

The thing about rock’n’roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough … There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms … but the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.

I feel ya Bob. Happy Birthday.

Bryan Daniels

The Hunger Games: Why Werewolves Won’t Like It But Ron Paul Will

I went on a field trip this last Friday.

The high school I teach at took a group of 150 ninth graders to a viewing of “The Hunger Games” at a local theater. The trip was paid out of pocket by students and not by taxpayer money I assure you. With the exception of two other math teachers in attendance, I was probably the only soul in the theater who had never read the book. I can’t comment on the literary validity of the book series (I don’t read much fiction) but I thought I’d share a few thoughts about the movie with my beloved readership.

The “Hunger Games”  film is becoming a record-setting blockbuster ($70 million in its opening DAY) and is a surefire successful Trilogy; As conscientious Christians who want Christ’s kingdom to permeate all levels of culture, it is good to at least be semi-informed about what popular culture obsesses over and values:

It’s Better Than Twilight

I know that is not saying much. But at least Hunger Games is not a contrived love story about a boring emo girl who must practically choose between necromancy and bestiality. I think the leading Heroine, Katniss, has some solid qualities that are actually worthy of teen girl emulation. She’s strong. She loves her family to a fault. She’s brave. She hates injustice. She takes responsibility for her actions. And maybe most importantly: She’s not mindlessly wrapped up in an all-consuming hormonal rage over a boy.

Woody

I’m a Woody Harrelson fan. He has always played the role of witty sleazy wino well (maybe his bartender role in Cheers gave him a jumpstart with that). He doesn’t disappoint in his role of Haymitch Abernathy, a former Hunger Games winner and current tutor to District 12 contestants. I’m used to generally poor acting quality when attempting to stomach teenage box office thrillers, but there were a couple pleasant surprises in this film. Elizabeth Banks is delightfully creepy as the plastic clownlike, “Effe”, who serves as a mayor/publicist for District 12 and its contestants.

The Violence is Not Mindless

I’ve heard the movie flirted with an R rating before its release. Some may think the child on child violence is too graphic. That may be true, so parents should be informed before allowing formative younger children to partake. But I do think much of the violence in the movie is purposeful. No one dies without a stirring consequence or somber tone from the on looking survivors. There is actually a touching impromptu funeral scene during the games, injecting humanity in an inhumane circumstance. When any child is killed during competition a harrowing gong resonates through the city and countryside, and their picture is hologrammed across the sky. Even in the twisted dystopia of Panem, the corrupt government intimidates its subjects by playing against their knowledge of the inherent value of human life. For example: If each year from each district the authorities require a boy and girl sacrifice for a rebellion that happened 70 years ago in one district, what horrific acts would they do to our children in a contemporary rebellion?

The Founders Might Have Enjoyed It

Really, Hunger Games revolves around a cautionary tale regarding government power run amok. By displaying in prophetic clarity the negative effects of a meddling political system, the movie propagates a limited government message that may even make Ron Paul crack a grin. It reminds us, because of our sinful human depravity, the early gladiator games of Rome are not necessarily an unrealistic relic of the past. The vague goal of “progress” needs to tapered with real absolute moral foundation (Bible). Katniss also models the virtues of personal responsibility and healthy authority questioning throughout, and in our current climate of big government influences on both sides, these are not bad attributes for a youth culture to be absorbing.

It’s far from a perfect film. There are some contrived points in the plot, where main characters “coincidentally” run into each other at strategic junctures or when they hear seemingly random divulged information at just the right time to preserve life. I wasn’t overly impressed with the quality of acting by many of the younger actors either. I hear later in the series the book toys with Nihilism, but I can’t comment on what I haven’t seen yet.

But the Hunger Games may be worth a watch for you. Clearly, there is not an overtly gospel message the movie attempts to set forth (brothers and sisters that is our calling!), but there are some apparent redemption themes and good character studies within the film.

As always, let’s take this cultural opportunity to speak the person and work of Christ as the only ONE worthy of our adulation and infatuation. He is the one who says to every soul hungry teeny bopper, parent, and cultural observer in between:

I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will never hunger (John 6:35)

Amen.

Bryan Daniels

The Gospel Whitney Houston Heard

Note: This is not an indictment on the eternal state of Whitney Houston’s soul. God will do right regarding what everyone deserves in the end.

I happened upon Whitney Houston’s funeral service yesterday while channel surfing. I only caught the last 45 minutes or so, but the last message caught my ear.

Pastor Marvin Winans delivered the eulogy at New Hope Baptist Church; Winans seems like a passionate articulate leader. But with stars from around the world in attendance and an audience of  millions in television attendance, he  dropped the proverbial gospel ball a bit. To his credit, when bringing up Matthew 6:33, he did stress the “Kingdom of God and His righteousness” before all things be added to us. But righteousness was equated to merely right living, not the righteousness that is only given through the perfect work and person of Jesus Christ. Pastor Winans last sermon point he stressed to the listening masses was this: We need to “keep God first” and make Him “our priority” in all things. I agree with him, but what gives us the strength to carry out such an impossible task?

Let me say I know I may be looking through all this with a negative lens. My wife is always surprised by my ability to find the touch of grey in every silver lining. Sometimes I seriously wonder if God has given me the spiritual gift of  discouragement. : )

I really don’t know what gospel Whitney heard throughout the duration of her church life. There may have been some thorough biblical Christ centered teaching that she accepted or rejected at one time. But I am treating the message at the funeral service as a microcosm of the broader message most people hear from American Christianity:

The gospel of behavior modification.

This type of gospel when fully lived out will lead well meaning men to become “twice the sons of hell” they once were (Matt 23:15). It is certainly powerless to lead any man or woman out of the grim demonic grips of drug and self addiction.

Did Whitney hear on a consistent basis that sinful man had to pull himself up by his own boot straps, activate his own faith, or just rearrange his lifestyle to fit God’s standards? I hope not. Because that gospel only births desperation in the hearer. Though it masquerades as a gospel of grace, that gospel is actually the bad news of law keeping mingled with very little good news. Jesus said the flesh “profits nothing” (John 3). Paul said the purpose of the law was to “reveal sin” (Romans 3). James said to fail in one letter of the law is to be “guilty of all of it” (James 2)

Our greatest issue is not that we are merely failing to be Christlike. That’s a given. Our greatest issue is that we are dead in our sins and need supernatural resurrection in Christ (Ephesians 2).

As Pastor Tullian Thcividijian says: “Jesus came first to effect a mortal resurrection, not a moral reformation-as his own death and resurrection demonstrate.”

I’m sure over the course of her life Whitney Houston probably heard the gospel of self-fulfillment, the gospel of behavior modification, and maybe even the prosperity gospel. But this may be the saddest commentary of all regarding Whitney’s death: Despite her Christian heritage I don’t know if she ever consistently heard the gospel of the bloody righteous Savior Who lived a perfect life she never could live, and died a perfect death she never could earn. This is the undeniable understated gospel with a resurrection power that can obliterate the deepest sins, weaknesses, and addictions.

Did Whitney ever hear this clearly? Do we?:

God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we may become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21)

A tragedy is a life lived in utter bondage. But an even greater tragedy is life everlasting in total bondage. May the biblical gospel we preach always address and free the captives of both.

Bryan Daniels

Why Dragons are Real and Parents are Stupid

Some adults just don’t get it. I encountered one in a recent movie excursion with my wife, where we viewed the adapted CS Lewis novel “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” in 3D. The prude was there with his wife and two young children, as he must have gotten time off from his busy schedule of joy-killing to stoop to his kid’s level to watch this movie.

After a satisfactory viewing experience my wife and I headed to the restroom facilities to unload about eight gallons of carbonated syrup we accumulated in the past two hours. As I was waiting outside the bathrooms for my wife to finish (a common experience for a man with a wife in her third trimester) I overheard the JK (joy-killer) speaking with a fellow adult he happened to know within earshot of his children. The convo went like this:

Stupid talking lion

“How was the Narnia movie?” fellow adult

With a snarky tone, “It was a bit farfetched,” said JK. “Extreme.”

My mouth dropped open. The only response my bewildered mind could conjure up was, “Really? Ya think?”

It is a movie based on a fantasy children’s book for mother Mary’s sake! I thought boys who turn into dragons, a sword dueling mouse and a talking lion were quite logical myself. But seriously, why don’t you just go ahead rip the imagination and innocence right out of your children’s little souls? While you’re at it tell them Santa is just your drunk great-uncle and all dogs go to hell.  

It brings to mind one of my favorite GK Chesterton quotes:

“Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children dragons can be killed.”

I feel a bit sympathetic for the JK, because some parental injustice must have been done to him in his early childhood, and as a result his ability to process allegory and wonder has been greatly diminished. In this rationalistic materialistic brainwashing he’s missed the forest for the trees, and the redemption themes behind nearly every movie are (possibly) lost on him. The adult qualities of dignity and pretension has made JK a dull boy.

No wonder the lion of Judah, Jesus, told adults, “Unless you are converted and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

Hopefully, in the new year this childlike wonder will give us a fresh unction to see and worship Christ more, even in 3D movie events. And possibly then a mole cricket or blade of grass may bring us to our knees in curious delight.

I guess the moral of this story is: Don’t be a joy-killer; God loves to challenge the comfortable traditions and long-held presuppositions of our hardened humanity. Don’t scoff too hard at a fanciful land of mermaids and giant sea snakes, the truth just maybe more far-fetched and stranger than such fiction.

Bryan Daniels

“Don’t Call Me Shirley” A Tribute to Leslie Neilsen

A national hero died November 28th. The indefatigable white-haired epitome of manhood, Leslie Neilsen, succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 84 in his Florida home. On a personal note, he’s probably my favorite Canadian actor of all time (I can’t think of any others off the top of my head).

Neilsen’s most notorious role was as the bumbling oblivious cop, Frank Drebin, in the Naked Gun film series. Naked Gun is the first film that made me laugh so hard I cried, and made my abs feel like I just got kicked in the gut by Jackie Chan.

Neilsen executed the deadpan delivery perfectly in his comedic roles. Here are just a few quotable gems from the Naked Gun series:

Frank Drebin: Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to stay on my toes.

Frank Drebin: Looks like the cows have come home to roost.

Frank Drebin: Oh, it’s all right. I’m sure that we can handle this situation maturely, just like the responsible adults that we are. Isn’t that right, Mr. … Poopy Pants?

Frank Drebin: Jane, since I’ve met you, I’ve noticed things that I never knew were there before… birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stoplights.

And don’t forget Dr. Rumack in the cult spoof “Airplane”, the role that started it all for Neilsen.

Rumack: You’d better tell the captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.

Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can’t be serious.
Rumack: I am serious … and don’t call me Shirley.

Who in Hollywood will pick up the mantle Neilsen left of the oblivious buffoon placed in incredulous circumstances? I don’t know. But thank you Leslie Neilsen for holding that mantle for a time.

A crying ab workout has never been so funny before or since.

Bryan Daniels

Bathroom Theology: “Toy Story 3 was OK”

It was a dingy truck stop with “World Famous” coffee and yesterday’s News Herald. It was also my pharmacy, where I frequently purchased my Monster energy drinks (sugar-free) and BC powders.

The credit/debit slidey machine was usually down, but for a $2.50 fee you could use the ATM in the back.

After drinking my weight in coffee that morning it was time for me to introduce myself to the bathroom. I took a deep breath before breaking the threshold of the door; I’d rather save my nostrils from the burning sensation.

The condition of the establishment betrayed the quality of the rough and tumble types that frequented it. Bleach was not its friend. The walls, the subject of much sharpie and ball point abuse, were painted and repainted differing shades of white.

White trash graffiti littered the walls above my stall with doodlings that would make Charlie Sheen blush with shame.

In between the “call for a good time’s” and apocalyptic warnings of a race war, a curious observation was made. It was a solitary sentiment of sanity that ignored the nasty upside down world it was placed in.

It made me literally laugh out loud. It read in bold black letters:

“Toy Story 3 was OK”

Some truck stop movie critic saw it fit to inject some innocence into this profane world. Given the positioning of the message (a few inches above my head), it wasn’t written by a child either.

Believe it or not, that little observation got me thinking.  I’m always grasping for analogies no matter how far of a stretch they may be.

I wonder sometimes if the American church’s message is akin to this same type of detached sanitary musing in a filthy truck stop world.

We can (and should) address many things in relation to the gospel.  Rated R movies, alcohol consumption, finances, church attendance, self esteem, political affinities, etc. But if secondary “rule-keeping” issues become the main message the world is hearing then the church has become as irrelevant as light-hearted bathroom graffiti.

A gospel of levity and law keeping cannot begin to address the depth and brevity of the sprawling trash heap that much of culture has become.

The biblical gospel message deals directly with depraved hearts and filthy souls, showing that so nasty is the scourge on humanity, the only viable cure was God slaying His own Son on a cross as an atoning sacrifice. The gospel addresses sexual trafficking, slavery, drug addiction, starvation, rape, greed, child molestation, racism, pornography, and the whole reality of manifest darkness we dwell in. God has seen it all, judged it all, and weighed all of this iniquity in His hand. But then He did something so inexplicable, so utterly shocking we will never understand it in an eternity of eternities.  With that very hand God the Father crushed his own perfect dear Son under the weight of judgment for our iniquity (Isaiah 53:11).

With the Son’s resurrection, the Father ensured His sacrifice was sufficient and new life can be a reality with Him (2 Cor 5:17).

The church has a pearl of great price, so valuable it can restore all manner of broken relationships, political systems, nations, and even truck stops. But the gospel cannot be about mere behavior modification or some domesticated commentary espousing a better life. That would be as misguided as telling an addicted child molester, “Toy Story 3 was OK.”

A gospel that paints over or sidesteps sin never will deal with the root of the issue: the heart.

The gospel must exploit the utter sinfulness of sin in the light of the holiness of God, the blazing love of the Father in the sacrifice of the Son, and the almighty power of God to make all things new in the resurrection.

The gospel is not detached from the reality of sin around us, no, it is the only death-blow to the sin that so dominates our fallen world. An accurate proclamation of this amazing grace is the only bleach for the sin-stained soul, not new laws or 12 step programs.

And as far as our Truck Stop movie critic goes, my two-year old son respectfully disagrees.

He thought Toy Story 3 was awesome.

Bryan Daniels

Paranormal Activity 2: Good or Bad for the Christian Soul?

What should Christians make of a movie that may be the highest grossing horror film of all time? Partake and engage, or turn tail and run?

There are some serious reservations any biblically minded Christian should have when approaching a spiritual “horror” film. We know our flesh and blood is not the only reality of this world (Eph 6:18). Satan, demons, and spiritual darkness are real and are nothing to trifle with or take lightly.

For those who would be more given to feelings of terror and overwhelming fear during and after such a film, abstinence should be the wisest choice. Yet we must also gird ourselves with truth: there really is nothing to fear in Christ our eternal Protector. Those with faith in Christ have no cause for fear when approaching fabricated evil or even hell itself, for there is no torment in perfect love (1 John 4:8).

You’ve probably heard the secular definition of “Puritanism”, you know: “That sneaking suspicion someone, somewhere is having fun.” Christians don’t run campaigns against fun, they embark on missions for freedom in Christ. It is the mark of spiritual maturity to acknowledge that some forms of media avert our eyes from King Jesus and His liberty from every form of darkness.

But I do believe there is some subversive truth that can be dug out of exploding box office sales of this spiritual thriller. Movies like “Paranormal Activity” presuppose real “evil” in the world, even “spiritual evil.” People, even unbelieving ones, have physiological and emotional responses to many such films. You don’t scream, sweat and shake from watching a twisted Fairy Tale; you respond in those ways only if you truly believe what you are watching has some ground in reality.

To be honest, I’m still a bit freaked out by the slobbering trolls in that all time classic horror movie “Ernest Scared Stupid”. I’m pretty sure I spent much of that movie with my head in the chair and my butt in the air. My mom should have known that such a movie was not eight-year old friendly.

Some scars never heal.

But Paranormal Activity (and Ernest Scared Stupid), in a strange way affirms the biblical stance of spiritual darkness. Relativism, postmodernism, and secular humanism have very few coherent explanations for our inherent fascination and fear of the ethereal.

Films like Paranormal Activity 3 can bring up some provocative questions, and someone needs to be there to answer them with gospel truth.

Now certainly, Hollywood horror flicks leave the biblical worldview half undone. In these films, the gospel of Jesus Christ is never offered as the only blazing light to pierce the disturbing demonic darkness. But I wouldn’t expect Hollywood to be in the business of evangelism or spiritual warfare in the first place. That’s where we should come in. The gaping void left by insufficient worldly wisdom must filled with the other-wordly supremely sufficient gospel (1Cor 15:1-4).

I’ll forgo the opportunity to partake in Paranormalmania. I haven’t watched (much of) the previous two. My wife and I tried to watch the sequel after it came out on Redbox, but after the first 15 minutes we both felt weirded out enough to shut it down.  This is a personal conviction, not a sweeping mandate I would put on anyone else. If I want to come face to face with disturbing levels of evil, I need to look no further than my own heart and motives. My selfishness, self righteousness, and general bent towards hypocrisy are much more scarier than a trumped up faux story line with average effects and below average acting.

The evil on the screen is Hollywood. The evil within is real. Praise God the victory over my evil is equally real and realized in the cross of Christ (Colossians 2).

I doubt a new law can be constructed here for the Christian. Some should certainly forgo the opportunity to sow into a horror film that will gross enough to put a sizable dent in the Ethiopian hunger crisis. All who watch it need to honestly ask themselves as ambassadors of the kingdom of light: Is the best way to pierce the eternal darkness by investing our time and money into commercialized darkness?

Bryan Daniels