Thursday, July 28, 2005

ongoing thoughts on fear

Romans 3:18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes." This verse hits at the core of one of the most difficult traits of of the most threatening, one of the most humbling, yet one of the most satisfying if overcome. Paul has just given a laundry list of the sins displayed in conduct, conversation, and character. Unfortunately we are often too quick to rationalize our sin and never dig deeper into the heart issues and a true fear of the Lord.

Augustine had a lot to say about love and fear during his lifetime...quite removed from our culture (around the late-4th century) but still profound and helpful. One of our most natural basis of fears is that of loss (of a possession, person, or emotions). As he wrote, "It is beyond doubt that the one cause of fear is either that we will lose what we love after attaining it or that, despite all our hopes, we will never attain it at all." We often limit our picture of fear to this context when hearing/reading the words "fear of the Lord" and wrestling with faith.

Our love for God, as He first loved us, is united with the idea of fearing the Lord. Augustine's thoughts continue: "It is love loving the right is love no longer scarred by fear or loss but secure in its attainment to God, who does afford happiness and cannot--it may be confident--be taken from it." (Babcock in Augustine Today). The fear of the Lord in our eyes is simultaneously a humbling of ourselves before the Almighty God and a declaration of God's complete love and faithfulness. It is centered on the kingdom to come, not the kingdom on earth. And its hope is in the Gospel and its power.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

standing with God

Last night we hosted our weekly neighborhood group, about 15 people from our church in a smaller group setting. The topic continues to be the book of Romans, specifically the second part of chapter 2. As someone who grew up in the church and has not known life apart from church community, the words hit very close to home. Paul is rebuking the Jews for utilizing their circumcision--outward acts and obedience to the law--as a trump card of faith. The rules have been passed down from generation, and the check-lists were in abundance to say, "well, I didn't murder anyone today and I didn't work on the Sabbath." If sin were that simple to fence in, life would look different here on earth; But the reality is that sin is revealed in the heart and is so much more prevalent in every human (apart from Jesus) than anyone would like to admit.

Christians let down other Christians as well as non-believers. The longer we follow the myth that actions are the only measure of faith, the further we remove ourselves from acknowledging the depth of Jesus' sacrifice and the need in every human for that salvation. The minute I say, "I stand before God righteous because of Jesus and....(I was a good person today, I helped someone today, etc.)" is the minute I deny the full measure of God's grace and love. And if that is happening within, it is magnified before others. A Christian cannot not be hypocritical. One of the biggest steps of genuine faith based on salvation in Christ alone may be to admit that I am a hypocrite...and there is nothing I can do to earn righteous standing before God, apart from the power of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection transforming me.

We do not lower expectations, expecting failure and misery, though. The Gospel gives us the ability to see the limitations of man mixed with the greatness and sovereignty of God toward the benefit of His kingdom on earth and to come. We look ahead even more expectantly, knowing that we are going somewhere and we are not alone in our journey. We are pilgrims with a destination and a place of departure, given a mode of transportation and a community to join us along the way. To the glory of God and for His delight.

Friday, July 15, 2005


"Thus says the LORD, "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD." Jer. 9:23-24

The wise, mighty, and rich cannot stand on their own merit...neither can the poor, the weak, the uneducated. There is great encouragement in these words for a believer, for it announces the end of living for the "self." Instead, God is the sole focus, and everything is made complete in Him. My greatest work is to find my source and hope in the One True God. In Him all is made right and reconciliation takes place. In Him wounds are healed and love overflows perfectly.

But let us not miss God's emotion in this: delight. It is not just a job, not a hassle for Him; It is His joy, peace and pleasure; His desire for the glory of His kingdom.

Monday, July 11, 2005

nightmares and dreams in the studio

Tuesday morning I finished playing upright on a couple of songs for Christopher Williams' upcoming Christmas record. I'm anxious to hear the finished product and had a great time plucking the upright again. Anyways, I was packing up the bass and realized that my phone was rumbling on the side table...a voicemail in waiting. It was 10am and I checked to see whose call I missed. The screen said "4 MISSED CALLS", and as I looked at the missed call list my body froze in disbelief. All 4 were from Joe Porter, who was playing on a session with me the next day--at least I had written down Wednesday. I immediately knew that I had the wrong day and was a no show at a 10-1 session that I'd been looking forward to for weeks.

I called and explained the situation, hurrying across town to pick up my electric gear and back to the same area of town but a different studio. The producer had called to remind others about the session, but had figured I was responsible and would be there. Oops. I was able to arrive and be playing by 11am, and the session went so smoothly I couldn't believe it. Here was my worst nightmare (ok, one of many) and I was hanging in there and actually doing great in the midst of it. The other musicians were long-time rockers in the nashville music business, from Pat Buchanon on electric to Johnny Neel on keys, Gary Burnett on acoustic and Robbie Turner on pedal steel. I smiled with every note I played, locking in and letting the music flow through fingers. God is good, all the time...and all the time, God is good.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

pride and shame

An ear infection managed to enter Sam's body yesterday, giving us a restful day at home for the 4th but preventing us from partaking in fireworks. We have much to be thankful for in our land of the free, regardless of any arguments or criticisms. We are patriotic in our family, proud of our armed forces willing to sacrifice their lives and especially grateful for those who have actually given their lives over the years.

Since we stayed home for the night, we took advantage of a great opportunity to watch a movie...which happened to be Hotel Rwanda. I cannot easily sum up our emotions and thoughts while watching this story unfold. If you have not seen it, don't keep waiting like we did. There are too many times in this world when the world just doesn't care--and years later we look back in shame. Be proud of your country and thankful for so much, but realize that we have sinned and fall very, very short of the glory of God. And go to a website like this to use your important voice to stop these things in the present and future.

Here is a review and discussion questions by Denis Haack from Critique...a precious resource for anyone taking life seriously:

Tension between Hutus and Tutsis can be traced all the way back to the 14 th century. That was when Tutsis migrated into Hutu territory and achieved political dominance over the more numerous Hutus. For the next six centuries the area known today as Rwanda was ruled by a Tutsi mwami (king). In 1890 European colonial powers entered the picture, with first German, and then Belgium rule. In 1959 violence broke out over the selection of a new mwami, displacing 100,000 Tutsis who fled into neighboring countries. Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962, with Hutus (84% of the populace) and Tutsis (15%) living amid intermittent outbreaks of violence resulting in both the loss of lives, and the displacement of thousands. In 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front, mainly Tutsi warriors, invaded Rwanda from Uganda, prompting Rwanda to institute political changes, but new violence broke out anyway. In 1993 a new agreement was reached and a small United Nations peacekeeping mission was established. Then in 1994 President Habyarimana of Rwanda, a Hutu, died in a suspicious plane crash, at which the violence exploded into genocide, fanned by radio stations calling on Hutus to kill their Tutsi neighbors.

The numbers are so appalling they are difficult to grasp. Over the course of 100 days, between 800,000 and 1 million women, men, and children were slaughtered—mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus brutally hacked to death with machetes. Urgent appeals to the world community went unanswered, and the tiny UN force was impotent; the most powerful nations in the world actively resisted allowing the United Nations to take more aggressive action. Eventually the Rwandan Patriotic Front counterattacked, taking control of Rwanda, as more than 2 million Rwandans, mainly Hutus, fled as refugees. Relief agencies estimate that more than 100,000 have since died through disease in the crowded, desperate camps. Something like 300,000 children are now orphaned.

But there is more. During Belgium colonial rule, Christian missionaries flooded into Rwanda. Today, in this most densely populated of all African nations, 94% of the populace claim to be Christians (57% are Roman Catholic, 26% Protestant, & 11% Adventist). The horrific slaughter of 1994 turns out to be Christian against Christian.

In Kigali, the capitol city of Rwanda, there was a precarious oasis in the midst of the slaughter. More than 1,200 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were given sanctuary in the 4-star Hotel des Mille Collines, which usually catered to European travelers (who were evacuated once the violence began). The hotel manager was Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu whose wife, Tatiana is Tutsi. For three long, horrifying months Paul used his wits to keep them alive, as sounds of the killing echoed outside the hotel wall, and as soldiers came to the hotel demanding access to its helpless inhabitants. Rwanda has long been rife with corruption, and over many years as hotel manager Paul had curried favor with local businessmen and army officers. Now he dug deep into the hotel’s vaults, using bribes and calling in favors to keep the killers at bay. He never intended to be a hero. He simply made a series of choices, moral choices, and in so doing, became a true hero.

Hotel Rwanda tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, with a superb Don Cheadle in the lead role. From the day he read the script Cheadle wanted to be involved. “It was a story that had to be told,” he says. Director Terry George was careful in how he filmed the horrific violence of the Rwandan genocide. Little of it is actually depicted, because he didn’t want anyone to refuse to see the film on that account. Instead of gore, we join the huddled refugees in the hotel, not seeing the killing that swirls around them, which increases the sense of terror. Hotel Rwanda is a finely crafted film, using 15,000 African extras to recreate the crowded streets and back alleys where so many perished. Two scenes stand out in my memory as particularly effective in this regard. In one scene, one of Paul and Tatiana’s sons disappears at night, to be found later huddled speechless in a hedge. They carry him indoors to discover that though unharmed, he is slippery with blood. We didn’t need to see what he saw to share his horror. The other scene occurs when Paul and an assistant have ventured out of the hotel grounds in a van to find food and supplies. In the dark of early dawn, they drive down an eerily deserted mist-covered road. The van lurches violently as they slowly make their way, until it becomes clear the lurching is caused by more than the usual potholes. They have been driving over bodies, and as the mist begins to clear, the road in both directions is littered with them.

Nick Nolte, as the desperate yet largely helpless head of the UN peacekeepers, plays a frustrated man representing those who could help but who refuse to do so. Paul’s wife, Tatiana is played wonderfully by Sophie Okonedo, who helps us feel not just the fear of those days, but the strength required of a woman who urges her husband to do what is right, even at the risk of their family’s lives. “Paul provides the film’s moral center,” one film reviewer said, “but Tatiana is, in many ways, its heart. Through her, we witness both the horror of seeing one’s family ripped apart and the love that can, against the odds, help keep it intact. Okonedo’s face registers every raw emotion, from terror to steely resolve, helping lend the film its harrowing, almost documentary-like-feeling.”

Early in the film, Jack, a Western reporter played by Joaqun Phoenix, sneaks out of the hotel and in the dangerous streets videotapes glimpses of the horrific killing. Paul is overjoyed when he sees the footage, believing that this will finally bring help from the West. “I think if people see this footage they’ll say ‘Oh, my God, that's horrible,’” Jack replies. “And then they’ll go on eating their dinners.”

The story told in Hotel Rwanda is shaped to some extent by Philip Gourevitch’s book on Rwanda, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We will be Killed with Our Families. Christians have a number of reasons to be better informed about the often ignored continent of Africa. The African church is growing there at a rate unknown in Western countries. A large number of the Christian martyrs who died for their faith in the last century were Africans. And we have a responsibility before God to work for justice for Africa, on a whole host of issues, including the AIDS epidemic, Third World debt, famine, and civil violence.

Please see Hotel Rwanda. It’s a fine example of cinematic art, and the story it tells is one we must be sure not to forget. It is both profoundly sad and deeply redemptive, the story of one man who opened his arms when the world turned its back.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection:

  1. How did you respond to Hotel Rwanda? What emotions did you experience as the film progressed? Do you remember where you were when the Rwandan tragedy unfolded? How did you learn of it? What was your response to the news?
  2. In what ways were the techniques of film-making (casting, direction, lighting, script, music, sets, action, cinematography, editing, etc.) used to get the film’s message(s) across, or to make the message plausible or compelling? In what ways were they ineffective or misused?
  3. In many countries like Rwanda, “petty corruption” is so much a part of daily life that workers like hotel managers consider bribes for officials simply one more “business expense.” Can Christians engage in such behavior? Why or why not? Can they use bribes and favors as Paul Rusesabagina did to keep refugees alive in desperate days? Some biblical heroes—Samson, for example—were less than noble in life, though he was used of God (Judges 13:5, 24-25) and noted as a person of faith (Hebrews 11:32). How does this effect the Christian understanding of heroism?
  4. Discuss Paul Rusesabagina’s heroism. How was it manifested? How does it compare to the “Super-heroism” of films like Superman, Batman, or Spiderman? How does it compare to Christian notions of heroism?
  5. One reason that is given for America’s lack of response to the Rwanda genocide is that a year earlier, US forces in Somalia were lured into a trap, a story told in Black Hawk Down. “The Somali debacle of 1992-93 constrained the West’s response to Rwanda’s humanitarian disaster,” Tracy Kuperus of Gordon College writes for the Association for Public Justice, “but there is a another, more telling reason: location, location, location. U.S. foreign policy is directed towards those areas where our security is threatened or our national interests are challenged, and Rwanda is considered non-vital to our national interests.” On what basis should America’s leaders frame U.S. foreign policy priorities?
  6. With whom did you identify in the film? Why? With whom were we meant to identify? Discuss each main character in the film and their significance to the story.
  7. How might you have reacted in Paul Rusesabagina’s position? Though it is impossible to imagine what such horrors are actually like, how might we prepare ourselves to be the sort of person who can make right choices in such terrifying moments?
  8. How does one believe in a good God in a world in which such cruel horrors exist? How would you talk about this to a non-Christian?

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