Monday, November 29, 2010

In Search Of Truth, Romans 4:18-5:8

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Paul has been illustrating the fact that becoming “right with God” (righteous) has never been about the good things we do and has always been about trusting in God.


In these verses he continues to point to Abraham, the revered Jewish forefather, as the prime example of faith that results in righteousness.


By normal standards, Abraham had no reason to hope that he and his wife Sarah would have a child that would produce descendants, as God promised. But he “hoped against hope”. He put his hope in God's promise despite the fact that he and his wife were both well beyond the age of having children. (v.18-19)


Regardless of what he may have been feeling, Abraham persisted in trusting God's promise. Faith is not a feeling. In fact, Abraham encountered perplexity and anxiety when he heard God's promise! (Genesis 17:17-18) But his faith didn't waiver. He was “convinced” that God could do what he promised. (v.20-21) And it was because of this faith that God considered him righteous. (v.22)


Why is this incident relevant to us today? Because God does not play favorites or show partiality! (Job 34:19, Romans 2:11) Whatever system God used to make Abraham righteous is in place for us, as Paul observes. Abraham believed that God could do something miraculous to fulfill his promise: make non-functioning (or “dead”) reproductive organs operate again, to give Abraham a son. Likewise, believers today put their faith in God and believe that he raised Jesus from the dead to make forgiveness and a “clean slate” available to everyone. (v.17,23-25)


Because of this “clean slate” (justification) with God that believers have, they also have “peace” with God through the saving work of Jesus Christ. (His earthly life, death on our behalf and resurrection) (5:1)


As we enter the Christmas season, we hear lots of songs about peace. When we think of peace, we typically conjure images of personal, emotional tranquility. But this subjective kind of peace is not chiefly the peace the angels announced to the shepherds (Luke 2:14) or that Paul refers to here. It is peace “with God”. “God and sinners reconciled” as the song “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” says.


Through faith in Jesus, we have access to God's undeserved favor toward us (grace) and actually live in a continual state of God's favor. We can also look forward to the event of God one day revealing himself (his “glory”) to us. (5:2)


In addition, because of this reality, we can celebrate what God is doing and what he promises to do even while we are experiencing suffering. God uses suffering to produce character. As our character grows and our faith matures, we more easily place our hope in God, instead of our own efforts or what other people might offer us. (5:3-4)


And this hope isn't empty, leaving us out in the cold. The love of God changes the way we think about others and the way we prioritize our lives. The Holy Spirit changes us over time(Galatians 5:22-23), turning our very lives into additional evidence for all that God has promised. These changes we experience serve as encouragement to us that God is really doing something tangible and real. His promises are trustworthy.(5:5)


All of this is possible, not because of our own efforts to be really good, religious people. The catalyst was Jesus. At a strategic time chosen by God, while we were still weak and completely unable to satisfy God's standard of goodness, Jesus died in a cosmic transaction that paid the penalty for our rebellion against God. (5:6)


This stands in contrast to normal human self-sacrifice. It's very rare that some will die even for a person who, by perception at least, is living a life in accordance with God's will. (Meant by “righteous person”) And maybe someone will die once in awhile for a person who is kind and and does good for others. (Meant by “good person”) (5:7)


But Christ, the promised Messiah of Old Testament prophecy, came and died for us, even though we live in constant opposition to God's will and standard. (5:8)


 


Next Week- Adam and Jesus. Two men that radically changed the fate of the human race.


Coffee House Question- What does self-sacrifice for others usually look like in movies and TV shows? Can you think of an instance in fiction where someone dies for a “bad” or “evil” character?



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Search Of Truth, Romans 4:9-17

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Paul has been using the revered father of the Jewish nation to point out that right standing with God has always come about as a result of having faith in God and relying on him.

Paul quoted Genesis 15:6 which says that Abraham "believed the Lord and he counted it to him as righteousness".

Paul points out that Abraham wasn't considered righteous because of his faith AFTER contributing his own obedience. Abraham did not have the law of God or even the practice of circumcision at the time God considered him righteous because of his faith. Abraham's obedience to God's laws did not play any part in God declaring him to be righteous. (v. 9-10)

Paul explains that circumcision was the tangible "seal" that identified and set apart the Jewish people. It is a stamp of identification. Not a payment made in exchange for God's promises of blessing to Abraham's descendants.

Abraham is the biological forefather of the Jewish people. But he is the spiritual forefather of all who put their faith in God for their forgiveness and righteousness, whether they are a Jew or not. (v. 11-12)

There's a bit of a rabbit trail worth following here, for the sake of clarification. In verse 13, Paul says that Abraham was promised by God to be "heir of the world". This promise is not explicitly made by God to Abraham, and so may be confusing at first glance. But inheriting the entire world was implied and assumed by the Hebrew word "erets" used for "land" in the Old Testament, which has a diverse usage and can mean a section of territory or the entire planet earth, or even both, as Old Testament prophecy sometimes takes advantage of double meanings in the Hebrew language.

This promise of inheriting the land/earth was repeated in scripture (see Psalm 37 for one example). By Paul's day, Jewish interpreters had already assumed and taught that the descendents of Abraham would inherit the entire planet. And the teaching of Christ also reflects that the true followers of God will one day inherit the entire planet. (Matthew 5:5)

It would also do us good to review God's initial promises to Abraham, which are outlined in Genesis 12:2-3. God promised to: 1. Make him a great nation. 2. Bless him. 3. Make his name great. 4. Make him a blessing to others. 5. Bless those who bless him. 6. Curse those who curse him. 7. Bless all the families of the earth through him.

In particular, we should keep that seventh promise in mind at the moment. Christ, a biological descendant of Abraham, makes it possible for everyone who has faith in God to spend eternity in a state of unfathomable blessing with God. And Abraham models this faith for us. In this way we see that seventh promise fulfilled in even greater ways than Abraham probably ever imagined.

Now back to Paul's main point. Abraham and his descendants will not inherit the world or God's blessings because of their obedience to the law, because the Law did not exist when God first made these promises to Abraham and they were not mentioned as a condition for fulfillment of these promises. Abraham and his descendants were chosen by God for these promises (namely here, inheriting the earth). These promises were revealed to those who had faith in God and they were responded to in the only way that successfully "fulfills God's requirements" (righteousness). Through faith. (v.13)

Paul reasons that if knowledge and obedience to the Old Testament Law is what makes someone an heir to God's promises, then the value of faith is empty and the promises are nullified. Why? Because as he established in previous verses, no one can successfully obey the laws of God! (v.14)

The existence of the Law sets a standard we cannot meet and so our failure brings about God's wrath. In fact, if the law didn't exist, God's wrath against us would not be as great because we would not be violating God's will as directly. (v.15)

By contrast, God's promises were offered to Abraham without any compensation of good works required. The promises were a gift of grace (undeserved favor). Inheriting God's promises through obedience to the law is in conflict with this. But receiving God's promises of eternal blessing through faith is "in accordance with grace", and is available not just to Abraham's biological descendants, but also to those who, like Abraham, choose to trust in God. (v.16)

All who place their trust in God are considered by God to be descendants of Abraham. Paul reveals that this is what God meant when he told Abraham that he would be "a father of many nations". (v.17)


Next Week- The faith modeled by Abraham

Coffee House Question- Why do you suppose we can sometimes feel like we need to "earn our way" back into a good relationship with God?




Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday Shopping Deals At Spiritblade.net!

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It's that time of year again! And we've never had more discounts and specials going on for your holiday shopping than we do this year in our online store, where First Class shipping is always FREE!

All of our audio drama CD sets have been reduced in price, as well as both of our "song bundles"!

We've just released our second "Archive" disc, the long-awaited, much referenced "Spirit Blade" Novella, produced for your enjoyment in an exciting, enhanced audio book format! But the best part is that it's yours for FREE when you place an order that includes a CD set of "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" or "Spirit Blade: Dark Ritual"!

And don't forget to add our cool, quirky T-shirts to your Christmas list! Available in a variety of colors, sizes and fittings!

For more details or to start your shopping now, visit:

http://www.spiritblade.net/store



Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Movie Review)





















Although I've read and enjoyed most of the Harry Potter books, I'm not a fan by any means and mainly watch the movies to scratch an ever present itch for fantasy flicks. My memories of the last book in the series are fuzzy at best, and so this review is largely from the perspective of someone who has just been watching the films.

Performances by the leading three child-turned-adult actors are fine, but not outstanding or particularly interesting. Still, considering the studio hired these folks as kids a decade ago with no idea how they'd develop as actors, things have turned out very well for this franchise. Although it was still no surprise when Helena Bonham Carter stole the show as Bellatrix near the end of this film. A shame she and other, more interesting performers were not given more screen-time or plot-relevant material to work with.

The special effects continue to be very cool, especially the smoky apparitions and wild bolts of magical energy. The teleportation effects are used multiple times and also look great in this movie.

The chief problem and influence on my final score is the story. There almost isn't one. To get what you're meant to from this story, I'd recommend watching "Half Blood Prince" right before you watch this one on DVD and THEN actually go to the theater for "Hollows Part 2". Part 1 starts and ends the protagonists in almost EXACTLY the same circumstances: Looking for enchanted artifacts and the means to destroy them. Our heroes spend the rest of the movie looking for a way to advance the plot but failing to do so. And if you don't remember the events of "Half Blood Prince" very well, you won't even understand what is motivating the good guys to do what they're doing.

This movie is the first time one of the books from the series has been split into two parts in order to cover the material, but this book probably shouldn't have been the one to get the "two picture" treatment. There is plenty of fat that should have been cut from this film. Once again we encounter a subplot in which Ron is jealous because Harry appears to be "cutting in" on his love life. And various events connected to this one could have been cut as well. There is close to 20 minutes in the middle(which I won't spill here) that probably could have been completely removed from the film. Add to this the fact that, like "Half Blood Prince", this movie cuts significantly back on the action. Compared to previous movies in the series, the pacing is slow and the passage of time is hard to track, creating a "stuck in limbo" feeling for the plot.

Virtually nothing of philosophical value to talk about after this flick. If you wanted to force the issue, you could talk about the effects of poor communication and jealousy on relationships, but that's REALLY searching.

I suspect this material will play much better as part of a marathon viewing that at least begins with "Half Blood Prince", but on it's own it is a skillfully assembled yet almost purposeless experience.

Quality: 7.5/10

Relevance: 5.0/10

Audiobook Finished! See You At The Live Chat!

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Last night I put the finishing touches on the "Spirit Blade" enhanced audiobook and plan to make it available on Monday! I'm also recording a pseudo-commentary in which I highlight some portions of the audiobook and talk about the choices I made for the book as well as the reasons for many of the significant chnages from book to script. This feature will also be available in the same Archive Disc with the enhanced audiobook.


This post also serves as your last notice for the "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" Live Chat I'll be hosting tomorrow. Click the link for some more details. I'll provide the link for logging in about 30-60 minutes before the chat begins. I hope to see you there!


Wish I had more to update you on, but it's been crazy busy here the last two days and I just BARELY squeezed in a Harry Potter review for the podcast, which I need to go and post right now!


Have a great weekend!


-Paeter Frandsen



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ret-conning: Good Or Bad For Comics?

I'm currently reading the mini-series "DC Universe: Legacies", which re-establishes (in the wake of recent mind-bending events) for current readers the official continuity of the DC Universe from beginning to present day.

In the most recent issue I noticed some changes in the time line that were minor, but still noticeable and it got me thinking about the idea of retroactive continuity changes in comic books.

It used to be that comic book companies tried really hard to keep all of their properties consistent with each other. But as continuity became more complex it became harder to keep them all straight. In an attempt to clean house, DC comics created a storyline in the mid-80's called "Crisis On Infinite Earths" which basically wiped out the multiple universes they had been juggling and migrating the survivors to a single earth. Shortly afterward, a "History of the DC Universe" was published to establish the new continuity. But it wasn't more than a few years before the continuity got mucked up again.

These days ret-conning happens most often, not as the result of a cosmic crisis, but because of writers who simply choose to ignore certain events of DC's past that they don't like, or who pretend that things happened or were true all along that they are really just establishing for the first time.

One writer famous for this is Geoff Johns. The habit has worked for him because he has a knack for distilling characters to their purest forms and then fleshing out those elements in fresh ways. He also has a knack for adding brand new concepts to characters that make them interesting in ways they never were before.

But other times, ret-conning doesn't work so well, or cuts out elements that readers really wished hadn't been. For example, DC STILL seems to have forgotten that Green Lantern John Stewart is part Guardian!

Some might say that in a perfect world, editorial staffs would be able to keep their books tidy and never need to ret-con. But without ret-conning, Superman and Batman would both be close to a hundred years old (assuming they were 20 or 30 at the time of their first appearances) or at least 45 or 55 (assuming they were 20 or 30 at the time of "Crisis n Infinite Earths").

Part of me likes the rich history of the DC Universe. But another part of me would be very interested in seeing the industry stay in real time and just reboot the universe every 20 years or so. Guess that's what things like the Marvel "Ultimate" universe are for.

Live Chat Prep and Finishing The Audiobook

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Every time I try something new with technology, it usually involves lots of troubleshooting and hair pulling. So looking ahead to the "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" Live Chat on Saturday has been intimidating. Thankfully, one of my online friends at the Spirit Blade Forums found a solution for me! I just tested it out today and everything looks good to go for this Saturday! (Whew!) Thanks, Chad!


I'm also getting very close to finishing the enhanced auidobook of the Spirit Blade Novella. I realized this last week that I have been in "deadline mode" for almost two years straight now, and the sense of self-imposed deadline pressure has only gotten stronger in the last 6-9 months. So I'm VERY much looking forward to being done with the audiobook and back to square one, outlining and writing the script for Spirit Blade 3, with no deadlines in sight! (At least for a few months.)


-Paeter Frandsen



Monday, November 15, 2010

In Search Of Truth, Romans 3:27-4:8

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In previous verses, Paul established that no one will gain "good standing" with God by obeying his laws. Instead, people will be justified (declared "not guilty" and made right with God) by placing their trust in Jesus Christ.

Because of this, any kind of boasting someone might do because of their moral behavior or religious/cultural background is irrelevant. Because "works" (moral behavior and obedience to God's commands) are not factored into our justification. Only the authenticity of our faith in Christ. (v. 27-28)

Paul argues that there must be one universal way in which all people can be made right with God. The first article of Jewish faith is that God is one. There is no other God but Yahweh. Even though God gave the law specifically to the Jews, he is not only the God of the Jews. He is the God of all, and justifies everyone based on their faith in Jesus. (v. 29-30)

Paul deflects potential accusations of being against the law by saying that, rather than overthrowing the law, we should "uphold" the law. (v.31) The Greek word here for "uphold" does not mean "obey", but "establish" or "make to stand". While not teaching a return to the Mosaic Law, Paul affirms its value. Paul will teach more specifically about the place of the law in chapters 6-8.

Paul then points to Abraham, the revered Jewish forefather whom God chose as the man from which the entire nation of Israel would come. If he was made right with God because of his own effort, he would rightfully be able to boast to others about it, which he never did. (And he certainly didn't boast to God.) Instead, Paul points to scripture (Genesis 15:6) which says that "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness." The Hebrew word for "counted" or "reckoned" in Genesis 15:6 is an accounting term. There is a sense in which God changed Abraham's "official sin record" because of the faith he placed in God. (4:3)

If righteousness (meeting God's standard of goodness) is possible through obeying the law, then our relationship with and need for God is very different than if righteousness only comes through faith. If we can become righteous through our personal effort, the rewards God has for us here and especially in eternity are not gifts, but payment that he is obligated to give in exchange for our work. (v.4) This is a far cry from how the Old Testmant writings portray our relationship of dependence on God!

On the other hand, trusting in God to justify us (make our "official sin records" clean) is consistent with what is taught in the Old Testament. (v. 5-8)



Next Week- Abraham: Model Jew or Model Christian?

Coffee House Question- What do you think the world would look like if absolutely everyone believed in God and also believed that we had to earn good standing with him through our obedience to his law?



Friday, November 12, 2010

Skyline (Movie Review)





















I should start by admitting some bias on my part. I love monster movies. I love seeing a good scary monster and learning all about what makes it tick throughout the course of a two-hour special effects bonanza. So this fact may be coloring my review. Consider yourself warned.

Yes, I love a good monster movie. And “Skyline” is a good monster movie!

The story centers on Jordan and his girlfriend, who are visiting one of Jordan’s childhood friends in Los Angeles. His friend has made it big and wants to bring Jordan into his world. A world of greed and shallow relationships.

But the first night of Jordan’s visit, lights descending from the sky begin to mesmerize and abduct thousands of people at a time. And those who escape are soon targeted by large alien creature who seem to have come to harvest humanity for their own purposes.

The movie stars mostly unknown or “little knowns” and is directed by special effects team turned first-time directors, Colin and Greg Strause. Using their own special effects studio to produce the marvelous eye candy in this flick, the brothers saved millions of dollars. Considering that Michael Bay’s “Transformers” cost 151 million to make, it’s amazing that a movie like this (made on only 10 million) could be made that has about the same number of CGI effects shots and is a much better film.

Granted, this is fairly different from standard “Michael Bay” fare, despite the similarities it has with big summer disaster/alien movies. The tone is much darker and more serious than its summer release counterparts. But the CGI is solid (though nothing groundbreaking).

The monster in this movie is very cool. Both technological and drippy/icky. And though we don’t understand the complete inner workings or origins (or even motives) of the aliens by the end of the movie, we do continue to learn a little more about them as the movie progresses and can at least take a guess at what they want by the end.

Performances are very forgettable and there are really no interesting characters here. The dialogue is nothing special. Very formulaic and Hollywood sounding. Also a few misplaced clich├ęs. But the story kept me guessing until the end with a few jaw-dropping moments as the alien attacks in new and disturbing ways.

The final shot leaves things wide open for a sequel. So much so that the story isn’t resolved. The final note is one of determination and had an eye on victory, but actual victory never arrives in this movie.

The emotional resolution is enough to satisfy those who like somewhat unresolved endings or who don’t need everything tied up. But the story could easily be said to be just beginning. And since the studio is already shopping the sequel around and the film will barely need to make any money for one to happen (because of its low budget), you can probably count on hearing about the development of one soon.

There is almost something worthwhile to talk about after seeing this movie. Jordan is very clearly contrasted with his wealthy “successful” and shallow friend. Jordan is selfless, generous and helpful. This is highlighted several times. And later in the movie, Jordan seems to have a uniqueness about him that makes it possible for him to prevail against the aliens. I thought for sure they would eventually link these two elements together, as they were both clearly presented. But neither plays out. And Jordan’s mysterious ability to resist the aliens is never explained.

On a simpler level, you might say that this movie is down on materialism and selfishness. Maybe even down on the culture of Los Angeles itself, given that one character very pointedly says “I hate L.A.” and materialism and shallow behavior are strongly linked to “La La Land” in this film.

From a broad perspective, this is a really cool, creative and at times scary monster movie with great effects. But it misses it’s complete potential because of uninteresting characters and dialogue. Also not much to talk about unless you’re looking for it.


Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some language, and brief sexual content.


Quality: 9.0/10

Relevance: 7.0/10

Audiobook Coming And Chat Reminder

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Since getting back in the saddle I've been hard at work on the "Spirit Blade" enhanced audio book, and it is just a few work days from completion!


My plan is to release it for free in the spring in some form on various places around the web. But before then, it will be organized as an archive disc , where it will be available in just a couple of weeks in an exlusively high quality audio format that will never be available anywhere else! Stay tuned for the announcement of its release very soon!


Also, don't forget to grab your copy of "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" from our online store for participation in the Special Edition live chat a week from now on Saturday, November 20th at 6pm Mountain Standard time! More details will be coming soon here and at www.spiritblade.net/chat ! Don't miss out!


-Paeter Frandsen


 


 



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Get Ready For The Live Chat!

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At long last I'm back in the saddle! And before anything else I want to remind you about the live chat coming up for anyone who has the "Spirit Blade: Special Edition"!


I'll have more details next week, but mark your calendar for Saturday November 20th and be sure to grab your copy of the Special Edition if you haven't already.


And for those getting CDs instead of downloads, you still have time to get yours in the mail before the live chat! Shipping typically takes three days or less in the US and it's always FREE when you buy from our online store!


Don't miss out on the first opportunity ever available to chat it up with me and other fans as we all listen to the story that started it all!


Talk to you soon!


-Paeter Frandsen



Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ebony Had A Baby!

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Last Saturday my wife gave birth to our second child (and second boy), Titus Lassell Frandsen. Even Ebony as the Sheidan Assassin has nothing on the real deal. Holly labored for 7 and 1/2 hours and delivered with zero medication (not even an I.V.) and Titus came out with only 5 minutes of pushing. (Three contractions.)

She began feeling contractions before 8am. We went to the hospital at 11 and Titus was born at 3:18.

I know there are more amazing birth stories out there, but this was an incredible thing to watch. Every time a contraction came, Holly would go still and breath deeply with her eyes closed, like some kind of jedi master prepping to crack the moon in half. Don't know how she did it, but she is the freakin' Champion!

We're currently adjusting to having an infant AND simultaneously potty training our three year old (yay.), so I'm not quite back on the radar yet, but thought I'd pop in and let you guys know what's up.

Thanks so much to all who prayed for us! We're doing very well and I'm hoping to be back in the saddle sometime next week!


 


-Paeter Frandsen