Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review of Just One Scene

In case you've been living under a rock, and under that rock you dug a deep cave, and at the end of that cave you fashioned a bunker with thick, steel-reinforced concrete walls, cutting off the outside world, and making yourself impervious to any kind of radio, television, or internet frequency -- the latest Star Wars movie is out, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

I've seen it, and it's a Star Wars movie. Don't worry, I'm not about to spoil it. Well, much of it anyway. There's just one tiny little scene I wanted to bring up, and then I'm going to spoil the outcome of that scene at the end of the blog. I'll put up a spoiler alert when I get there. If I remember.

If you saw the The Force Awakens (everyone dogged on that title, but I thought it was fine), then you might remember the rather disappointing conclusion when Rey found Luke Skywalker, handed him his lightsaber, then cut to John Williams music and blue credits. Luke had more dialogue in the previews leading up to that movie than he did in the movie.

Well, fret no more! We pick up at that exact spot in The Last Jedi (I won't spoil how Luke responds to getting his lightsaber back, but it's perfect). Rey wants Luke to teach her the ways of the force so she can become a Jedi knight like her father... er, wait, that was a different Star Wars movie. She wants Luke to teach her to become a Jedi. "I want to find my place in all this," she says.

Where Luke ended up going -- the most hidden part of the galaxy according to him, but apparently not hidden enough -- was an island where the last Jedi temple rests in an old, dead tree. There inside the tree is a single table with a few books -- the ancient Jedi texts.

So fiddle faddle fum, plot-plot and sub-plot, Luke won't leave with Rey, so she leaves on her own to  help the resistance/rebellion without him. Because Luke fears Rey is becoming like Ren/Ben, he decides to burn the whole Jedi thing to the ground. Literally. He lights a flare and walks up to the tree/temple. But before he can torch it, he's visited by a cameo appearance of Oz/Yoda.

Luke hesitates to act on his impulse, so the Green Goblin burns it down for him (in dead-Jedi fashion, of course). Having a change of heart, Luke is absolutely beside himself. You destroyed the last Jedi sacred texts! Yoda replies, "Did you ever read the texts?" And Luke stammers with an answer that was probably about to be, "Well I was going to!" Yoda says, "Page turners, they were not."

The whole Jedi thing has always been an excuse to put magic in a sci-fi landscape. There's nothing mysterious or deep about the Jedi religion; the filmmakers are just making it up as they go. Now the Jedi have ancient texts, and there's apparently only one copy left.

But the texts are not important. Of course they're not. Because being a Jedi is about feeling the force, not reading about it. There's no reason for texts. Remember Obi-Wan's first lesson to the young Luke: "Stretch out with your feelings." In this movie, Luke gives Rey that same advice. So what's the point of having a text if you don't need it? He never even read it! Which is the point Yoda makes with Luke.

Trusting your feelings is the lesson in almost every epic or adventure film I've seen: Follow your heart! Believe in yourself! It's the way of the world, exemplified in virtually all blockbusters. You can say, "Oh, it's just a movie." Sure, I won't argue with that. It's a cash-grab. I pay the money to be entertained just like you do. But all movies have messages, and that under-whelming philosophy is usually that you make your own way and your own truth.

The Bible says the opposite. You cannot make your own truth, and your feelings are not dependable. Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool (Proverbs 28:26), and the heart is so deceptively sick that no one can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9). You're following a dumb, sick guide when you follow yourself.

The Bible is our only objective, unchanging source of truth. On the days that you don't feel like you know your "place in all of this," you need the text to remind you. You were created in God's image for a purpose, and that is to worship God with everything that you are, giving thanks to Him in all that you do. There is a place for you in His eternal, imperishable kingdom.

But wicked men don't want to be with God. This world is fallen and subject to judgment along with everyone who is part of it. They will be destroyed when Jesus returns "with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12). That's not a truth you can feel. You read about it in the Bible.

For those who are in Christ Jesus, God has promised to deliver you and will give you an inheritance in His eternal kingdom. When this world gets to be too much, you will forget that. When the world looks alluring enough, you will give in to temptation. You would fall with this world if it wasn't for the fact that God upholds you by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).

So you go back to God's word to be reminded of the truth. You're reminded of your sinfulness and your need for a Savior. This is what it says will happen to those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Revelation 7:15-17):
Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve Him day and night in His temple;
and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. 
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat. 
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and He will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Knowing the truth of Christ fills us with joy, something far more invincible than happiness or chills. You can feel goosebumps sitting in a movie theater with surround sound and lightsaber battles to John Williams music. But God's word is not verified by how you feel. It is verified by the never-ending, never-failing character of a gracious God, who gave us His word so we would know His love and believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Okay, and now here's a spoiler. Am I supposed to put that in all-caps? Is that the proper online etiquette for a spoiler alert?


At the end of the movie after Rey... well, never mind... Fin goes to a drawer on the Millennium Falcon to get a blanket, and when he opens it up, gasp! It's the Jedi books! Apparently Rey swiped them before Luke/Yoda could destroy them. You see them for just a flash, but my daughter Annie and I agreed they were the Jedi texts.

Whatever's in those books, the script doctors will make it up by the next movie (unless it's a plot twist they decide to drop). But I'm willing to take a guess: the books describe what the Jedi feel when they experience the force.

That's not what the Bible talks about. As Peter said of the testimony of the Scriptures, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:16). We follow the truth.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Rooftopping Daredevil Falls to His Death

Wu Yongning, a 26-year-old Chinese rooftopping daredevil, fell to his death while performing a stunt from atop a the 62-story building. The Xiaoxiang Morning Herald reported on Saturday that Wu was taking part in a rooftopping challenge that promised 100,000 yuan ($20,400) in prize money.

The former movie extra had been attempting to climb the Huayuan Centre, the tallest building in Changsha, capital of China's Hunan province. On social media Wu was referred to as "Chinese Superman" since he scaled such tall buildings without protective gear or safety harnesses, relying upon martial arts training and careful timing to perform these risky feats.

He'd post his videos on Weibo, a Chinese social media site similar to Twitter. Millions of followers watched as he would tiptoe along a skyscraper, stand atop a high tower, or hang by his fingertips over a ledge. His fans noticed that he'd stopped sharing videos online, and that's when his family broke the news.

His step-uncle Feng Shengliang told the Straits Times that Wu planned to propose to his girlfriend the day after completing the stunt.

Wu Yongning performing some of his risky stunts.

Wu is one of many who have died while rooftopping, a craze also called "urban exploration." This fascination involves amateur stuntsmen, or self-confessed skywalkers, scaling tall buildings or high-rise structures in order to snap the perfect photo. Some are so dedicated to this hobby that they travel the world taking such pictures.

There are many tragic stories of people falling to their death performing such stunts. One of the most notable is 17-year-old Andrey Retrovsky, who died while doing a building-hang in Russia, where the rooftopping craze is huge. That same year, 24-year-old Conner Cummings was killed in New York City while trying to climb the Four Seasons Hotel, a 52-story building.

Despite regular fatalities, rooftopping continues to increase in popularity. It's about more than just thrill-seeking. A GoPro video from a selfie-stick that goes viral promises millions of hits and thousands of dollars in revenue. It can also increase star-power. Some models have taken high-rise photos to set themselves apart from other models, attracting more attention.

But they are literally risking their lives for fame and fortune. For Wu Yongning, it cost him everything. Said the China Daily editorial, "With all the likes and comments, he overestimated his own abilities and finally lost his life because of that feeling. Had Wu not been so popular on live-streaming apps, he might not have died."

Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Regarding daredevil rooftopping, that's quite literal.

When a person falls while doing pretty much anything else, they can pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try again, learning from the mistakes they made. But when a rooftopper falls... that's it. One wrong move and life is over. The mark they leave on the world will be the stain they left on 57th street when their body hit the pavement.

Do not think to yourself, "Well, I'm not putting myself up there to fall and die like that so I've got nothing to worry about." They might be taking greater risks than you are, but your life is still just as fragile, and your fall might be today.

"You do not know what tomorrow will bring," it says in James 4:14-16. "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."

Peter said, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time, He may exalt you, casting your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, Resist him, firm in your faith" (1 Peter 5:6-9).

Believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. You have nothing to fear of death, for Christ has raised you up and seated you in the heavenly places with Him. Seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. And when Christ who is your life appears, you will be with Him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

But if you do not humble yourself before the Lord, your fall will be greater than a slip from atop a sky-scraper. God in His righteous judgment will cast you into the hell of fire for all eternity. Life is too short and too fragile to take such a risk. Believe in Jesus today. Call out to Him for forgiveness. And the Bible promises that He will save you, as only Jesus can.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Would Jesus Bake a Gay Wedding Cake?

The Supreme Court of the United States listened to arguments today from a case formally known as Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was approached by two gay men, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, and asked if he would make them a wedding cake. When Mr. Phillips declined, he was sued.

Phillips said that he was glad to sell them any other product from his shop regardless of their sexual orientation. But he would not make them a wedding cake since it would be a romantic endorsement of something that as a Christian he did not believe was morally right. Marriage was created by God to be a life-long covenant between a man and a woman. Phillips is an artist, and he did not want to use his artistic expression to present a message he didn't believe.

When the two men took legal action against Phillips, the state of Colorado agreed that he had violated the state's anti-discrimination ordinance -- this was in 2012, before gay marriage was even legal in Colorado. Nonetheless, the state brought legal action against Phillips which was upheld by the lower courts. In an article published yesterday in USA Today, Phillips said that since being sued, he has received "hate mail, obscene calls, and death threats." So much for love and tolerance.

Praise God the Supreme Court has decided to take the cake... er, case... and already Justice Kennedy, likely the deciding voice, has said that Colorado has been "neither tolerant nor respectful" of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs. This is not just about freedom of religion, but also freedom of speech: Can the United States government force a person to express a message that person does not believe?

I became familiar with Mr. Phillips this past summer when a video was circulating featuring him and his lawyer answering questions on The View, the morning talk-show that has become a bastion of integrity and fairness (I'm being wildly sarcastic). The question Mr. Phillips was asked that made the video so popular was whether Jesus would make a cake for a gay wedding. Comedienne Joy Behar said He would, Mr. Phillips said He wouldn't.

If I were on The View, this is how I would have responded to their line of questioning. This is not a knock on Mr. Phillips' responses. My answers would be a little different than his because a) I'm a pastor, and b) I'm not being sued (which could change tomorrow in our current cultural climate). The following are actual quotes presented by the ladies in that interview. Their comments are in bold and my responses follow.

From left to right: Joy Behar, Sunny Hostin, Paula Faris, Jack Phillips, Kristen Waggoner (Phillips' lawyer), and Sara Haines. Forgive me but I could not identify the woman on the end, so she will be called simply "Host."

Host: I understand the concern people have about government dictating to private businesses what their business should look like. But on this religious freedom argument, I struggle. It violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, for example. Do you then, when straight couples come in, do you ask them if they've had a child out of wedlock, for example, if they participate in premarital sex, if they -- (audience applauds). Because, where do you draw the line then? Because that all could be deemed sinful, or sinful to someone who's religious as well.

That's a common argument when addressing cases of this kind, but it doesn't apply. Who is coming into a cake shop saying, "Hey, I'm having premarital sex. Could you bake me a cake?" In this particular case, two men have specifically asked for a wedding cake to celebrate something that Mr. Phillips doesn't consider moral.

I'm sure that if he was asked to participate in anything else he believed would be an endorsement of that behavior, he would decline. Mr. Phillips has said so: if someone asked him to bake a cake for an adult-themed party or Halloween or a KKK celebration, he would have refused in those scenarios as well. He has been consistent in his convictions.

Joy Behar: What exactly is your belief that prevents you from making that cake? What is it?

As Mr. Phillips expressed, he believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, as God created it to be. The Bible clearly teaches it.

Behar: But there are other things in the Bible I'm sure you don't believe.

No. I believe every word in the Bible, and I teach all of it. As a pastor, I go word for word through the Scriptures to help the hearers understand what God has said through His prophets and apostles.

Sara Haines: Well that actually brings me to my question, because one thing that's always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it.

Thank you, I have.

Haines: I was raised in the church, and it says do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman. But it also says don't judge others. We're not the final judgment. It also says love thy neighbor. There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality which ones to go with, because in my mind, whether you believe in it or not, you should definitely not marry a man (laugh). But if someone else does, it's not my place to judge them because God will ultimately judge them (audience applause).

First of all, the Bible doesn't say not to judge at all. In John 7:24, Jesus said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." You're making judgments now regarding Mr. Phillips. Secondly, God created marriage, and He said it is to be between a man and a woman. Jesus made this point also in Matthew 19:4-6. Whoever is having sex outside of that definition of marriage is guilty of sexual immorality.

We read in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that those who practice homosexuality or sexual immorality of any kind will be excluded from the kingdom of God. Revelation 21:8 says they will be cast into the lake of fire. God has already said what that ultimate judgment will be. So out of love for my neighbor, I do not want to encourage him in sin that will exclude him from the kingdom of God. Jesus died to forgive sin such as this, not so someone would persist in sin such as this. Wouldn't you agree it is actually unloving to encourage someone in behavior that will harm them?

Host: There are artistic endeavors that have no relation to same-sex couples at all that you decide -- I just want to be clear about that, because these other things that you do not (indiscernable). They're not related to gay marriage, or...


Paula Faris: I have a question for you, too, kind of bouncing off of Sara's question. I know that you're a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low; the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself: What would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think maybe Jesus would have said 'I don't accept this, but I'm going to love you anyway'? Do you think that maybe would have had a more powerful testimony?

Jesus would not have encouraged someone in behavior that positioned them under the wrath of God on judgment day. He told the sinners to go and sin no more. Your question accuses Mr. Phillips of being unloving by refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple. On the contrary, he told them they could buy anything from his shop regardless of their sexual orientation. But he could not encourage behavior the Bible says is destructive.

Faris: So you don't believe that -- I just ask, what do you think Jesus would have done in that situation?

He would have told a sinner to repent before something worse happened to them, as He did in John 5:14.

Behar: Oh, come on. Jesus would have made the cake.

Faris: Jesus could turn water into wine. He could do whatever He wants to do.

Behar: You can believe the Bible and everything, but Jesus, that's a deal-breaker. Jesus is gonna make the cake. 

The devil told Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." Jesus replied, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." And what has come from the mouth of God is that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. Mr. Phillips is attempting to live in accordance with what God said.

Behar: Listen, I'm not judging what he did. I'm just speaking for Jesus right now. (Audience laughs and applauds.)

Jesus has spoken, and what He has said is in the Bible, which is the word of Christ.

Sunny Hostin: Let me ask you this, because we talked about this same issue yesterday on the show, and I can see both sides of this argument. When I put one hat on, when I put my legal hat on, I think it's a closer call than I think we're giving credit for. When I put my human hat on, I think, "Just make the cake." But let me ask you this. Lower courts have found [that Jack] broke the law, because there is an anti-discrimination law in Colorado. So lower courts have found that you discriminated against this couple, but you're taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just make the cake?

If your argument is, "Why make a federal case out of this?" you need to ask that of Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins. They're the ones who sued Mr. Phillips. Remember that this happened in a year in which gay marriage wasn't even legal. The state discriminated against Mr. Phillips, and so has everyone else who has threatened him and his family. As far as I can tell, he's been nothing but kind and respectful through this ordeal. Doesn't he deserve to have his case heard before the Supreme Court?

Hostin: Now, he's received death threats. [Has he] lost business because of this?

The court ruled that Mr. Phillips had to make wedding cakes for gay weddings. He had to. So Mr. Phillips stopped making wedding cakes, a significant portion of his business. Who's to say someone wouldn't try to bait him into refusing to bake a cake for another gay couple? He would face more lawsuits while this one is still pending.

Behar: You're losing business! It's a bad business decision!

I agree, it is a bad business decision -- made by the state of Colorado, not Mr. Phillips. This is a form of authoritarian oppression more akin to fascism.

Behar: But there's a large issue here. I mean, some people are saying you could set back the law. You know, the case would set back the law fifty years. Because anyone would say I have religious freedom to deny you my wares.

Denying a person their freedoms of speech and religion, which are expressly protected by the constitution, is usurping the law in this case. The right for two gay men to marry each other and demand a wedding cake be made for them is not a right guaranteed by the constitution. Over the last 60 years, sexual liberty has taken precedence over the basic fundamental rights protected by the constitution.

Hostin: It certainly is a close call, but let me tell you, we reached out to the couple's, the gay couple's attorneys. They declined to comment at this time. But on the day that the Supreme Court announced that it would be taking up this case, they said, "The law is squarely on David and Charlie's side because when businesses are open to the public, they're supposed to be open to everyone. While the right to one's religious beliefs is fundamental, a license to discriminate is not." (Audience applauds.) What's your response?

Well, Mr. Esseks of the ACLU, who issued the statement, is discriminating against Mr. Phillips. He believes his clients are right and Mr. Phillips is wrong to run his business based on his moral convictions. That's discrimination. Everyone discriminates. The NBA and the WNBA, the PGA and the LPGA -- these are discriminatory labels. The question here is whether or not the discrimination was legal.

Does Mr. Phillips have the right to refuse to participate in an activity that goes against his fundamental religious beliefs? The constitution says that he does. I hope the Supreme Court agrees. Again, I must reiterate this because the point seems to be getting lost: Mr. Phillips did not refuse business to anyone. He simply refused to make a specialty cake. They could still buy anything else they wanted from his shop.

Haines: That's evolved in a lot of those religions. Because my brother's gay and in our church, it's fine for him to get married. (Audience applauds.) And I was raised in the church, so there are a lot of God-fearing Christian gays who are accepted and loved and they are choosing to love someone else, and, so I do think that the Bible has not changed because it was written thousands of years ago and translated sixty-some times, so what we're reading even, if you studied the Bible is interesting enough. But faith has changed and it has evolved to accept people.

There is no such thing as a God-fearing Christian gay man. He would be choosing to be gay precisely because he does not fear God. It doesn't matter how religious convictions have evolved on the subject. Jesus said in Mark 13:31, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away."

Hostin: But is he allowed to have his faith? 

Haines: I totally agree with that, but I do feel it should be: I should know that when I go in, because when my brother walks in and can't buy a cake from him, I don't want to put my business there. It's my personal freedom. (Audience applauds her again, apparently able to make more sense of her than I can.)

Hostin: And what do you say to that? Because we discussed this. I know that we're running out of time, but we discussed this again yesterday. Would you be willing to put up a sign that says, you know, this is a Christian bakery, this is a Christian establishment, I will not make cakes for A, B, C, D.

Behar: He won't get any Jews buying cakes either, or Muslims, if you do that. You might be putting off other religions. 

Haines: I don't think a Jewish person would not buy a cake because he's Christian.

Behar: No, but if he said, "This is a Christian store," that could put people off.

Haines: Well he could list adult parties, Halloween, gay marriages, and just let everyone know: these are the things I do. 

John the Baptist was beheaded for having a biblical view of marriage, so I do understand the culture is always going to be against those who follow the teachings of Jesus. But I still hope that justice will prevail in this case on behalf of Mr. Phillips, and that is also for your benefit. May the Holy Spirit convict your hearts of sin and righteousness, and for your sake I hope you come to an understanding of who Jesus really is before the day of judgment comes.