The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass opens this Friday in theaters everywhere. It’s the first installment of a trilogy written by Philip Pullman called His Dark Materials. What can we expect from this new fantasy series? Its epic story and special effects look a lot like the Lord of the Rings and Narnia series, but the underlying message of The Golden Compass is quite the opposite.

Al Mohler give an excellent analysis of the series. Here are some of his main observations:

*It attacks Christianity. Mohler writes, “Philip Pullman has an agenda — an agenda about as subtle as an army tank. His agenda is nothing less than to expose what he believes is the tyranny of the Christian faith and the Christian church. His hatred of the biblical storyline is clear. He is an atheist whose most important literary project is intended to offer a moral narrative that will reverse the biblical account of the fall and provide a liberating mythology for a new secular age.” This attack against Christianity is toned down somewhat in the first movie, but is still quite prevalent

*It misrepresents the church. I will quickly admit that the church has often shown its blemishes over the past two thousand years. But the church is not a tyrannical Magisterium that is out to destroy human freedom as Pullmen would have us believe. The church is the Bride of Christ, the pillar and support of the truth, and a fellowship of sinners saved by grace.

*It distorts sex. Mohler explains, “Pullman believes that the Christian church is horribly repressive about sex and that this is rooted in the idea of the Fall.” The Bible, on the other hand, paints the portrait of sex as a beautiful thing created by God and perfectly holy within the context of marriage (Hebrews 13:4). Some scenes, particularly in the books, are quite explicit.

*It eliminates Jesus. Mohler says, “The entire premise of the trilogy is that Lyra is the child foretold by prophecy who will reverse the curse of the Fall and free humanity from the lie of original sin. Whereas in Christian theology it is Jesus Christ who reverses the curse through His work of atonement on the Cross, Pullman presents his own theology of sorts in which the Fall is reversed through the defiance of these children.” Sadly, the gospel apart from Jesus is not good news at all.

So, should we watch The Golden Compass? I won’t attempt to answer that question for each individual. I would certainly urge caution, especially with children. But all of us can use this film as a springboard to discuss spiritual matters with friends, contrasting personal opinion with a biblical view of sin, the church, and Jesus Christ. I am confident that truth will prevail over error in this exchange of ideas.

Walking on Thin Ice

IceI recently read a chapter by Michael Lawrence in the book Why I am a Baptist, edited by Tom Nettles and Russell Moore. In it, Lawrence gives an account of how he came to Jesus. He says “I walked down the aisle one Sunday night during the invitation, shook the preacher’s hand, and asked to join the church on profession of faith. A few weeks later I was baptized. And that was that. I had made a decision for Jesus that took are of my eternal future.” But Lawrence says that Christianity was little more than fire insurance to him, and as he gained more independence, he got into the wrong crowd. It was not until college that he met some friends at InterVarsity that really seemed to live out what they believed. This led him to fully dedicate his life to Christ.

A friend of mine who also read the article asked a very interesting question: “At what point was Michael Lawrence saved? Was he saved as a child responding to the invitation to come to Christ for salvation from sin, and the hope of eternal life, or was he saved when he finally understood his need to surrender to the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus Christ, and live for Christ in that context.” This is an important question, because many church members today have made a “profession of faith” but do not seem to live any different than the world.

Some people would probably say that Lawrence was saved as a child. For example, Charles Ryrie in his book A Survey of Bible Doctrine says “Faith is the only condition [to salvation]. Anything added becomes a work attached to the grace of God. Faith is the condition, and it is faith in Him who alone can save. This is the grace of God.” In Ryrie’s opinion, salvation comes with “no strings attached,” and a person can have faith in Jesus as Savior, without surrendering to Christ as Lord until months or years later – if ever. This may sound good at first, until you think about the nature of saving faith. James says that faith without works is “dead” (James 2:14-26). It is empty, artificial, useless, and not really faith at all.

I believe that faith in Jesus and repentance (turning away) from sin are inextricably linked. In other words, saving faith is repenting faith. And only those who submit to Jesus as Lord have truly embraced Him as Savior. You can’t be a disciple of Jesus and live just like the world. Jesus has a high demand for becoming a child of God: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:26-27). This call to “die to self” and live for Christ is not subsequent to faith, but is part of faith itself.

So, what about Michael Lawrence? Was he saved as a child? In his testimony, Michael draws a distinction between himself and his InterVarstity friends “whose Christianity wasn’t simply defined by a decision they had made a as child to walk the aisle and shake the preacher’s hand. Instead, I saw in them a faith that was genuine and incredibly attractive.” If Michael’s Christianity was merely defined by a “decision,” a handshake, and an artificial faith, then he probably was not saved. However, it is possible that Lawrence was saved as a child but simply did not have proper teaching and discipleship in his church. Perhaps he would’ve responded much earlier to the call to obedience and Christ’s Lordship if he had been taught these things as a child, rather than a list of do’s and don’ts. Only God knows for sure when Michael Lawrence was saved.

If I don’t show evidence of faith, then I really have no assurance of salvation. I am walking on thin ice. Responding to an invitation, signing a decision card, or being baptized do not ensure my salvation. It is only by obedience that my faith proves genuine. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (Jn. 15:8). There should be an obvious difference in the way I live from the world. I should be diligent to “test myself to see if I am in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5), and graciously “stimulate others to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).

Photo credit: robotbrainz

Take a hike

Last week, I drove up to Sacramento for a three-day pastors conference and state meeting. On a couple occasions during the trip, I turned off the radio and just enjoyed the silence. I spent some time praying to God and memorizing Scripture. It was a refreshing time of silence and solitude.

Silence is a rare commodity these days. We get up in the morning and flip on the TV to catch the news and sports scores. We listen to the radio on our morning commute. We sit in front of a computer all day. We stay connected with friends by cell phone and I-M. We exercise with our iPods close at hand. We surf the internet or play video games to unwind. And then we crash at the end of the day, without a moment of silence.

Apparently, Jesus knew the importance of silence and solitude. Luke 5:16 says that when His schedule got busy and the crowds pressed in on Him, “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”

I don’t need to become a monk or a hermit to enjoy a little solitude. It could be as simple as taking a hike or riding my bike or sitting on the back patio or driving quietly in the car. But it will never happen if I don’t deliberately carve out some time for it. During this week of Thanksgiving, I’m going to make sure to enjoy a little solitude with my Savior.

Violent times

Last Wednesday night at prayer meeting, we were reading Romans 1:29-30. It speaks of those who suppress the truth and dishonor God, and perfectly describes the week our teenageres have experienced in Yucca Valley. The Apostle Paul says many are “filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents…” Two unfortunate events in the last week illustrate these verses.

Last Sunday night, several teenagers broke into a local residence, causing the home owner to defend himself and his property by shooting and killing one of the teens. Now, the surviving teens are being charged with murder because the death occured while they were trespassing. In a separate incident, on Tuesday at our high school, a teacher spotted a threatening note, which led many faculty, students, and parents into a panic. The writer of the note was arrested in his home later in the week, with evidence that supported some of the threats he made in the note. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

These are violent times. But what is the cause of such violence? And how do we prevent this from happening again? Was it lack of self-esteem, inadequate education, violent music and video games, or poor parenting that caused these teenagers to committ such crimes? Jesus gets to the root of violence in Matthew 15:19-20 when He says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man…” In other words, it’s not what goes into these teens, but what comes out of their hearts that really causes the violence.

Parenting is critical. Education is important. Music and video game guidelines are appropriate. Self-respect has its place. But the greatest need of our teenagers is Jesus Christ. He is the only One capable of transforming us from the inside out. He begins His work by cleansing our hearts, washing away our sins, and giving us new life through His death on the cross. This will lead to good, wholesome, loving, constructive deeds rather than evil, violent, destructive deeds. This is the power of the Gospel, and this is what the teenagers of Yucca Valley so desperately need.

Back at home

We can hardly believe it. Dylan’s open heart surgery was yesterday, and he is already back at home. He seems to be doing very well. He was released from the hospital about 5:00 this evening. Praise the Lord!

This has really been an example of answered prayer. We know of people in countries all over the world who were praying on our behalf – India, England, Chile, Costa Rica, South Korea, to name a few.

This has been a very difficult time for our family, but we thank God for stretching our faith and surrounding us with His immeasurable love. Although there is still potential for injury or infection, we celebrate the goodness of our God, and acknowledge this tremendous answer to prayer. “My soul will make its boast in the Lord; The humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:2-3)

Roller coaster ride

What a week it has been. My two-year old son was scheduled to have open heart surgery last Tuesday at Loma Linda. On Monday, we went down and did all the pre-op paperwork and exams. When we arrived for surgery Tuesday morning, we were told that the doctor was doing an emergency surgery on another heart patient (their aorta burst!). We waited for a couple hours in the surgery staging area, not sure what was going to happen, and were finally told that we would have to reschedule. Dylan’s surgery date was postponed until today.

However, on Wednesday night, Dylan got sick and threw up three different times. It seems he probably picked a virus in one of the waiting rooms earlier this week. So unfortunately, we have to reschedule the open heart surgery again. We just need to monitor Dylan for a while and make sure he is completely healthy and fully hydrated before he goes in for this procedure.

Because the surgery was postponed, I took my mom back to the airport early this morning, and she flew back to Colorado. There are many, many other details for us to work out as well. We are perplexed by all of this, but God has given us a real peace. “But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD, I say, ‘You are My God.’ My times are in Your hand.” (Psalm 31:14-15a). There is no place I would rather have “my times” than in God’s hand. How thankful we are that all of our times and events are safely in His sovereign hands. God truly is the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).

Does God have a MySpace account?

I must confess, I recently opened a MySpace account. I hope it will be another way to build relationships and reach the next generation with the gospel. MySpace is a pop culture phenomenon right now, with over 200 million registered profiles, but God has us beat by over three thousand years. Just think about it. You could say He created His own “MySpace Account” when He gave us the Bible. After all, we see Pictures of Him throughout the written Word, and He is fully explained through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:18). Every page of Scripture reveals His interests (Proverbs 6:16-19), His friends (John 15:14), and His hobbies (Colossians 1:16). I’m thankful for technology like MySpace that keeps me in touch with friends. But I’m even more thankful for the Bible that keeps me in touch with God.

Getting Started

Well, it’s taken me a while, but I finally got around to starting a blog. I hope to post new blogs about once a week to begin with.

The big news in my family’s life right now is that my son is scheduled to have open-heart surgery in a couple weeks. We are praying for God to heal our little guy, and for us to stay faithful to the Lord through this whole trial.

The Blog of Stephen Jones