Posts Tagged ‘Tom Hanks’

Reductio ad Hitlerum, Part 26: What if Hitler had a deathbed conversion?

November 10, 2018

I’m a fan of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale, an apologetics podcast from Ravi Zacharias’s ministry. In each episode Vince and Jo (along with host Michael Davis) answer often difficult questions about Christianity that are submitted by listeners.

In the most recent episode, a listener asked the following: “If Hitler repented to God on his deathbed, would he have been forgiven?”

Please note that no one is asserting that Hitler did repent and believe in Jesus. Indeed, since he committed suicide, it seems unlikely that he even had a deathbed. So the question is hypothetical. But I like Jo’s response:

This is what it comes down to at the bottom of it, right? This may be the hardest thing to accept in Christianity. People say that if there’s a loving God, why would he judge people? But I think the much harder thing is, if there’s a loving God, why would he forgive people—even this person, even Hitler? But actually, the reality of the Christian faith is, either it’s for everybody or it’s for nobody. There’s no middle ground here. And I think what this question reveals is that on some level we’re still thinking of forgiveness as about what we deserve: that there are certain people who deserve forgiveness and there are others who don’t. But the bottom line here—the message of the Bible—is that none of us do. Grace is completely unmerited.

The theologian Christopher Wright says that every victim of sin is also a sinner. There is none who is not also sinned against. That’s the state we’re in. It doesn’t mean that all sin is the same. I do think there are certain things that are horrifying and grotesque and sick and evil, and Hitler is the example we go to for that, and the life he lived is absolutely appalling. We’re not leveling out and saying that there aren’t differences in the way that we sin. But nevertheless we are saying that we’re all in the same boat in the sense that, yes, we’re still dead in our sin—whether it was extreme sin that killed us or small sin, we’re still dead in our sin.

And I think the question here becomes, Is the cross big enough to carry it? No matter the horrendousness of the evil, is God big enough to defeat it? Is his love strong enough to wipe out even the most horrendous kind of hate? And what does that say about what Christ carried on the cross, and the gravity of that, and the enormity of it—that even something so heinous could be what Christ is bearing for us at the cross?

My favorite part of her answer is this: “On some level we’re still thinking of forgiveness as about what we deserve.” We believe we have to deserve or earn or pay for or prove ourselves worthy of God’s saving grace. Some people measure up, while others clearly don’t.

What about you? Do you believe that you have to deserve forgiveness?

The dying Capt. Miller speaks the most unhelpful words possible to Private Ryan.

Before you answer, consider how you respond to the following scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan. If you’ve seen it, you may recall the dying words that Capt. Miller, Tom Hanks’s character, spoke to Private Ryan, played by Matt Damon. After nearly everyone in the unit dies in order to save Ryan’s life, Miller grabs Ryan by the lapels and says, “Earn this… Earn it!”

Next we see an elderly Ryan, decades later, near the end of his own life, standing beside the grave markers at Normandy beach—asking his children and grandchildren, “Did I earn it?”—in other words, did he live a life worthy of the sacrifices that Miller and his fellow soldiers made for him so long ago? Did he deserve the life that their deaths made possible for him?

His family reassures him: “Of course you did, Dad!”

And I’m like, Really? Who are they kidding? A dozen or so men sacrificed their lives to save Ryan’s life: How could he possibly “earn” that sacrifice? How could he repay that debt? How could he balance those scales?

He couldn’t… which is why I find this scene between Miller and Ryan more horrifying than any of the bloody carnage depicted in the movie. Miller places on Ryan an impossible burden of guilt.

Yet, in a way, this scene depicts our predicament before God. Because of our sin, we owe God a debt we can never repay. The difference, of course, is that instead of insisting that we repay the debt—a debt infinitely greater than what Ryan owes—God himself pays it for us on the cross of his Son Jesus, who is also God.

Instead of grabbing us by the proverbial lapels and saying, “Earn this,” God says, “Receive this… receive this free gift, which I paid for on the cross. It was my pleasure to purchase this gift for you because I love you that much! Receive it!”

So the question is not about Hitler, and how evil he is, but Jesus and how powerful the cross is. Do we believe, in other words, that Jesus accomplished something objective on the cross to make forgiveness of sin possible, such that both God’s perfect love and his commitment to perfect justice—both of which are aspects of God’s nature—would be upheld?

If the Bible is telling the truth, the answer is a resounding yes.

In Mark 10:35-45, which I preached on a few weeks ago, Jesus hints at how the cross accomplishes this. When James and John ask about sitting at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory, he says, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

This “cup” is the same cup to which Jesus will later refer in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:36 (and parallels): “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” This is also the cup to which the Old Testament refers—a symbol of God’s wrath, which, scripture warns repeatedly, the unrighteous will have to drink as punishment for their sin:

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8)

Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” (Jeremiah 25:15-16)

The good news, as Isaiah prophesies, is that God will remove the cup of his wrath.

Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
    your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more.” (Isaiah 51, 17, 22)

In the interest of justice, how can God do this? Does humanity not deserve to drink this cup? What causes God to take the cup away?

Only this: God offered an acceptable substitute for us. And who could possibly serve as a fitting substitute? Only God.

In other words, we owed a debt to God that only God could pay. So he paid it—willingly, out of love. This is why God came into the world in Christ: to “give his life as a random for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ words in this verse point back to Isaiah 53:5, 10:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed…

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

As a result of God’s offering of himself on the cross, an “offering for guilt,” we—those of us who believe in Jesus—become the “offspring” of God himself. As John himself (the very one who, along with his brother, is squabbling over sitting at Christ’s left or right hand) would later write,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

This is the gospel, the very foundation on which I’ve built my life. Thank you, Jesus!

Sermon 11-26-17: “Rejoice in the Lord Always”

November 30, 2017

Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Does “always” really mean always? If so, I suspect most of us struggle to obey these words. Our main problem, as I point in this sermon, is that we usually rejoice in our circumstances: “I got the job, therefore I rejoice!” “She said ‘yes,’ therefore I rejoice!” “The tests came back negative, therefore I rejoice!” But notice Paul says to rejoice in the Lord. If we are in the Lord, we always have reasons for joy.

Sermon Text: Philippians 4:4-13

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

The family and I went to my in-laws house in Snellville on Thanksgiving. After the meal, I stayed awake watching football as long as I could—without being rude—before creeping back to the spare bedroom and taking a nap. When I woke up, everyone—my entire family and my in-laws—were no longer watching football. They were watching a movie on the Hallmark Channel. Maybe you’ve seen it? It was that one about this man and woman who meet but don’t get along at first. In fact, they don’t even like each other. But over time they start to secretly fall for one another. But they can’t tell each other, because there are all these obstacles that stand in the way of their relationship. And then, at the very end of the movie, all the obstacles are removed. They finally say, “I love you.” They kiss. And it’s clear they’re going to live happily ever after.

Have you seen that one?

Actually, this one was almost exactly like You’ve Got Mail except it was set at Christmastime. At the end of the movie, the woman gets everything she wants, including a big promotion at work, the perfect Christmas gift, and the man of her dreams. So of course she is deeply happy! She has reason to rejoice! If she got passed over for the promotion; if she lost her job; if her Christmas wishes went unfulfilled; if she didn’t end up with Romeo, well… she would be not be rejoicing. And we the viewers would not be rejoicing.

Because our ability to rejoice depends on… how things turn out. We need the “happily ever after,” or something reasonably close to it, in order to experience joy. That’s because we rejoice in our circumstances—when you get the promotion, when you fall in love, when your dreams come true. If the circumstances are bad, not so much.

Yet notice Paul’s words here in verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord”—when? “Always.” And as if that weren’t clear enough he repeats it: “Again I will say, rejoice.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 06-25-17: “A Loving Father and His Older Son”

July 13, 2017

Detail of older son from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”

Our scripture today tells the story of the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. As this sermon makes clear, we Christians—who are justified by faith alone through grace alone—can easily slip into the “religious” mindset all over again: we believe that we have to earn our place in God’s family.

Sermon Text: Luke 15:(11-24) 25-32

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

We got heartbreaking news last week about the University of Virginia student, Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor last year in North Korea for allegedly stealing some political artwork from a hotel. He died last week of some kind of brain injury, which he received while in North Korean custody.

After his death, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware posted on Facebook that Warmbier “got exactly what he deserved… He went to North Korea for [heaven’s] sake and then acted like a spoiled, naive, arrogant, US college student who had never had to face the consequences of his actions. I see him crying at his sentencing hearing and think ‘What did you expect?’”

As you might expect, she received a lot of criticism for her comments. People on social media were outraged. The university apologized on her behalf. And as tempted as I am to pile on, I remember the uncharitable thoughts that crossed my mind when the news broke last year that Warmbier had been arrested: “Why the heck was he in North Korea anyway? And if he did do something to that artwork—oh my goodness—what was he thinking?

I felt morally superior to him—and obviously this professor did, too.

But why do we feel morally superior? We’ve all made plenty of foolish decisions. We’ve all sinned spectacularly. The difference is, unlike this poor college student, none of us has received a death sentence for it! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 03-19-17: “Dealing with Doubt”

March 30, 2017

Do you ever have doubts about your faith in Jesus Christ? In today’s scripture, John the Baptist, surely one of the most headstrong of Bible heroes, expresses doubt in Jesus. He sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the One”—meaning “Are you the Messiah”—”or should we expect someone else?” How could John, of all people, ask this, unless doubt is a normal experience for Christians? Nevertheless, God doesn’t want us to remain in a state of doubt. This sermon explores reasons we often doubt and potential traps we may fall into while we’re doubting. If you’re in a season of doubt, I pray that this message encourages you.

Sermon Text: Matthew 11:1-15

My boys and I have been bachelors this weekend, since Lisa and Elisa are out of town, which means we’ve had the TV all to ourselves. On Friday, we watched that recent Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips. It’s based on a true story about a cargo ship that got taken over by pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2009. It was good—suspenseful—and Tom Hanks, as usual, was outstanding.

Last April, Hanks gave an interview to Terry Gross on the NPR interview show Fresh Air. He said something that may surprise you. He admitted that he was plagued by self-doubt. He said,

No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’…

There are days when I know that 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon I am going to have to deliver some degree of emotional goods, and if I can’t do it, that means I’m going to have to fake it. If I fake it, that means they might catch me at faking it, and if they catch me at faking it, well, then it’s just doomsday.[1]

I guess I’m naive. I thought that acting was supposed to be about faking it, but what do I know?

Tom Hanks is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed actors in the history of Hollywood. He’s starred in some of the most beloved movies of the past 30 years, which have earned $8.5 billion worldwide. He’s won two Oscars and two Golden Globes—and he’s been nominated for a ton more. Literally a ton, if you could add up the weight of all those trophies. In 2014, President Obama awarded him a Kennedy Center Honors medallion.

If someone like Tom Hanks can doubt something—in spite of all this evidence to the contrary—is it any wonder that we Christians will sometimes also have doubts—about God, about Jesus? Read the rest of this entry »

Good Friday 2015 sermon: “Truly This Man Was the Son of God”

April 9, 2015

lenten_sermon_series

A parishioner told me after the sermon that this was the best she had heard me preach, and I don’t think she was far off. In this sermon I make the case for Christ as our substitute on the cross: truly, he lived the life we were unable to live and died the death we deserved to die. I challenge us to think about ways in which we are like the crowds on that Good Friday morning, yet God used even our sinful rebellion against him to accomplish the greatest good.

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript, with footnotes.

Lisa and I were at a party once many years ago with a friend named Kathi who was getting a Ph.D. in Old Testament from Emory. And most of her friends at the party were also Bible scholar-types and Ph.D. students. A real lively bunch! So I was trying my best to make small talk with these people. This was years before I ever thought about going to seminary, but I was a Christian, and I loved the Bible. So I said to one of Kathi’s friends, a woman who, like Kathi, was getting a Ph.D. in Old Testament: “Gosh, that would be really interesting to study the Bible at that level! I wouldn’t mind doing that. Maybe I should get a Ph.D. in the Bible.” And she looked at me with contempt—like, “Who is this idiot I’m talking to?” And she said, “Are you a Christian.” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Then I’m guessing that you’re not interested in getting a Ph.D. in the Bible.” I’m sure I looked confused. She said, “You probably want to get a Ph.D. in the appendix to the Bible.”

The appendix to the Bible. She was referring, of course, to that part of the Bible that we call the New Testament. And, you know… She had a point. We have this much Bible that’s part of the Old Testament, and this relatively tiny part of the Bible that’s the New Testament. And yet we spend by far the bulk of our time in the tiny part. You know? But I do hope that you are reading and studying the big part of the Bible and not just the small part because—oh my goodness—when you do, you begin to see Jesus in that part too—on nearly every page.

Let me give you three examples of places in the Old Testament that I see Jesus. In Genesis 18, three angels come to visit Abraham and Sarah, and they tell them that in a year’s time they’re going to have a baby—the long-promised son Isaac. But after giving them the good news, the angels tell Abraham, “Oh by the way, while we’re in the area, we’re going to check out what’s happening in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to see if there’s as much injustice and wickedness there as we’ve heard.” And if there is, they tell Abraham, God will wipe them off the face of the earth. And the angels leave for Sodom. Read the rest of this entry »