Movie Review: Pawn Sacrifice


A movie about playing chess sounds really boring. But a movie about a crazy man playing chess – now that’s Oscar material! But why? What’s so special about this movie? Why do many people find themselves connecting with it? Because deep down, everyone knows that, like Bobby Fischer, we are all a bit crazy too.

Tobey Maguire’s accessible portrayal of Bobby Fischer helps us see our human condition more clearly: each one of us is both uniquely gifted and profoundly broken. Watching his facial expressions go from lucid to lunatic and back again is worth the price of a theater ticket. Hearing his voice go from reserved confidence to maniacally unrestrained is enough to keep you up at night. And remembering that this cinematic portrayal is based upon the real life experiences of a man whose mental illness ultimately destroyed him…that could make you weep, if you will let it. In our hearts we know that we’ve all got things like that inside of us too.

Christians with biblical and theological categories for the imago dei and total depravity should find this movie a gold-mine for starting gospel-centered conversations. One example: The scene where Fischer’s second (the priest) knowingly states that Fischer is afraid of what happens if he wins.

It’s good to celebrate the successes of Bobby Fischer. And it’s wise to learn from his failures too. Bobby Fischer’s time has come and gone. And ours is passing just as quickly. Is there any hope for proud, crazy, brilliant, fragile and lonely people like Bobby Fischer? Yes, the Bible gives us real reasons to hope. But the theme of redemption was missing in Pawn Sacrifice. May that not be said of our lives.


Why We Should #DefundPlannedParenthood


Since July 14, 2015, The Center for Medical Progress has posted the following undercover videos of Planned Parenthood’s handing of the body parts of its victims:

  1. Planned Parenthood Uses Partial-Birth Abortions to Sell Baby Parts (July 14, 2015) [full footage | complete transcript]
  2. Second Planned Parenthood Senior Executive Haggles Over Baby Parts Prices, Changes Abortion Methods (July 21, 2015) [full footage | complete transcript]
  3. Human Capital, Episode 1: Planned Parenthood’s Black Market in Baby Parts (July 28, 2015) [full footage | complete transcript]
  4. Planned Parenthood VP Says Fetuses May Come Out Intact, Agrees Payments Specific to the Specimen (July 30, 2015) [full footage | complete transcript]
  5. Intact Fetuses “Just a Matter of Line Items” for Planned Parenthood TX Mega-Center (August 4, 2015) [full footage | complete transcript]
  6. Human Capital, Episode 2: Inside the Planned Parenthood Supply Site (August 12, 2015)
  7. Human Capital—Episode 3: Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Superior Product (August 19, 2015)
  8. Human Capital – Project Trailer (August 21, 2015)
  9. Planned Parenthood Baby Parts Buyer StemExpress Wants “Another 50 Livers/Week” (August 25, 2015)
  10. Planned Parenthood Baby Parts Vendor ABR Pays Off Clinics, Intact Fetuses “Just Fell Out” (September 1, 2015)
  11. Top Planned Parenthood Exec: Baby Parts Sales “A Valid Exchange,” Can Make “A Fair Amount of Income” (September 15, 2015)

Every day, women wake up with unplanned pregnancies. Most are vulnerable women— often confused, ashamed and scared—who are faced with a difficult choice. We must love and help them, even as we repent and lament and comment about the moral confusion of our culture.

About 37 states, including Illinois, have Fetal Homicide Laws.  These laws make a person guilty of manslaughter, or worse, if he kills the baby in a mothers womb.  But there is an exception clause for abortion.  If the mother chooses to have the baby killed it is legal.  If she doesn’t, it is illegal.  Nothing in the essence of the unborn person determines the right to life.  Only the will of the mother matters.  This is the essence of totalitarian rule:  the will of the strong determines the rights of the weak.

Jesus undermined this world’s system of power politics by becoming a fetus himself, and experiencing each stage of human development in the same ways you and I have. Jesus developed from zygote to fetus to baby to boy to man, always living in obedience to his heavenly Father. Jesus died on that Roman cross as a substitute, taking the penalty for sin on behalf of all who would repent and believe upon him. Jesus’ body was then wrapped up and hidden away, just like the little bodies in those videos were, but Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose to life again, conquering sin and death in his resurrection. Jesus is alive. And he will return one day soon to judge the evils of this world and establish his good kingdom forever. This is the gospel.

This gospel is for all people – including women who’ve had abortions, including men who’ve paid for them and pressured for them, including parents who’ve taken their kids to have abortions, and including other people who don’t really care about all this as it’s been going on around them. Jesus saves sinners. Jesus forgives completely all those to repent and believe upon him.

It’s frightening to see how the Planned Parenthood staff in the videos have become so comfortable with abortion and the business of supplying human body parts from persons who had no say in the matter. What’s more frightening is that most abortionists don’t deny that they are taking the life of human beings. Other sources show this to be the case. Many rationalize that abortion is the lesser of two evils. Whenever any person judges difficult, even tragic, human life as a worse evil than willfully taking a life, they ignore the biblical teaching that God loves to show His gracious power through suffering. We should never seek out suffering for ourselves or others, but when people argue that taking life is less evil than the difficulties that accompany life, they are making themselves wiser than the one true and living God who teaches us that His grace is greater than our sufferings.

The Gospel is for all people, including repentant abortionists. Jesus saves sinners. Jesus forgives completely every person who will repent and believe upon him.

So we must keep proclaiming the gospel that Jesus is alive and at the same time we must engage with this culture of death, but how?

Repent. We need to repent of our complacency, moral confusion and cowardice.
We must educate ourselves in Christian Ethics related to life issues like abortion, euthanasia, the abortion-inducing-effects of many contraceptives that are marketed today, stem-cell research, human cloning, and a host of other issues. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention is leading the way for our thinking about these issues. “What I hope happens out of [these videos],” says ERLC president Russell Moore in a recent video interview, “is not just that we act in public justice and defund Planned Parenthood but also that we start to shape and form consciences to do away with the violence of abortion.” Amen.
We must truly care for women who have had abortions, accept them into our church fellowship, and minister the gospel of God’s grace to them.
We must truly care for women who are pregnant and encourage them carry their babies to term and deliver them, then help them provide for those babies. And then we must teach the Sunday School classes for those babies and be the family of God for them. If a woman wants to, we must help her find adoptive parents. And whether these brave women choose to raise their babies themselves or allow their babies to be adopted by others, we must accept them into the fellowship of our churches.
We must vote for pro-life candidates in upcoming elections. Romans 13 implies that when we vote we are putting the power of the sword into the hands of our government leaders. If we vote for government leaders who use that power of the sword to kill children, we are wrong.
I’ve heard many say that “I’m pro-life, but I don’t think its right to impose my morals upon others.”  One argument against supporting legal changes to protect the unborn is the claim that legal constraints without widespread social consensus is tyranny. I urge you to remember the Dred Scott case.  In the courthouse that you can see between the legs of the Arch in St. Louis, on March 6, 1857, the United States Supreme Court, in Dred Scott v. Stanford, ruled that no act of Congress or territorial legislature could make laws banning slavery.  The fundamental argument was that slaves are not free and equal persons but the property of their masters. The Supreme Court of this country is often wrong and it’s rulings can be changed. The Dred Scott ruling is analogous to Roe v. Wade because today no state may make a law banning abortion to protect the unborn.  The argument is similar – basically because the unborn are at the sovereign disposal of their mothers and do not have legal standing as persons in their own right.  There was no consensus in this country on the personhood and rights of slaves in 1857. Only after the Civil War did the Lincoln administration overturn the Dred Scott decision.  And now over 150 years later, we look back with amazing consensus and marvel at the blindness and moral deficiencies of our forefathers.
But the most important thing we must do is hold on to a vision of a day when by the grace of God and the perseverance of his people in prayer and piety and political action there emerges a new consensus in this country for life. I have a dream that the culture of death is itself dead. I have a dream of a coming day when our children look back on our generation with the same dismay that we look back on the slave laws of this land and on the concentration camps of World War II.  Nationwide reformation has happened before – St. Patrick saw it in Ireland, Wilberforce saw it in England, Lincoln saw it in America.  It can happen again! Yes, I have a dream today. It’s a the dream of a nation that rejects this culture of death, that is morally awakened by the cultural moment that these videos are creating, and that acts to defund planned parenthood and end the violence of abortion, for the sake of our own consciences, for the sake of the unborn and for the glory of God.

Find Your Place in God’s Plan for the World

51PlOB+t5aL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_God has a plan for the world. It’s a very good plan to redeem us and the creation from the deadly effects of sin. The storyline of the Bible moves from God’s creation to Adam’s fall to  Christ’s redemption and ultimately the new heavens and new earth. This is very good news.

God also has a plan for your life. It’s a very good plan of redemption from the deadly effects of sin for everyone who repents and trusts in Jesus. This is very good news too!

Those of us who have experienced God’s redeeming grace and who have been rescued from the deadly effects of sin now naturally want others to experience the same thing. God has always been concerned about all the peoples of this world (see Genesis 12:1-3 for evidence) and His church is essentially a missionary people. Jesus’ great commission to make disciples of all nations (see Matthew 28:18-20) is the mission of His church.

But how do Christians find their place in God’s plan for the world? This is the question of the missionary call, and Dr. David Sills has served Christians well in writing The Missionary Call: Finding Your Place in God’s Plan for the World.

What is the missionary call? Sills graciously teaches that no two calls are exactly alike, and at the same time also clearly teaches that “The missionary call includes an awareness of the needs of a lost world, the commands of Christ, a concern for the lost, a radical commitment to God, your church’s affirmation, blessing and commissioning, a passionate desire, the Spirit’s gifting, and an indescribable yearning that motivates beyond all understanding.” (p.30)

Sills believes that “God has called every Christian to the task of international missions.” So do I. “Some of us are senders and some are goers. Neither is more important than the other. Neither is possible without the other. The lost cannot be born again without the gospel, and missionaries cannot go preach unless we send them. We all have a role to play in international missions. That means we all have a missionary call of some sort. What’s yours?” (p.30) Can you answer that question? I think I can, but I could use help from others to double-check and refine my answer. I hope that you and I might discuss these things together and I think Sills book can be a real help to make our discussions much more encouraging and fruitful.

I enjoyed chapter 4 on Historical Understandings of the Missionary Call the most. And as a pastor of a church that keeps itself small by sending significant numbers of our members away for missions and ministry, I anticipate using this book often to help others think through the many practical questions of a missionary call (“How can I know God’s Will?, Is there a Biblical Basis for a Missionary Call?, How Specific Does the Call Have to Be?, What about timing?, What Should I Do If My Spouse Does Not Feel Called?, Getting to the Field, etc.”)

Evanston Baptist Church has been a missionary-sending church since we first started gathering for worship in the fall of 2000. I pray that continues and increases. I believe that my wife and I have been called to participate in international missions by staying here, building up this church, and leading God’s people here to minister the gospel to everyone here, including the thousands of internationals who have moved to our city and learned our language. In 2015, we have sent more than 20% of our covenant membership to serve other churches, to prepare at seminary, and to go on mission internationally. As Dr. Sills rightly says, “When friends, children, parents, or church staff members announce that God has stirred their hearts for the nations and called them to some mission field, the God-honoring response is not rending of garments, but celebration. Just as we praise him when He miraculously answers prayers to heal, save or deliver, we should praise Him when He answers our prayers to send out workers – even when He calls them from our own homes.” (p.201) Amen. Lord of the Harvest, we believe you when you say that the fields are white for harvest and we pray again that you would send our workers into your harvest. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Missionary Call: Finding Your Place in God’s Plan for the World, by M. David Sills, Moody Publishers (Chicago, IL), 2008, 246 pages.

Our Best Days are Ahead of Us

FullSizeRender1It’s tempting to lose heart, if we don’t understand how the kingdom of God has come. It’s easy to look back fondly to times when joining a church boosted our reputation in society, if we confuse our position in society with our place in Jesus’ kingdom. And it’s hard to believe that our best days are still ahead of us, if we forget our king Jesus is coming back.

But our best days are still ahead of us. They started getting better that day when Jesus said “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15 ESV) And they got better when he walked out of that tomb, the victorious One who beat sin, death and the devil. And they kept getting better that day on the mountain when Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,…” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Here in Evanston we are often tempted to lose heart because of what we observe in the culture.  You’re tempted where you live too. But Jesus’ kingdom has come. By reading Russell Moore’s book Onward I’m now more hopeful about that reality. I agree with Dr. Moore when he writes, “The shaking of American culture is no sign that God has given up on American Christianity. In fact, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself.” (p.8)

If that’s true, what should we do? “Our call is to an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, and friends, and citizens.” (p.9) Read Onward and keep your hope in Christ and His kingdom.

Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, by Russell Moore, Broadman & Holman Publishing Group (Nashville, TN), 2015, 265 pages.

SAE and the Lynching Tree, by Jarvis Williams

SAE crest

I can’t deny the fact that I am an SAE. I am a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity’s Missouri Beta Chapter, Washington University in St. Louis, Class of 1993.

So today I’d like to make these three points:

  1. Jarvis Williams’ article “SAE and the Lynching Tree” ends with the most important words that can be written about those young men in Oklahoma shouting those wicked racist chants. Please read Prof. Williams’ article. Like every one of us, those young men at OU need to turn away from their sin and trust in Jesus, who is willing to save all people who will come to him in repentance and faith.
  2. SAE’s creed, “The True Gentleman”, by John Walter Wayland, has never been, and will never be, perfectly upheld by myself or any other member of this fraternity. There is only one man who can rightly be called a perfectly true gentleman, and he was never a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. That man’s name is Jesus.
  3. While it is true that Jesus’ words inspired some (certainly not all) of SAE’s rituals and teachings, the best thing that I (and every other member of this fraternity) can do now is say, “I am not the true gentleman that I should be. And today I need Jesus to be more than just an example of a true gentleman, I need him to be my substitute. He lived the life I should have lived. And he died the death I should have died. And he is risen over sin and death today as ruler of the world. Jesus, be my savior and my lord again today.”

Lord, have mercy on all of us SAE’s. And thank you for giving us your Son, who is a true gentleman and so much more!