Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Best Christmas Letter I Received This Year

Like most people I receive a host of Christmas cards and letters every year. One of our favorite traditions is going through them on Christmas morning. Of all the letters I've received, this one stands out. With Lowell's permission I share it with you:
In just two days it will be December 25th, what most think of as the end of the season.  But me, I see it as the “middle child” in our trilogy of American holidays.  We started back on Thanksgiving, preparing for the renewal that comes at the start of the New Year.  The thing is, January 1st can often be a disappointment. Not because your goals or resolutions were unrealistic, but because you didn’t properly prepare yourself spiritually.  That’s the process we’re going through.  So now that you cleared away the unnecessary distractions in your life on Thanksgiving (both material and otherwise) Christmas is the time to stop and think about what you really have and what it is you are truly grateful for.  This Christmas, I say that instead of spending the day saying, “Merry Christmas,” maybe it’s time we started to instead say, “Thank you.”

Christmas is a time for gratitude.  Think about just how blessed you are, and not just for your friends and family and whatever may be under the tree.  Think bigger. Think deeper.  Think of the Christ child and what he grew up to do.  What did he give up for you?  What are you willing to give up for others?  This is a time for service. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Be a shelter for someone else.  Help shoulder a burden and lighten someone’s load.  You, me…we all deserve a second chance, and that clean slate comes in the form of God’s redemption.  It’s the one gift we can all receive whenever we’re ready to accept it.  His redemption is always there for you, and not just on December 25th.

Be humble, get down on your knees and help your family rise up by getting down on their knees with you.  Christmas is a glorious time of year and perhaps the best time to remember the saying that goes, “All that is not given is lost.”  Show your gratitude through deeds and not just words.  Reflect on who you really are and what you really have. And through it all, be grateful that you’re here to experience it and know that the path towards redeeming your own life runs through the lives of others who also need help.  Then and only then can you be ready for what lies ahead in the New Year.  What a year it’s going to be!

May God bless you always, and I wish for you and yours a very Merry Christmas.


Regards,

Lowell S. Dunn II

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Signs You Haven't Experienced Gospel Wakefulness


From Jared Wilson's new book, Gospel Wakefulness, here are 11 signs (pgs 72-73) you haven't experienced gospel wakefulness...
1. The gospel doesn't interest you--or it does, but not as much as other religious subjects.
2. You take nearly everything personally.
3. You frequently worry about what other people think.
4. You treat inconveniences like minor (or major) tragedies.
5. You are impatient with people.
6. In general, you have trouble seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life (Gal 5:22-23).
7. The Word of God holds little interest.
8. You have great difficulty forgiving.
9. You are told frequently by a spouse, close friend, or other family members that you are too "clingy" or too controlling.
10. You think someone besides yourself is the worst sinner you know.
11. The idea of gospel centrality makes no sense to you.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why I Signed the Manhattan Declaration

Two years ago, the Manhattan Declaration was released to the public at the National Press Club. The Declaration is a call of Christian conscience issued by CatholicOrthodox Christian, and Protestant leaders to affirm support of "the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty". The drafting committee includes evangelical leader Charles ColsonPrinceton University law professor Robert P. George and Beeson Divinity School dean Timothy George. Close to a half a million people have signed the declaration including such leaders as James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Chuck Swindoll, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Harry Reeder, Tim Keller, and Bryan Chapell.


R. C. Sproul, Alister Begg, Michael Horton and others refused to sign the document because of its ecumenical overtones. The document identifies Catholics and Orthodox (as well as Protestants) as "Christian" which, they maintain, muddles the distinctives of the Biblical gospel, namely, justification by grace through faith alone. Sproul asks, "How could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian?"

The signers of this document confess the faith of the ancient creeds of the church. I would contend that on this we can agree and take clear stands against moral evils of our day. I do so without compromising my convictions as an evangelical Presbyterian. I uphold the Westminster Confession of Faith as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture. Though this puts me at theological odds with Catholics and Orthodox believers on crucial matters of faith, it does not mean that we don't have much in common, and can take a common stand for life, marriage and liberty. In fact, on these issues, I will stand with Jewish and Muslim believers as well.

It is important to note what the Manhattan Declaration is and is not. It is not a wide-ranging theological document that subverts confessional integrity. It does not attempt to establish common ground on vast theological terrain. It does not seek to bridge the divide between Roman Catholics and evangelicals on the doctrine of justification. It is not a manifesto for united political action. It is a statement of urgent concern and common conscience on these three issues--the sanctity of human life, the integrity of traditional marriage, and the defense of religious liberty.

I signed the Manhattan Declaration because I agree with its core assertion:
Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.
I urge you to read the Manhattan Declaration and if you can sign it in good conscience, please do so. Pray about how you can take a stand for the sanctity of human life, the honor of traditional marriage, and the defense of religious liberty and take action.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Suffering Have I Caused

When dealing with suffering, we are quick to find fault in others--our parents, our spouse, society, God? To be sure much of our suffering finds its source elsewhere. Job is the prime example of one who suffered not because of his own sin, but as a ploy of Satan to test his fidelity to God. Job's supposed friends are a great example of what not to do when someone is grieving. We should be very to slow to jump to conclusion about the suffering of others.

It can be, on the other hand, very beneficial to examine ourselves as a source of suffering--our own and the suffering of others. What suffering have I caused? The middle portion of the 12 step program walks participants through an "owning up to the wrongs I've done" process.

  • Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.
  • Admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.
  • Be entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Humbly ask Him to remove your shortcomings.
Where do I begin this process? How do I inventory my wrongs? I could rehearse my history and recount wrongs chronologically. (Do I have enough time to honestly do this?) I can think through my relationships moving out in concentric circles--my wife, my kids, my close friends, associates, neighbors, etc.

For centuries, Christians have used the moral law of God as the guide to take an inventory of their wrongs. I believe there is still no better standard.

An important note: In approaching the law, I need to keep the gospel clearly in view. The Decalogue begins: I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. In other words, I don't obey God to obtain my freedom, I obey because he has granted it. I don't obey God in order to gain his favor, I obey him because he has given it to me. As I go through this list, I need to keep God's grace firmly in mind. As Robert Murray McCheyne said, "For every look at your sin take ten looks at the Savior." With that in mind, here are my questions based on the 10 commandments:

  • Do I give God his rightful place in my life? Do I find my ultimate joy and satisfaction in him? Am I seeking his glory or my own or another's?
  • What do I worship truly? What do I value above all else in my heart? How is this shown in my use of time, money, my thought life?
  • Is my worship of God guided by his word? Do I depend on any unscriptural aids in worship? Am I superstitious? 
  • Do I recognize God's right to rule over me? Do I recognize that I am his?
  • Am I reverent toward God, his name, titles, attributes, word, and works? Do I make light of him? Am I flippant toward him? Do I presume upon his grace?
  • Do I set aside time to meet with God? Do I observe a day of rest, set aside from my regular routine to be refreshed by God's grace?
  • Do I do right by people? Do I give honor and respect to others?
  • Do I do all I can to preserve and enhance the lives of others? Have I caused physical or emotional harm to others?
  • Have I remained chaste (sexually decent and modest) in heart, speech, and behavior? Have I viewed or listened to any unchaste images, actions, or words?
  • Have I managed well my own property and wealth? Have I furthered the wealth of others? Have I hindered the prosperity of my neighbor?
  • Have I promoted truth between people? Have I upheld their good name? Especially in testimony have I told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
  • Have I caused injury with my tongue?
  • Have I been content with my condition? Have I envied the property or position of others? Have I been grieved at their good? Do I have any inordinate desires?

The next couple of steps help complete the process (which of course will not end until glory!):

  • Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and be willing to make amends to them all.
  • Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • Continue to take personal inventory and when you are wrong promptly admit it.

Why Do God's People Suffer?

Although there will always be nagging questions about suffering and the problem of evil on a philosophical level (Why does God permit evil?) and a personal level (Why did God permit this evil?), we are given some clear answers in God's word. Why do Christians suffer?

For their own sake--to learn who God is (Psalm 46; Daniel 4:24-37), to learn to trust God (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) and obey him (Psalm 119:67-72), to become more like Jesus (Romans 8:18-29), and to reach maturity of character (Romans 5:3-4; Hebrews 12:1-11).

For the sake of others--that God's people may have courage (Philippians 1:14) and power (2 Corinthians 4:7-12), and bear witness to the grace of God (2 Corinthians 12:9).

For Christ's sake--to identify with Christ (Galatians 2:20), and to share in his sufferings and glory (1 Peter 4:12-16; Philippians 1:29; 3:8-10; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Is God Willing and Able to Prevent Evil?

Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, stated the problem of evil thus:
Is God willing to prevent evil but not able?
Then his is impotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Whence then is evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

This line of reasoning has been echoed by many throughout history, but it hinges on a mistaken premise. It assumes that a good God would not allow evil to continue. The reasoning underneath that premise goes like this:
1. We cannot think of any justifiable reason why God would allow suffering and evil to continue.
2. Therefore, God cannot have such a reason.
The logic does not follow. Why should there be no reason just because we cannot think of one?

Alvin Plantinga writes in Warranted Christian Belief, "Suppose the fact is God has a reason for permitting a particular evil... Is it even likely that we would wind up with plausible candidates for God's reason?... Given that he is omniscient and given our very substantial epistemic limitations, it isn't at all surprising that his reasons... [might] escape us." Plantinga also notes in Philosophers Who Believe, "Why does God permit all this evil...? Christians must concede that we don't know. That is, we don't know in any detail. On a quite general level, we may know that God permits evil because he can achieve a world he sees as better by permitting evil than by preventing it; and what God sees as better is, of course, better. But we cannot see why our world...would be better... or what, in any detail, is God's reason for permitting a given specific... evil."

In other words, if we have a God great enough to be angry at for not preventing evil and suffering, we must also have a God great enough to have a reason for allowing evil and suffering we cannot discern.

Moreover, if there is not God, people don't really have a good basis for being outraged at the existence of suffering. After all, nature is "red in tooth and claw." Death and destruction are perfectly natural. It is perfectly natural for the strong to eat the weak and "survival of the fittest" is a genetic principle. Someone can only object to injustice if they already believe in some kind of "supernatural" moral standard (i.e., some standard that comes from outside of nature and which judges some types of "natural" behavior as wrong). And where does such a supernatural standard come from if there is no God?

As I've said before, eliminating the God of the Bible because of the problem of evil does not do away with evil. It eliminates the only real solution for it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes

There is something very wrong with the world. The witch in Macbeth announced that "something wicked this way comes." There is no doubt that it has arrived. The existence of evil is undeniable. Many Christians, as well as others, have worked hard to provide answers for those who ask: Is God the author of evil or its helpless victim? Many have pointed to the thought of St. Augustine (354-430) for help in solving the vexing problem of evil.

Gregory Koukl, in his article Augustine on Evil states, "Augustine's approach was not just brilliant; it was practical. His insight is intellectually credible and emotionally satisfying in that it gives hope and offers meaning to the Christian trying to make sense out of life in a fallen world."
Two Aspects of the Problem
The problem of evil can be phrased in several ways. One approach addresses the origin of evil, prompting the syllogism (a series of statements that form a reasoned argument): 1) God created all things; 2) evil is a thing; 3) therefore, God created evil. If the first two premises are true, the conclusion is inescapable.
This formulation, if sustained, is devastating for Christianity. God would not be good if He knowingly created evil.
Augustine realized that the solution was tied to the question: What is evil? The argument above depends on the idea that evil is a thing (note the second premise). But what if evil is not a "thing" in that sense? Then evil did not need creating. If so, our search for the source of evil will take us in a another direction.
Augustine approached the problem from a different angle. He asked: Do we have any convincing evidence that a good God exists? If independent evidence leads us to conclude that God exists and is good, then He would be incapable of creating evil. Something else, then, must be its source.
If Augustine's approach is fair, it prompts a pair of syllogisms that lead to a different conclusion. First: 1) All things that God created are good; 2) evil is not good; 3) therefore, evil was not created by God. Second: 1) God created every thing; 2) God did not create evil; 3) therefore, evil is not a thing.
The key to success here, is the truthfulness of two premises. If Augustine can offer evidence through natural theology that God exists as Creator and also that God is good, making everything He created also good, then the conclusion--evil is not a thing--automatically follows.
This is Augustine's strategy. If evil is not a thing, then the case against Christianity stated in the original syllogism is unsound because one of its premises is false. The critical question is: What is evil?
Digging a Hole in Goodness
Central to Augustine's idea of goodness (and, consequently, evil) was the notion of being. To Augustine, anything that had being was good. God as the ground of being was perfectly good, along with everything he brought into being. This goodness was a property that came in varying degrees.
With this foundation Augustine was now prepared to answer the key issue: "Where is evil then, and whence, and how crept it in hither? What is its root, and what its seed? Or hath it no being?"[1] To this Augustine answered: "Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name 'evil.'"[2]
Augustine observed that evil always injures, and such injury is a deprivation of good. If there were no deprivation, there would be no injury. Since all things were made with goodness, evil must be the privation of goodness: "All which is corrupted is deprived of good."[3]
The diminution of the property of goodness is what's called evil. Good has substantial being; evil does not. It is like a moral hole, a nothingness that results when goodness is removed. Just as a shadow is no more than a "hole" in light, evil is a hole in goodness.
To say that something is evil, then, is a shorthand way of saying it either lacks goodness, or is a lower order of goodness than what ought to have been. But the question remains: "Whence and how crept it in hither?"
Augustine observed that evil could not be chosen because there is no evil thing to choose. One can only turn away from the good, that is from a greater good to a lesser good (in Augustine's hierarchy) since all things are good. "For when the will abandons what is above itself, and turns to what is lower, it becomes evil--not because that is evil to which it turns, but because the turning itself is wicked."[4]
Evil, then, is the act itself of choosing the lesser good. To Augustine the source of evil is in the free will of persons: "And I strained to perceive what I now heard, that free-will was the cause of our doing ill."[5] Evil was a "perversion of the will, turned aside from...God" to lesser things.[6] 
Flawed Perfection
Augustine's solution has not been satisfying to some. Friedrich Schleiermacher snorted at the concept that God gave good creatures the freedom to do bad. If a being is perfect in its goodness, he held, it would never sin even if it were free to. Evil would then have to create itself ex nihilo, which is ridiculous.[7]
However, it doesn't follow that moral perfection necessarily entails immutability. That's a different type of perfection, a perfection in being. Schleiermacher's objection confuses the two. The fact that a perfectly beautiful vase is capable of being broken doesn't take away from its aesthetic perfections. In the same way, it makes sense to say that man was created morally perfect (morally whole or complete, at his proper level of goodness), even though he wasn't immutable in this perfection.
The objections raised by atheist philosophers J.L. Mackie and Antony Flew are more substantial.[8] Isn't it possible that God could have created man immutable in his goodness, yet still have the opportunity to freely choose in other areas? Won't man have immutable goodness in heaven? And will he not also have freedom to choose among certain options? Why not here on earth? Couldn't God construct man's nature such that evil simply was not an option?
Mackie and Flew are right in one regard. God could have created such a world. Freedom in the larger sense (the ability to make choices) does not require freedom in the narrow sense (the ability to make moral choices).
They miss the big picture, though: God would not have accomplished a second purpose. He not only wanted free creatures; He also wanted plenitude, that is, the greatest good possible. Plenitude--the highest good, the best of all possible worlds--requires more than just general freedom; it requires moral freedom, and that necessarily entails the possibility of evil.
Since all that God made is good, even those things which appear evil only appear that way because of a limited context or perspective. When viewed as a whole, that which appears to be evil ultimately contributes to the greater good.
For example, certain virtues couldn't exist without evil: courage, mercy, forgiveness, patience, the giving of comfort, heroism, perseverance, faithfulness, self-control, long-suffering, submission and obedience, to name a few. These are not virtues in the abstract, but elements of character that can only be had by moral souls. Just as evil is a result of acts of will, so is virtue. Acts of moral choice accomplish both. 
The Best of All Worlds
A world that had never been touched by evil would be a good place, but it wouldn't be the best place possible. The best of all worlds would be a place where evil facilitated the development of virtues that are only able to exist where evil flourishes for a time. This would produce a world populated by souls that were refined by overcoming evil with good. The evil is momentary. The good that results is eternal.
What good comes out of a drive-by killing, someone might ask, or the death of a teenager through overdose, or a daughter's rape, or child abuse? The answer is that a commensurate good doesn't always come out of those individualsituations, though God is certainly capable of redeeming any tragedy. Rather, the greater good results from having a world in which there is moral freedom, and moral freedom makes moral tragedies like these possible.
A Heavenly Twist
This observation reveals an interesting twist in this problem. If morality freely chosen can only happen in a world where evil is possible, then heaven will be a place where there will be no moral growth, where moral choices will not be possible because all the inhabitants of heaven will be immutably good. There is a type of soulish growth only available to inhabitants of a fallen world.
Two Scriptural observations lend credibility to this view. First, in recounting the great heroes of faith, the writer of Hebrews mentions that some were rescued by faith, but others endured by faith "...in order that they might obtain a better resurrection."[ix] (Heb. 11:35) Second, Paul tells Timothy that "...godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (1 Tim. 4:8)
Both of these verses indicate that conditions in this life affect conditions in the next. Bearing up under evil in this life improves our resurrection in the next. Godliness in this life brings profit in the next. These benefits are not available after this life or there would be little urgency to grow now; all eternity would be left in which to catch up.
It appears that a deeper, more profound good results when virtue is won by free, moral souls struggling with evil, rather than simply granted to them as an element of their constitution. 
Spoiled Goodness
Augustine knew that evil was real. Independent evidence (natural theology) was enough to convince him that God existed and that everything He created would be good. Evil, then, must be something real, but not a "thing" in the conventional sense. Evil is not a created thing, but spoiled goodness made possible by the free moral agency of rational creatures. Evil is not something present, but something missing, a privation.
The challenge that God could have created a world of free-will creatures immutable in their goodness is answered by the notion of plenitude, the greatest good. The possibility of evil also makes a greater good possible. God made a world in which true moral decision-making and development of virtues is possible in humans, manifest by persons whose character is formed through growth and struggle.
There's a sound reason why God has allowed evil. It doesn't conflict with His goodness. God is neither the author of evil, nor its helpless victim. Rather, precisely because of His goodness He chooses to co-exist with evil for a time.
Koukl asserts that St. Augustine's answer is the most intellectually credible and emotionally satisfying solution to the vexing problem of evil. Others have not been convinced. There have been many challenges to Augustine, and many other theodicies (good reasons why God allows evil) offered. We will consider more of both in successive posts.   

[1] Augustine, Confessions, VII: [V] 7.
[2] Augustine, The City of God, XI, CHAP. 9.
[3] Augustine, Confessions, VII: [XII] 18.
[4] Augustine, City of God, XII, CHAP. 6.
[5] Augustine, Confessions VII: [III] 5.
[6] Ibid., [XVI] 22.
[7] Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 3, 138.
[8] See J.L. Mackie, "God and Omnipotence," Mind, April 1955, and Antony Flew, "Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom," New Essays in Philosophical Theology, 1955 (referenced in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 3, 138).  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Death of Satan

On April 8, 1966, Time's cover declared that God was dead. Bill Hamilton explained the phrase he coined for popular culture, "The death of God is a metaphor. We needed to redefine Christianity as a possibility without the presence of God."

 It is interesting to note that Hamilton came to this conclusion after years of wrestling with the concept of God. When he was a teenager his friends had been building pipe bombs. The two Christian friends died. And the third, the son of an atheist, emerged without a scratch. How, Hamilton wondered, could a just God allow this? Why do the innocent suffer? Does God intervene in human lives?

 "Theodicy came to dwell in my 14-year-old head that Sunday," he says.

 Hamilton wrote out his two choices: "God is not behind such radical evil, therefore he cannot be what we have traditionally meant by God" or "God is behind everything, including the death camps — and therefore he is a killer."

 Hamilton didn't see an active God anymore. But the theologian was not an atheist. And he didn't want to let go of Jesus, as the example of how humans should treat one another.

 Now 40 years later, Andrew Delbanco puts a spin on Hamilton's phrase and uses it as the title of his book, The Death of Satan. Delbanco traces the history of the concept of evil in America, and shows how it has all but disappeared in our day. He writes, “In this world emptied of metaphysical meaning...our insurance policies may still include clauses covering (or more likely, exempting) ‘acts of God’ as well as storm, fire, flood, and the like; but the fact is that such events are regarded by most people as inscrutable misfortunes.” He continues, “there seems to be growing agreement that there was once such a concept as sin – broad and capacious but still meaningful – and that it has faded.”

Delbanco concludes his study with these words: “My driving motive in writing...has been the conviction that if evil, with all the insidious complexity which Augustine attributed to it, escapes the reach of our imagination, it will have established dominion over us all.”

 Dismissing the God of the Bible because of the problem of evil doesn't do away with evil, it leaves us without a sure remedy for it. Denying or downplaying the reality of evil (in our own souls and all that springs from it) doesn't do away with it either. As Delbanco points out, being deluded into denying evil shows that you are being dominated by it.

 Over the next few weeks, I'd like think through the reality of and remedy for evil. More to follow.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Theology Is Worthless

In an interview about his biography on Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas makes a startling and stinging statement about what we can learn from the pastor and theologian who gave his life standing against the Nazi regime in his native Germany.
The main thing it to realize that on some level, theology is worthless unless we live it. This is a particular challenge for us as evangelicals--you can say, "I believe this and this," but at some point God says, "If you're not living it, I don't want to hear about it." Sometimes we can worship an idol of theological correctness. It doesn't mean that theology isn't extremely important, and anyone who says it isn't is wrong. At the same time, it's not everything, and Bonhoeffer challenges us to understand that the two have to be one--our life and what we say we believe. You can't fool God with a statement of theology.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Weeping over America

This year in staff meetings we have been working our way through the book of Jeremiah. Although written over 2400 years ago, the parallels between his day and ours are uncanny. If God is still the same, his holiness hasn’t diminished, his standards for what constitute a good and just society haven’t altered, and our responsibility to hear and obey His Word hasn’t been negated, then the "weeping prophet" has a message for us. "If any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it" (Jeremiah 12:17). Here is a sampling of the indictments Jeremiah made against Judah:
They "went after worthlessness and became worthless" (2:5). They "turned degenerate" (2:21) and wore themselves out sinning (9:5). They were so wicked that they even taught "wicked women" things they didn't know (2:33). They "polluted the land with [their] vile whoredom" (3:2). They were callous and unjust toward the poor (2:34). They repeatedly claimed that they had not sinned (2:35). They were greedy, conniving, unashamed, and self-deluded regarding their true status (6:13-15). They treated the Word as an object of scorn (6:10). They were incapable of speaking the Truth (7:28). They followed their own hearts and went after false gods even more diligently than their forefathers had (9:14). They broke their covenant with the Lord (11:1-13). They were not correctable: they would not listen to God's prophet (2:30; 5:3), and they would not obey His Word. They assured themselves that God would not judge them, that disaster would not fall (5:12).
They were wrong, of course, as history demonstrated in 586 BC when Judah was crushed by the Babylonians. Many have warned of a similar judgment pending against America. In Death in the City, written in 1969, Francis Schaeffer not only claimed that both Europe and America were even then under "the wrath of God," he also addressed the question of the contemporary relevance of Jeremiah:
We do not have to guess what God would say about this [question] because there was a period of history, biblical history, which greatly parallels our day. That is the day of Jeremiah. The Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Lamentations show how God looks at a culture which knew Him and deliberately turned away. But this is not just the character of Jeremiah’s day of apostasy. It’s my day. It’s our day. And if we are going to help our own generation, our perspective must be that of Jeremiah, that weeping prophet Rembrandt so magnificently pictured weeping over Jerusalem, yet in the midst of his tears speaking without mitigating his message of judgment to a people who had had so much yet turned away.
Diane Singer recently outlined what our response to the evil of our day should be:
We must, like Jeremiah, keep speaking the truth about human nature (17:9): “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Unless people understand that they are sinners in need of a Savior, they will -- in the words of one bumper sticker I've seen around town -- tragically believe they are "Born OK the first time" and so don't need Christ. Evangelism becomes more difficult in a culture where people think they are basically good and where people reject the concept of personal sin. We must keep warning our fellow citizens that it is foolish to trust in man (17:5), but wise to trust in God (17:7). The corollary to this is that people must learn to trust what the Bible has to say about what has gone wrong with our world and what God has done to set things right. We need to promote a biblical worldview in all areas of life so unbelievers can see the futility of the man-made philosophies they have been clinging to, and suffering under, and instead embrace the Truth of God's Word as it speaks to issues such as marriage, the family, the right and wrong use of technology and science, the sanctity of human life, the proper role of government, and other "hot button" issues. We must pray that we will stand firm in these evil days, as Jeremiah did (17:14-17). And while Jeremiah was forbidden to pray for his nation (7:16), we have not yet reached that point: therefore, we must fervently pray for revival to come to America. We should, with the Cross in mind, pray for God’s judgment to fall on the unrepentant who are leading many others down the destructive path of sin and evil (18:19-23).
What does it mean to keep the Cross in mind as you pray for God's judgment to fall on the unrepentant? Singer provides a solid answer:
An imprecatory prayer must come from two intense desires: a longing to see God's holiness vindicated, and the desire to see sinners repent of their sin and come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Sometimes a form of judgment which stops short of death can bring sinners back to God: that is God's primary desire, and it should be ours. However, sometimes God's judgment exacts the ultimate price. In such cases, we should feel a deep sorrow for those who have perished, all the while recognizing that only God knows whose evil has progressed to the point of no return, and whose harmful influence on others has become so great that it must be stopped.
Early in his ministry, Jeremiah admonished his fellow citizens to "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls" (6:16). Our study of Jeremiah this year has shown us that taking time to consider those ancient paths is still a good thing to do. The only question is whether we will be like the people of Judah who refused to walk in those paths, or whether will we be wiser than that: Will we allow the words of Jeremiah to help us stay on the narrow way which leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14)? During our study of Jeremiah Jeremiah summer, we have become painfully aware of just how bad the situation in America has become; but it's also brought great blessing. Jeremiah reminds again and again that our God is gracious, loving, and patient: His greatest desire in warning us of impending judgment is to wake us up to reality so we'll repent and return to Him. He is ready to forgive and restore. So, we have a choice to make: we can face a future of devastating judgment (Jeremiah 1:16), or we can claim as our own these hopeful words written to the exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:11-14): "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD..." Which path will we choose?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Montana or Bust!

What a summer! It's almost Labor Day and I have yet to write about it. The 'road trip of all road trips' took us from the southern tip of Florida to the Northern border of Montana and back. The main reason for the trip was a 'once a decade Manuel family reunion,' but the purpose quickly expanded to retracing the roots of Dad.

I showed the kids where I was born, where I went to elementary, middle and high school, where I went to college, where I had my first paper route, bought my first car, scored my first (and only) touchdown, etc. They were riveted to every detail of their dad's mesmerizing life. Actually they were much more interested in creating their own adventures.

We chronicled the highlights of our trip on FB. (You'll have to friend us to see the whole slide show.) Visit the 'Manuel Cousins Reunite!' FB page for a taste of what the Manuel cousins do when they get together. The 'Redneck Waterslide' video is well worth 3:18 of your time. What can I say? I love my family.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Is Manufacturing Dead in America?

Quick--answer these two questions: 1) What country is the #1 manufacturer in the world?
(HINT: I got this answer wrong.) 2) Has the manufacturing output of the USA increased or decreased in the last 30 years? (I got this wrong too.)

David L. Bahnsen, Senior Vice President of The Bahnsen Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, was recently asked about manufacturing in the US. Here is his reply.
What can you tell us about the state of manufacturing in the United States?

9 out of 10 times when I ask people if manufacturing is dead in America, they tell me that it is. So I suppose it will be a shock to people to find out that the United States is STILL the #1 manufacturer in the world - producing 21% of all goods (4). That percentage is the same that it was thirty years ago. But here is what I really want to share: There are 23% less employees in the manufacturing sector here in the states than there were thirty years ago, YET manufacturing output is 2.5 times higher than it was thirty years ago (4). So the point of this really can not be missed: Productive output has exploded, yet with significantly less people in the labor force. That is the point of technology and progress, and we can not fail to appreciate what it means for our economy and our society. There is no point in resisting it - adapting to it is the need of the hour.

In English: The United States remains the top manufacturer in the world, and after those thirty years of employee downsizing and factory closings, we are as competitive as ever, and much more productive than ever.
ABC News is currently featuring a on-going summer segment on neighbors gathering to display items they own that were made in America. The idea is to highlight how jobs can be created by manufacturing things in the US. I commend ABC News for their efforts. I would love to see more manufacturing jobs created here. But there are two questions I have. First, if the point of technology and progress is to make more stuff with fewer employees, what kind of jobs should be created to "fill the void"? Second, do really need to make more and more stuff?

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Summer Reading List

Here are some books on my "must read" list this summer. Progress reports and book reviews will be forthcoming. NB: I actually started reading some of these books quite a while ago (like Augustine's 'City of God' in seminary circa 1996!). Happy reading!
UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand
CRAZY LOVE, by Francis Chan
AWAKENING: THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF ROBERT MURRAY MCCHEYNE, by David Robertson
RADICAL, by David Platt
THE CITY OF GOD, St. Augustine

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Short on Logos, Disingenuous on Ethos, and Long on Pathos

“O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.”
--Proverbs 8:5

It’s election year again. Every time the political debates come round, I am reminded of the section in Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death where he described what political discourse looked like a hundred and fifty years ago.

Postman cites the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates as an example of how much things have changed. In 1858 a day’s debate could last seven hours and was packed with richly developed intellectual argumentation. By contrast, today’s politicians typically offer us a succession of quick, disconnected points which attempt to convey a general impression of competence and trustworthiness while lacking in the rigors of analytical depth and philosophical sophistication.

Elvin T. Lim, political scientist from Wesleyan University, has chronicled the gradual dumbing-down of American political discourse in his 2008 publication The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush. Professor Lim looks specifically at presidential speeches, yet his observations have relevance across the spectrum of our nation’s political discussions.

Lim points out that the speeches given by presidents are increasingly filled with vacuous statements that do not invite rational disputation. Speeches are designed to maximize applause lines, stroke the emotions and appeal to our intuitions, while being lean on substantive content. As such, presidential rhetoric completely bypasses the type of higher order thought necessary for proper analysis.

Lim has amassed an impressive array of evidence to chronicle the steady dumbing-down of Presidential rhetoric. He calls this dumbing-down process “anti-intellectualism”, and with good reason. He contrasts it with the classical understanding of rhetoric. For the ancients, good rhetoric included logos (the weighing and judging of reasons for a particular course of action), ethos (the credibility of the speaker) and pathos (emotional appeal). “Presidential rhetoric today” Lim writes, “is short on logos, disingenuous on ethos, and long on pathos.”

HT: Robin Phillips

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Chance to Die

Things were supposed to slow down after Easter.
I promised my wife that I would be more available after the flurry of activity surrounding Passion Week. But alas my predictions were way off. Because of a "late" Easter, the end of the school year activities came quickly on the heels of the holiday. My administrative assistant had her baby two weeks before we expected. This meant that our new pastoral intern was thrown into his role as church administrator with no training. On top of this we are launching a day camp this summer--a new ministry for us. My reaction to this type of perfect storm, of course, is to go into "Superman mode" and think I can single-handedly get everything off the ground at once. Things never go as planned. You would think at 43 I would know this by now. Not so.

When things speed up, the chance of things going wrong increases. And that's what has happened since Easter. From my perspective, a boat load of things have gone wrong. The elusive "have it your way" promise that I think is made to me everyday has vaporized. What I need to realize is that in order for a promise to be kept, it needs to be made. And God hasn't dealt me the "have it your way" hand. It's just not in the cards. What he has promised is that "his way" is always better than "my way." What I really want is for "his way" to trump mine. But in order for that to happen there has to be a surrender of my will to his. This always feels like death--small or large--a death nonetheless. Today's devotional from Elisabeth Elliot says it well:
To be transformed into the image of Christ I must learn his character, love his obedience to the will of the Father, and begin, step by step, to walk the same pathway. For Christ the pathway of obedience began with emptying Himself. I must begin at the same place.

He "made Himself nothing." (Phil 2:7 NEB)

"You must arm yourselves with a temper of mind like His." (l Pt 4:1 NEB)

"If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind." (Mt 16:24 NEB)

What does this mean? Is it mere words? How can one leave self behind, make himself nothing? The answer will not come in a vacuum. If a man or woman honestly wishes to be a follower, the opportunity will present itself. Christ will say, "Here is your chance. Now, in this situation, you must make your choice. Will it be self? Or will you choose Me?"

An older missionary said something to Amy Carmichael when she was a young missionary that stayed with her for life. She had spoken of something which was not to her liking. His reply was, "See in it a chance to die." (from A Lamp for My Feet)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Make Up Your Mind!

Two recent news events caught my attention. The puffy fizz surrounding the release of Rob Bell's Love Wins seemed to fizzle at the execution of Osama Bin Laden. I couldn't help but notice the irony between the covers of Time magazine featuring Bell's book and that of the NY Daily News heralding the news of Bin Laden's death. I could almost hear the call go out, "So which is it? Do you want there to be a hell (for Bin Laden types) or don't you? Make up your mind!"

Friday, May 13, 2011

Not That Complicated after All?

Kevin DeYoung, like the rest of us with kids in the house, is a struggling parents. He writes, "I remember years ago hearing a line from Alistair Begg, quoting another man, that went like this: 'When I was young I had six theories and no kids. Now I have six kids and no theories.' I must be smart. It only took me four kids to run out of theories." I am at three kids (and holding) and I'm fresh out of theories.

After explaining his "no theory theory" of parenting, Kevin concludes:
The longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, "I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me and I knew they loved Jesus." Maybe it’s not that complicated after all.
Read the entire article here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Have It Your Way

Do you remember the Burger King commercials and slogan "Have It Your Way"? The idea was that you could order your hamburger the way you wanted with the toppings you wanted--right when you wanted it! That kind of "make it the way I want it (right now!)" mentality has crept into the way we live, the way we relate to one another, and even the way we pray.

On this National Day of Prayer, I had a note from Elisabeth Elliot in my email box. She asks, "Does prayer work?" Here is her answer.
The answer to that depends on one's definition of work. It is necessary to know what a thing is for in order to judge whether it works. It would be senseless, for example, to say that if a screwdriver fails to drive nails into a board it doesn't "work." A screwdriver works very well for driving screws. Often we expect to arrange things according to our whims by praying about them, and when the arrangement fails to materialize we conclude that prayer doesn't work. God wants our willing cooperation in the bringing in of his kingdom. If "Thy kingdom come" is an honest prayer, we will seek to ask for whatever contributes to that end. What, after all is said and done, do you want above all? Is it "Thy will be done"? If so, leave it to Him.

Is it "My will be done"? Don't waste your time and God's by praying. Have it your way.

--from A Lamp for My Feet

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I Can't Get Past the Smell of Condemnation

Last Sunday I was mad. I was not in a good frame of mind to be entering the pulpit. Over the course of the last three or four weeks, several people had let me down--not showing up to teach youth SS, not attending the New Member class I was offering, not showing up at small group, missing church when they said they would be there. I was letting it get to me and it showed. My preaching crossed the line from passionate to irate. And people sensed it, of course. Comments and questions like "Are you mad at us?" were made. I had to apologize and ask forgiveness.

When I read this passage from Randy Newman’s book, Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well, I knew I had missed the mark of displaying God's love as I preached about it:

A few years ago, The Washington Post conducted a social experiment in what they called “context, perception, and priorities.” They arranged for Joshua Bell, one of the finest violinists of all time, to play classical masterpieces at a Washington subway stop during rush hour. They wanted to see if anyone would recognize the world-famous virtuoso and stop and listen. They caught the entire episode on video.

For close to an hour, Bell performed great works of the violin repertoire—Bach’s “Chaconne” from Partita No. 2, Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” Ponce’s “Estrellita,” and more—on a violin handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari, valued at over 3.5 million dollars. More than a thousand people walked by without even glancing in his direction. A few paused for a moment, and several people tossed loose change into his open violin case. (He collected a total of $32.17. Yes, some people gave him pennies!) Only one person recognized the star who, just a few nights later, would accept the Avery Fisher Prize for being the best classical musician in America.

The Post writer and his colleagues had to admit their hypothesis was wrong. They had anticipated that, despite the stress of rush hour and the noise of the trains, beauty would transcend.

You can imagine how people interpreted this experiment. “We’re too busy today.” “We don’t take time for beauty.” “We have become musically illiterate.” “We need more funding for the arts.”

But Gene Weingarten, the Post writer covering the story, had a different take. He saw the problem as one of context. People expect a virtuoso when they pay large amounts of money to sit in beautiful concert halls where the lights are dimmed and the background noises are deliberately eliminated.

But in a subway, at rush hour, with irreducible noise, you don’t expect Joshua Bell. You might not even want him! Weingarten concluded, “He was, in short, art without a frame.” It was the context that shaped “what happened—or, more precisely, what didn’t happen …”

In a similar way, we sometimes present our gospel-masterpiece in a context that belies our message. We speak of measureless love, unmerited grace, and infinite goodness but our tone of voice, demeanour, and lifestyles convey the exact opposite. We want people to quiet their hearts so they can hear the music of the gospel, but we’re performing in a context of judgmentalism. We want them to feel loved by God, but they feel unloved by us. We want them to be amazed by grace, but they can’t get past the smell of condemnation.

Perhaps we need to work on the context as well as the content of our evangelism. (128-129)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dance, Drink, Smoke and Chew

I was raised in what most people would consider a very strict family. I was banned from many "worldly" activities that my friends enjoyed. My motto became, "I don't dance, drink, smoke or chew or ever go out with girls that do." Whenever I pressed my parents about going to school dances, I was reminded what Mamie (my grandmother) would often say when asked to dance, "When I dance so, I sweat so, and when I sweat so, I stink so--so no thank you, I don't think so!"

A lot of my friends growing up, however, (and many of my friends now) fit very comfortably in the dance, drink, smoke and chew category, including my wife (JK--I just angered Heather, my wife, and gave my mom a heart attack!). Often people ask me about these "worldly" activities--if I think they are sinful or if people who do them are going to hell.

Randy Newman, in Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well, gives a great answer to someone raising these questions:
“Well, I think we all like rules because they make it easy to know who’s in and who’s out. We like rules because they can make us feel superior to those people who don’t keep them. In fact, I think I make all sorts of rules that I generally keep because they make me feel good about me and bad about others.” I could see I had grabbed his attention.

“But the stuff I need forgiveness for is a whole lot worse than just smoking or dancing or drinking. I need to be forgiven for anger, bitterness, hatred, self-righteousness …” I stopped. His face looked shocked.

“No. Really.” I continued. “If I’m going to have any kind of connection with God, I need forgiveness for some really ugly attitudes and actions. That’s why I really like Christianity. It offers that kind of forgiveness.” (74)
As for these "worldly" activities. Heather and I don't drink (often). Heather won't let me smoke or chew (or go out with girls who do!). But we both love to dance and when we do we sweat. I stink (in more ways than one). Heather does not.

I don't despise my heritage. I treasure it. I value the character and integrity that was instilled in me by my parents and grandparents. Their love for Christ was the motivating factor in their lives. What they did for Him was more important (in the end) than what they didn't do. And I know now that Mamie did love to dance. Now, in heaven, she does so without sweating.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Just Wait! You'll See!

Last night as usual, our family sat around the dinner table and talked about the events of the day. Then we talked about gifts and how we should use them. Taking turns, we told the person on our left a talent God had given him/her and how they could best use it to bring glory to God and good to people. Elijah's talent? A bright and creative mind he can use to help people think and enjoy learning. Emily has a way of great influence with people. Ellie is a ray of sunshine and helps all the other kids feel included. Heather has the gift of hospitality and is always reaching out to people. Eli said that he sees me as a general leading people strategically in battle against evil. Heather said I have great faith and can see things before they have come into existence. That sounds very grand, but I'm not sure I always see it. The soldiers in God's army don't seem to know there is a war going on at all, much less that I have the responsibility to help lead the 'soldiers of the cross' move forward against the evil without and within with 'deeds of love and mercy'. We seem to be too busy arguing about what the kingdom of God is to actually see it be advanced in our lives and in our community.

Then I read this morning's devotional from Elisabeth Elliot's A Lamp For My Feet. She quotes 1 Corinthians 15:49, "As we have worn the likeness of the man made of dust, so we shall wear the likeness of the heavenly man," and then writes:

What a word of hope for us when we are discouraged with our own sinfulness! The old Adam is always there, rising in rebellion against the new life which Christ has given us. There is constant struggle, daily reminders that we are yet very unholy, very un-Christlike, very dusty. But a day will come when even I, with all my glaring faults, will wear the likeness of the heavenly Man. This gives me ammunition to fire at the Accuser. I shall be like Christ--just wait! You'll see!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Gospel of the Kingdom

For over 25 years I've been studying, talking and writing about the gospel of the kingdom. It all began when I picked up a little book call The Gospel of the Kingdom by George Eldon Ladd. As I read it, I had an inkling that it was a game changer. Now looking back I can see that it was a fork in the road (one of many!). It changed the course of my life.

A quarter of a century later, I am still sorting out the gospel of the kingdom in my head, heart and life. Without any hesitation or fear of overstatement, I can say the gospel of the kingdom is not only my only hope, but the only hope for the human race, the planet and the cosmos. It is that monumental, huge, epic (or whatever the current slang for massive is).

To get a picture of what I'm talking about, consider this very compelling (and concise) article by Matt Guerino. He asks, "What is the gospel?"
It’s a deceptively simple question, yet one that merits more thoughtful reflection than might seem necessary at first. The word “gospel” simply means “good news.” So the gospel, meaning the Gospel of Jesus, is good news about Jesus. For years I was taught, as many are, that this means Jesus died on the cross for my sins so that I can be forgiven. I understood “the gospel of Jesus” to mean the good news that because He died I can avoid hell and be in heaven. It’s a Gospel of Final Destination. And this is true, as far as it goes.

But it doesn’t go far enough.
Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Comedy or Tragedy?


When people ask me if I'm optimistic or pessimistic about the future, I say, "Both, of course!"

I'm very optimistic about the grace of God triumphing over evil. In the end, God wins. Evil will be banished and righteousness will prevail. Leland Ryken describes the scene of the new heaven and new earth portrayed by the apostle John:
The climactic vision of Revelation is this vision of heaven. It is pictured in symbolic terms--as a transformed or new place and as a city that combines features that no earthly city can possess. The emphasis is on motifs of permanence and transcendence; splendor; the bliss and perfection of the citizens of the city; the beauty of the place, freedom from intrusions of sin; absence of fallen experience; the banishment of all evil; the satisfaction of all human needs and longings; the life-giving, light-shining presence of the Lamb... The garden of perfection at the beginning of the Bible is here completed in a city of perfection.

I'm very pessimistic, however, about the progress of mankind. Despite centuries of medical, scientific and technological advances, we are still plagued with the vices of pride, greed, lust, malice, envy, as well as the challenges of poverty, disease, famine and natural disaster that only add to the misery of our mismanagement. If the future of the planet rests in the hands of men and women, then what is to come is bleak indeed. Those who stand opposed to God in the end will be "thrown into the lake of fire...and be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10).

Of course, there is hope. Augustine, in his monumental work The City of God, meticulously traces Biblical history and describes the peace and happiness belonging to the heavenly city, or the people of Christ, both now and hereafter. Those in the kingdom of God have a very bright future. Those, however, who reject God and the salvation he offers through Christ face heartache without hope in this life and certain judgment in the life to come.

The love that wins is the love that lost. Jesus was cut off by God the Father on the cross so that those who trust in him will be given new life. Those who reject Christ will themselves be cut off, and that without remedy.

Another way to state this is to ask the question: Is the story of the world a comedy or a tragedy? The answer according to Scripture and Augustine (and the historic creeds of the church) is, of course, both. For those in the city of God "all will be well" despite the hardships endured in this life. It is the comedy from which all others find there true source. For those in the city of man, the tragedy finds its fitting end.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Family Movie Night


Last night was 'Family Movie Night' at Redlands. We had our dinner as usually at 6 pm, followed by a special Spring Break edition of our normal mid-week gathering. It was "a break form Spring Break," complete with popcorn, candy, and Lord of the Beans on the "big screen." We learned the importance of using your gifts for the glory of God and the good of others.

Just in case you don't have plans for your Spring Break weekend, I thought I would recommend some movies that you can actually watch with the kids (or your parents) and may have missed (or need to watch again):

1. Chariots of Fire This is still my favorite movie. Recently, the kids, Heather and I watch it for the first time together. The race scenes still get my heart pumping. What struck me this time was the scene when Eric Liddell reads verses from Isaiah 40 while athletes’ greatest efforts come to nothing. In light of the recent fall of dictators and the threat to empires, the scene became for me even more powerful.
Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance…
He bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.
Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?
He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

2. Treasures of the Snow I love watching this one with the kids in the winter when it is freezing up north and balmy down here is South Florida. Again, my heart races when Lucien sets off to find help for little crippled Danny and the hope of forgiveness found through Christ is vividly portrayed. Call me a sucker for sentiment. This is a great conversation starter!

3. Secretariat This one suffers from some melodrama, but the story is so remarkable that it doesn't really matter.

4. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga Hoole This movie will remain a family favorite for years to come. It is a reminder that being heroic is not glamorous and battling evil is never easy.

5. Waiting for "Superman" is "premiering" this weekend at the Manuel Movie Theater. This "silly sentimental propagandist docudrama" according to one reviewer, was snubbed by the Academy for an Oscar--deservedly so, according to the Washington Post. Sounds like just the kind of movie I want to see and talk about.