Saturday, November 28, 2015

'American Ultra' Is as Polarizing as Its Writer; as Stoned as Its Protagonist

American Ultra is an action comedy about a shiftless small-town stoner named Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) who has been intending to propose to his girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart), but before he can do so, he finds himself being targeted by a CIA black operation that is determined to assassinate him.  And much to his bewilderment, he discovers that he has the instinct and skills to fight off and kill the operatives that are being sent after him.  Unbeknownst to him, he was once part of a covert CIA program called “Ultra”, which had turned him into a latent killing machine.  With his newfound abilities, he must overcome his confusion and panic to keep himself and his girlfriend from getting killed.

This movie is written by Max Landis (the writer of 2012’s Chronicle).  And if you know the guy (watch Youtube videos of him), you’ll find him a loud and obnoxious jerk.  However, if you get used to his seemingly unpleasant personality, you might discover (like I did) that there are charisma, eloquence, thoughtfulness, and sense of humor in him (his Youtube video, “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling”, is brilliant).  American Ultra has traces of Landis’ personality, and, thus, it’s as polarizing as him.  There are funny and smart elements in this movie, but there are also some aspects which some will find pretentious and insufferable.

The performances are good.  Notably, Stewart’s.  She indeed has gone a long way from the awful, deadpan acting she did in Twilight.  Considering the “stoner” premise, I was half-expecting Stewart to give a stoned performance.  But she actually did well here.

I personally enjoyed American Ultra.  However, there’s this feeling that this movie could have achieved much more with its interesting premise, but, like its stoned protagonist, lacked the creativity and initiative to do so.  It has laughs, but not hilarity.  The action scenes are cleverly-executed, but not notably exciting.  It has some heart, but not sufficient depth.  It’s entertaining, but average.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

'The Hunger Games' Saga Ends Satisfactorily with 'Mockingjay Part 2'

As the title plainly suggests, this movie is the second of the two-part film adaptation of Mockingjay – the last book of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  As the last installment of the film series, Mockingjay Part 2 delivers a satisfying conclusion to the saga… but not an emphatic one.

Mockingjay Part 2 is definitely better than Part 1.  But my main issues with Part 1 are the same with Part 2 – uneven pacing; too much tedious and unnecessary talking; and a padded, dragging narrative.  Simply, Mockingjay suffered from being divided into two parts.  This Hollywood practice of making the last chapter of a film series (especially those adapted from popular book series) a two-parter is something I really wish would stop already.  I hate it.

It’s worth mentioning also that before I went to watch Mockingjay Part 2, I re-watched Part 1 first.  I was hoping that I will get to have a better appreciation for the overall story if I watched the two movies successively (as I was hoping when I watched Part 1 for the first time last year).  But, no, it only enforced my assessment that it was unnecessarily stretched into two parts.

The Hunger Games franchise is by far the most thoughtful and fascinating (though not quite original) among movie franchises based on YA novel series.  However, to be honest, the first two movies – especially Catching Fire – are the only ones I can really say I immensely liked.  Those two movies are very engaging and heavily defined Katniss Everdeen for me as a character – making her one of my most favorite female characters in fiction.  But the last two movies aren’t that great, and they made me re-evaluate if my fondness for Katniss is really warranted.

Mockingjay Part 2 has its share of thrilling and moving moments.  But, again, the pacing is poor, thus, these moments are far and few between.  Also, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss remains a delight, though I wasn’t that much absorbed on the character as I was in the first two movies.  So despite being a good movie by itself, Mockingjay Part 2 doesn’t have enough oomph to wrap-up The Hunger Games film series with an impressive bang, settling instead with a passable whimper.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Unfortunately, 'Spectre' Is the Least Interesting Big-Budget Spy Film of 2015

I’m a Bond fan all my life so I was really looking forward to this film.  However, to be honest, I was disappointed with Spectre.  It wasn’t a bad movie, but I think that in this year’s crop of notable spy films, Spectre stands out the least.  Yes, I actually enjoyed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. more (which I thought was going to be least).

Spectre is the 24th film in the 007 franchise and ties up with every Bond film starring Daniel Craig (it could actually serve as an appropriate wrap-up to his tenure).  The movie features James Bond (Craig) going against a nefarious secret criminal organization called SPECTRE and discovering an unsettling link between its head, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), and his own past.

As far as being a movie production is concerned, Spectre is nigh impeccable.  It’s an extremely well-shot, well-directed, fine-looking film overall.  It has beautiful action scenes and a fairly intriguing narrative.  However, I feel that the script is underwhelming.  It doesn’t have the depth and thrill that I was hoping it would have.

Also, the villain is over-hyped, underused, and one-dimensional – a waste of Christoph Waltz’s casting.  In fact (mild spoilers), there’s a twist about the real identity of his character, which reminded me of the reveal of John Harrison’s real identity in Star Trek Into Darkness, but I wasn’t blown away at all.

Moreover, in my opinion, it felt that Daniel Craig wasn’t into his role.  So this somewhat lessened my absorption on the character (as far as this movie is concerned) and the story.   Because if James Bond himself isn’t invested on his own adventure, why should I?

Spectre is a stylish, entertaining Bond film, but it’s definitely a step down from Skyfall.  It isn’t innovative and outstanding.  In fact, Rogue Nation had been a more fitting 007 film than Spectre

Friday, November 20, 2015

'The Seven Deadly Sins' Is a Typical, Fun Shōnen Anime

The premise of The Seven Deadly Sins (or Nanatsu no Taizai in Japanese) has plenty of familiar Shōnen tropes.  It’s an anime that I felt I’ve seen many times before.  And yet it has enough charming elements to make it a reasonably worthwhile and fun anime to watch. 

TSDS (yep, I will be abbreviating it) tells the story of the titular Seven Deadly Sins, a group of immensely powerful elite knights that used to serve the Kingdom of Liones.  However, after being accused for murdering the Great Holy Knight Zaratras and plotting to overthrow the kingdom, they disbanded and went their separate ways.  Ten years later, their present locations and appearances are unknown, becoming the stuff of rumors.  Meanwhile, the Holy Knights have staged a coup d’état, imprisoned the king, and put Liones under their despotic rule.  Desperate to free the kingdom from the Holy Knights’ oppression, Princess Elizabeth goes on a journey to find the missing Seven Deadly Sins and to solicit their aid. 

I like the “recruitment” and “reunion” aspect of its story – how they come together one by one.  I love how the plot wraps each Sin’s identity in mystery, including the fact that their wanted posters don’t match their actual appearances and that they didn’t really know each other too well, discovering certain essential things about each other only during their current reunion.  Though none of the Seven Deadly Sins are remarkable enough to make it on any of my “fictional characters” lists soon, they are generally likable and do have some cool characteristics individually.    

One thing I really didn’t like about this anime that I feel I should mention here is the character Meliodas’ fondness for groping Elizabeth.  Meliodas actually has a lot of positive traits, but though his being a pervert is done for comedic effect (this is Japan, after all), I’m uncomfortable about this side of his character.  Considering also the fact that Meliodas is thousands of years old (though he has an appearance of an adolescent), then he’s technically a D.O.M., which only makes his advances on Elizabeth creepier.

TSDS’s first season is nothing extraordinary.  It doesn’t have much depth, but it does have great action, solid plot twists, a fantastic climax, intriguing world-building, likable (though unremarkable) characters, and an overall sense of adventure and fun.  And those are enough to draw me to its second season next year.

Monday, November 16, 2015

God's Sovereignty Extends Over Sin

Did God cause sin?  Hmmm.  “Cause” is a very tricky term.  It depends on what is the intent of using such term.  If “cause” would imply that God can be blamed for it, then God didn’t “cause” sin in that sense.  But if “cause” is simply used to mean ordaining it to be, then God “caused” sin.  God did not directly create sin, but He permitted it to be brought about.  Why?  For His glory, of course.

This might be a controversial assertion on my part.  But it’s what I believe in based on these presuppositions:
1.) The ultimate purpose of everything that God does is to bring glory to Himself (Exodus 14:4, 18; Isaiah 48:11; Romans 11:36; Habakkuk 2:14; John 7:18, 16:14, 17:24; etc.).  This is not because God is a narcissist.  It’s just that He’s the Supreme Being – nothing or no one is greater than Him.  If God would choose to value anything or anyone above his own worth, then He would be committing idolatry.  And, of course, that’s impossible for it would be contradictory to God’s holy nature.
2.) God has absolute supremacy in all things (Psalm 103:19, Isaiah 45:7).  He is in control always.  Everything that happens is in accordance to His will (Isaiah 14:24).  Nothing and no one will frustrate His will (Job 42:2).  God is not a passive God.  His omnipotence allows Him to hands-on direct every detail of His Creation to function in accordance to His will (Lamentations 3:37).  Even if there’s such a thing as human free will, such thing is limited, for it can’t go against God’s sovereign will (Proverbs 16:9, 21:1), and God would even proceed to manipulate someone’s will for His own purpose (Exodus 9:12, Romans 9:17, Deuteronomy 30:6).  Even the Devil is under God’s sovereignty, for he can’t make a move without God permitting it (Job 1-2).  And God sometimes allow evil to happen because His omniscient wisdom know that good will come out of it (Genesis 50:20).  Hence, whatever happens, it did happen because God ordained it to be so (either through permission or direct involvement).
3.) The second preposition is always actively working to bring the first preposition about (Psalm 115:3, 135:6).

Therefore, if these presuppositions are true – which I firmly believe to be so based on biblical axioms – I can conclude that since sin exists, then it’s only because God permitted it, so that this may become part of His overarching plan to ultimately bring glory to Himself.  How?  Consider this:
1.) God created Lucifer knowing fully that he would fall and become Satan.
2.) With Satan around, Adam and Even were tempted to sin.  God knew what would happen, but He allowed it, so that sin would exist.
3.) With sin existing, there’s now a need for a Savior.
4.) And by becoming the Savior, Jesus Christ is glorified (Hebrews 1:3, 2:9).
For God’s grace to be fully realized in our reality, sin has to exist.  According to Romans 5:20, “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”  Of course, this doesn’t mean sin should be celebrated (Romans 6:1), but it tells us that there’s a correlation between sin and grace.  The greater the sin, the more glorious grace is for overwhelming it.  For us to appreciate Jesus as Savior, there must be first a terrible and desperate state to save us from.  For us to appreciate grace, we must first know sin and its consequence.  For us to appreciate being found, we must first have been lost.  For us to appreciate seeing, we must first have been blind.

In other words, sin per se does not glorify God, but the existence of sin provides an opportunity to display His glory.

Of course, no matter how well it is logically explained, through an inadequate and humanistic perspective, it’s difficult to accept that, though God ordained sin, He can’t be blamed to it.  For isn’t there fault in someone who allowed an evil to happen when he could have prevented it?

Let me use an illustration to explain how it can be.  Let’s say a certain novelist wrote a story wherein Jack murdered Bob.  We can say that both the novelist and Jack are responsible, at different planes of reality, of killing Bob.  However, only Jack committed the murder, not the novelist, for the novelist only wrote the murder into the story and it happened in the story’s world, not the novelist’s world.  Therefore, it would be tremendously unfair and stupid to try and convict the novelist for murder.  In fact, if the murder story turns out to be good, the novelist will receive acclaim by being a terrific storyteller.

Of course, we aren’t fictional characters.  But this analogy is to point out that the difference of levels between God’s Reality and our reality is so infinitely vast that ours is “fictional” in relation to God’s.  Thus, in this context, sin is serving as a “plot device” to the “best-selling novel” being written by God to bring a glorious ending to the epic story of His “protagonists” (i.e. His chosen people) and to Himself as “Novelist.”

Now, the Bible didn’t use an “author and his story” analogy.  But in Romans 9, the analogy of “potter and clay” is presented, which basically has the same main effect as “author and his story.” 
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”  But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”  Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.

Indeed, God is God.  He can do whatever He pleases.  And we don’t have the right to question Him in what He does, and He isn’t obligated to defend Himself (Job 38-42; Daniel 4:35).

For the depraved humanistic mind, this will prove impossible to accept.  Even Christian minds will have a hard time grasping this concept.  This definitely requires, in a sense, an advanced kind of intellectual capacity, as well as a complete appreciation and conviction in regards to God’s absolute sovereignty in all things and God’s passionate zeal to bring glory to Himself.

And, of course, it is also possible that I have erred in delivering an appropriate explanation about it and has undermined God (forgive me, Lord, if ever).  But, still, there’s no doubt in my heart that this is true – that God’s sovereignty is so gloriously absolute that it even extends over sin.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Importance of Context in Bible Study: A Case Study of Hebrews 6

In reading the Bible, it’s important to have the humble and committed intent of understanding its contents by how the authors – as inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16) – had meant them to mean.  We can’t just take Scripture passages to support what we want to ideally believe in.  Rather, the Scriptures in its correct and complete context should shape our belief.  Otherwise, that would be dishonorable to God whose intent is to set the Bible as objective Truth.

Let’s take for example Hebrews 6:4-8:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
Taking it out of context – If we don’t consider the verses prior (v. 1-3) and after (v. 9-20) – it seems a definite proof that it’s possible for a genuine believer in Christ to fall away and lose his salvation.  But this is, of course, a false conclusion; since throughout the Bible, the doctrine of eternal security for all genuine believers is emphatically affirmed.  To be read in isolation, verses 4 to 8 will really misdirect someone to a dangerous, heretical belief.  That’s why Hebrews 6 (or the book of Hebrews for that matter) should be read in its entirety:
"Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
"Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
"For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, 'Surely I will bless you and multiply you.' And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."

In verse 1, we see that the author of Hebrews calls for a deeper understanding of the Gospel – to move from the “elementary”-level of doctrinal knowledge towards “university”-level.  Now, in Hebrews 5:12, And what is that “elementary”-level knowledge?   It means foundational Old Testament beliefs and practices (v.1-2) that the Hebrew Christians are implied to be turning back to – as if Jesus isn’t enough for justification and that these works are still requirements for salvation.

But ironically, those who take verses 4 to 8 out of context are actually signifying the opposite.  The implication of their assertion that salvation can be lost by a genuinely professing Christian is that he needs to work to keep his salvation.  Now asserting that works are required to maintain salvation is basically equivalent to asserting works are required to obtain salvation.   Of course, works are essential in relation to salvation because the former is the evidence of the latter, but works are never required  to be saved.

In the context that the first verses of Hebrews 6 have set – believe that Jesus should be sufficient for salvation – then isn’t it more likely that verses 4 to 8 are actually just serving a rhetorical purpose for the  writer’s argument that Jesus is enough to sustain salvation till the end?  Because if it’s not, then it will contradict other passages that said that a genuine believer will persevere till the end and won’t lose his salvation.  It’s more probable that the writer intended this as a hypothetical scenario (v.4-6) to simply enforce the point that this would never be the case for someone with genuine faith in Christ, for if that ever happens (and it won’t), then he can’t ever be restored and it will be sacrilegious to Christ.

Furthermore, those who use verses 4 to 8 to insist that it’s possible for a regenerated Christian to fall away and lose his salvation always fail to consider the next verses.  With that said in verses 4 to 8, the writer of Hebrews found the Christians he is writing to aren’t like that described in verses 4 to 6 – further supporting the thesis that the scenario in that passage is hypothetical – for they are manifesting the evidence of genuine faith (v. 10 -11) and are assured of salvation (v. 12).  And why are they assured of it?  Because God Himself promises and guarantees it (v.13-18) and Jesus is actively interceding as High Priest (v.19-20; Heb. 4:14-16, chapters 7 to 9)!

So, basically, Hebrews 6 was intended to be another affirmation that Jesus should be enough for salvation, that whenever God promises something – like the gift of salvation – then it’s guaranteed, and that Jesus is unfalteringly interceding for us as our High Priest, ensuring that we will keep the faith till the end.  But, ironically, by misquoting it out of context, some people can completely turn the message of Hebrews 6 around.

That’s why it’s really dangerous to quote Scripture out of context.  And besides, you know who loves quoting Scriptures out of context?  Satan (Matt. 4:1-11)!

Therefore, putting context on Scripture passages is really vital.  When we read a Scripture passage, we should not only focus on what it means by itself but also clearly understand its intended context.  We should consider the paragraphs prior it and the paragraphs after it.  We should consider how it fits with the overall theme and message of its chapter, and then its book, and then, ultimately, the Bible in general.

The Bible will never contradict itself.  Every Scripture passage will harmonize when taken in context.

Scripture Affirmed Calvinism for Me

Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul. 

These are some of the notable names throughout history that have contributed to and/or have embraced Reformed Theology – or a “Calvinistic” view, as what it had been identified by many.  These faithful men of God have come to their doctrinal convictions, not because they have invented them out of thin air, but because they have turned to the Scriptures, thoroughly studied them, and made conclusions that they believed are firmly based on the Word of God and would glorify God the most.  As Charles Spurgeon once stated, “I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, that are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus.”  Therefore, for them, “Calvinism” is just a labeling that got stuck, but essentially, it’s simply traditional Christianity.  They believe that Calvinistic doctrines are what the Bible has been saying all along.

To imply otherwise is a seriously unfair insult to them.

Likewise, to conclude that those who agree with Calvinistic doctrines, like me, deem Calvinist authors and their books to be above Christ and the Scripture is seriously unfair.  Isn’t it possible that we’ve come to agree with Calvinism, not because we think of it as superior to the Scriptures, but because – after personally reading and meditating on the Scriptures, not relying on our own intellect, but praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit – we found out that it vibrates with the truth of the Gospel?  Because, personally, that’s how I had come to agree with Five Points Calvinism.    

The Bible is the Word of God.  Thus, everything in it is the absolute truth.  So as Christians, we submit to its authority.  I actually don’t accept doctrines or beliefs that won’t Scripturally hold.         

So whenever I argue for Calvinism, I do not rely on passages from John Calvin’s books.  I site Scripture texts.  As what Spurgeon once stated, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.”  And the Bible affirms Calvinistic points easily. 

My call is not for division, but for my fellow Christians – especially my peers, the younger ones – to pursue a more in-depth, intellectual study of the Scriptures.   The Greatest Commandment goes, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  With all your mind!   We can show love to God by making use of our mind at its most utmost ability.  And we can do this by thinking with all our might on what God means or intends with a certain Bible passage, corroborating it with other Bible passages, considering the context, and not by how we subjectively interpret it at face value.       

Christians love Truth, thus, if we profess to be Christians, we should always pursue the truth with the best we can, that we may glorify God properly.  As Christians, there’s the need to thoroughly study the Bible (Acts 17:11, Joshua 1:8, 2 Timothy 3:14-17) individually, and apply and celebrate its truths in our lives.  Furthermore, we are personally responsible for verifying doctrines and beliefs if they are indeed in accordance with the Scriptures.  If there’s the need for discussions among us in order to attain the truth (1 Peter 3:15-16), then let us do so – but in a gentle, humble, well-reasoned, Christ-exalting, and Bible-centered manner.  Most importantly, we should not obnoxiously rely on our own strength and mind during this process; on the contrary, we should humbly turn to the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom and understanding.  And whatever He reveals to us – especially if we are proven wrong – we should submissively “Amen” on it.

God Assures Salvation

Will someone who believes in Jesus ever lose his faith and salvation?

No, he will not.

(In an attempt to be methodical with this thesis as much as I can, I will be delivering my analysis of it in a numbered point-by-point outline.)

1.) The Real Meaning of “Believe”

First and foremost, let’s make it clear that the term “believe” in this context doesn’t mean mere acknowledgment of the historical existence of Jesus.  Moreover, to “believe” is also NOT the mere utterance of the words “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” because one is “caught in the moment” (like, in an emotionally charged crusade); or because declaring it is something expected from him – a tradition,  a rite of passage – since he grew up in a Christian environment; or because of wrong expectations, to gain benefits – material blessings, problem-free life, etc. – that he thinks he will receive if he just “believes” in Jesus.

The word “believe” here should mean a genuine profession of faith in Jesus, as a result of a legitimate Spirit-convicted born-again moment.  It means that he believes in Jesus because of an actual, intimate encounter.

2.) Faith, Works, and Salvation

It is clear in the Bible that we aren’t saved by our works (Titus 3:5), but only by God’s grace through faith (Eph. 2:8).  However, the proof that faith is genuine is works (James 2:14-25).  Thus, the indicator that one is truly saved is the fact that he conforms to God's Word and pursues a holy life (Heb. 12:14, Gal. 5:19-21, etc.).

However, there is no verse in the Bible that would support an assertion that works are required to keep salvation.  In fact, asserting that works are required in keeping one’s salvation is as dangerously erroneous as asserting that works are required to acquire salvation!

True, it is said in Philippians 2:12, to “work out your salvation with fear in trembling.”  But it’s simply another affirmation that works are simply the evidence of genuine faith.  Take note that it says work out, NOT work for.  Hence, works are the application of salvation, and salvation is not an outcome of works.

3.) The Bible Affirms That God's Elect Won't Ever Lose Their Salvation… Because It Is God Himself Who Preserves It!

Furthermore, after Philippians 2:12, it is continued in verse 13 that it is God Himself who “works in you to will and to act”!  If it’s solely up to us to keep and work out our faith, then we will surely fail.  But it is God Himself who sees to it that we succeed.  Thus, salvation couldn’t possibly be lost if the sovereign God Himself guarantees it.

Jude 1:24 says that He will “keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”  He will keep us from stumbling, and will eventually perfect us (see also Philippians 1:6).

Hebrews 7:25 states, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”  Christ Himself is interceding on our behalf for us to be saved completely (see also John 17).

John 10:28-29 states, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” There is no one or nothing powerful enough to take us away from God and make us lose our salvation.  Romans 8:38-39 further collaborates, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:30 clinches, by declaring God’s series of labors on a Christian’s life: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  There is no mention of absolute removal in that chain.  Right from the very beginning – from even before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) – God has guaranteed the salvation of His chosen.  Salvation can never be lost.

4.) It All Comes Down to Genuine Belief

Why then some “Christians” fall away from the faith?  Simple.  Their profession was counterfeit in the first place.  John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

Scripture has provided ample verses to serve as a checklist in evaluating the authenticity of one’s belief in Jesus (as 2 Cor. 13:5 asks us to do). 

1 John 3:9-10 says, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”

The Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:5–15 also illustrates the different kinds of people that hear the Gospel, and one of these is “those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.”  So there are professing “Christians” whose faith appears to be authentic at first, but it has in fact never been so – “it has no root.”  Those who are sincere in their belief in Jesus are the good soil (v.15).  And those who fall away in the faith didn’t genuinely believe in Jesus in the first place.  For if they did, they would have heeded the Word of God (John 8:47).

Lastly, 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  So if someone says he “believes in Jesus” but doesn’t live as a “new creation”, then the conclusion is simple: his profession is fake and he’s not in Christ in the first place.

5.) God Restores

Again, if a “Christian” falls away from the faith, then his initial profession was false.  However, if he’s actually one of God’s lost children, God’s elect, then it will not end with him not completely knowing Jesus.  God will work to restore him (James 5:20, Acts 3:19-21, Galatians 6:1), and on the next time he professes his belief on Jesus, it would be then genuine.

In short, there is hope for “backsliders.”  The avenue of repentance and restoration is always a possibility.

6.) Be Forever Thankful for God’s Salvation

We might not fully grasp or completely err in our understanding of how our salvation came to be, but we aren’t saved because of this.  It is Jesus who ultimately secures our faith and salvation – 100% His work.  Thus, we should be eternally grateful to Him by living out this salvation everyday with works that will glorify Him.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

'No Escape' Is a Zombie Apocalypse Movie Without the Zombies

No Escape tells the story of an American engineer named Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) who brings his family to an unnamed Southeast Asian country after getting a new job in a firm that aims to improve the country’s water supply.  His hope of beginning a new life with his family as expats on that country is immediately thrown into a horrifying tailspin when, barely a day has passed in their new environment, the place suddenly explodes into chaos, as rebel militia overruns the country, killing Americans on sight.  With all hell breaking loose, Jack must bring his family to safety.

No Escape is probably the most heart-pumping movie I’ve seen this year so far.   Really.  Among all the suspenseful 2015 films – both action or horror – that I’ve seen so far, there is none that has the same kind of tension-filled and uneasy sequences (there’s this one scene involving Jack’s wife that thoroughly made me sick to the stomach) that this movie has.  My palms were sweaty all throughout this movie, and there were more than one time that I found myself holding my breath and then gasping for air.

What makes No Escape more terrifying than a horror film is because its set-up is more realistic.  It’s like a zombie apocalypse movie, but without the zombies.  Instead of a horde of zombies, it has a horde of murderous and armed rebels.  It’s a real-life hypothetical scenario, but has the same sense of frenzy and apprehension that a typical zombie apocalypse tale has.  Now, this movie may have some xenophobic undertones as some people pointed out (though I don’t personally buy it), but to be fair, this kind of stuff had happened and is happening.

And because the narrative focuses on a family, not just any group of characters, the stakes are empathetically high.   The family dynamic intensifies each perilous sequence that the characters have to go through, as the main character doesn’t only have himself to keep safe and take care of, but his family as well.  We really want this family to survive and escape.

Furthermore, being a well-acted movie further helps it in delivering a terrifying, believable, and absorbing narrative.  Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, and the two child actors (who played the daughters) really gave compelling performances.  Pierce Brosnan, in a supporting role, is also pretty good, though it was easy for me to guess what his role in the story was going to be – it was that predictable.

All in all, despite having some flaws in the plot and production, No Escape is a legitimately gripping thriller with a strong cast and a provocative script.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

My Fondness for Certain Actors of '400 Days' Made Me Watch It

Basing on its IMDB rating, I had no intention of watching this movie at first.  Then I caught glance of some interesting names on its cast – Tom Cavanagh, Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, and Grant Bowler.  These are actors of some my favorite TV shows!  Cavanagh is from The Flash, Routh and Lotz are from Arrow (and next year’s Legends of Tomorrow), and Bowler is from Defiance.  I like these guys, and I was hoping that even if the movie turns out to be awful, their performances – or, at least, their presence – will be able to make up for it.

400 Days tells the story of four prospective astronauts as they agreed to be locked in a bunker for 400 days in order to simulate a space mission to a distant planet.  As the days passed, the situation starts getting too realistic, and the crew members find themselves showing signs of mental deterioration and questioning if it’s still a simulation.

The movie has some intriguing elements as a sci-fi psychological thriller, but it never truly has any meat in it.  Its quality is something one would expect from a typical mediocre direct-to-video/TV movie.  But understanding what it is, I had no high expectations for this film in the first place.

I was hoping, though, that 400 Days would be moderately Twilight Zone-y in its plot.  And for some stretches, it felt that it’s going to be so.  However, in the end, all its attempts fizzle out.

I also hated the cliff-hanger ending.  It actually has this clichéd but exciting twist at the end, but instead of following up on it – to tidy its mess of a plot – it ends with a cliff-hanger.  Now, in good narratives, a cliff-hanger ending can be a strong exclamation point to the story.  But in this case, with its insubstantial script that doesn’t make sense, the cliff-hanger ending only frustrates.

The acting didn’t really blow me away, but I guess it’s still one of the solid aspects of this movie.  Dane Cook has the reputation of being an uncharismatic actor, and he plays a character in this movie that you would expect from him – an unlikable jerk; but he actually doesn’t suck – he wasn’t great, but he wasn’t garbage either.  Cavanagh and Routh were particularly making an effort in delivering great performances – too bad, its weak script doesn’t give them enough character depth to work with.

In the end, 400 Days is an objectively bad movie; its likable cast (most of them) isn’t enough to prevent it from being so.  There are some elements that indicate that this movie could have been better, but they’re not substantial enough to make this movie worth watching by itself.