On Movies

People say it is wise to read books since life is short.

Somehow, books transports you to places and gives you the opportunity to be in other people’s shoes. May it be a detective duo uncovering the identity of an evil professor in 19th century England, a hobbit going through hills and mountains bearing himself a magical ring, a group of young adults exploring the vast world beyond a wardrobe — books offer a passage to what limitless possibilities. As long as someone thinks of it and puts it on paper to be read, it’s as if a new world can be constructed in a flick of a finger.

Now, that’s exactly how I feel about movies.

Whenever I see Shawshank Redemption, I feel as if I am part of Andy Dufresne inner circle, laughing every time he shares the story of how he made fun of the guards.

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Or joining Cooper and Brand in interstellar travel, traveling through the complex nature of time and space in order to find a new home for the sake of humanity.

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Perhaps entering the world of Inception, exploiting the world of dreams with Cobb and his crime circle.

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These feelings may even last until the last credits roll, following even to the way home, taking up a distinct space on the mind.

Roger Ebert, a renowned film critic, testifies of the same thing:

Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.

The first memory of movies that I have was watching The Green Mile at a cinema that I still go to even until this day. It was 1999, which means I was only four, and I remember that I was half scared seeing a convict played by Michael Clarke Duncan opened his mouth and hundreds of dark-colored particles came out after he supernaturally healed a prison guard played by Tom Hanks.

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I still remember the moment when I was getting ready to watch the first Harry Potter movie after reading about it on a magazine. It is rather surprising to realize that I was only six, and it happened over 16 years ago. Whoa.

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The cinema looks completely different now. It was once surrounded by dark blue wall, having a large selection of arcade games near the left entrance with their blaring arcade-y sounds, and there was a section near the line of movie posters where people can see photos of shots that are in the movie they were about to watch. Now the cinema looks much more elegant with better lighting and a dark cream and golden tone covering the walls. There are also more studios and a distinct room filled with arcade machines so the blaring sound of the games wouldn’t fill the atrium anymore.

The place may have changed, yet the memory remains timeless.

As I got older, I realized that some movies aren’t only moving pictures where the main character hops around until two hours pass and a happy ending is presented. Some seem to want to talk about tough topics. Off the top of my head, the Oscar-winning musical drama, La La Land for instance seems to focus on the topic of achieving one’s dream. The same could be said for Whiplash which portrays a realistic and rather brutal depiction of working hard to make it to the top.

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It’s as if those kind of movies speaks, that the lines that were uttered when combined with the moving images captured by the camera, the looks and expressions of the characters are trying to calmly whisper a voice that transcends the realm of the movie itself — the voice of the filmmaker.

Directors and screenwriters seem to have a way with relating to human emotion, getting us to cry on moment’s notice, ignites laugh, or even contempt. Their creative approach in doing so testifies of a certain truth that binds all audiences — the human part in each one of us.  Of great movies, George Ebert says, “The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.”

The way movie communicates about the mysterious, the sacred, the beautiful, and how all these elements relate on a personal level, I think is the main source of awe. In a way, my whole worldview is shaped by these things I watch over the years, tested and polished, in order to find the answer of what makes us human.

Movies and the Christian Faith

One of the reasons why I like to watch movies is that I can think most clearly when I am feasting on these moving pictures. While this may sound like going to the movies isn’t a relaxing activity for me, it actually is.

After long hours of sitting in a classroom or an office, for instance, it is such a great moment to just lay back with a bag of popcorn and drink on each side of the armrest, and reflect on life itself. Being a follower of Christ, I’d feel stimulated whenever a movie explores the theme of love. Not exclusively on romantic love, but rather on a higher kind — a lasting, and an eternal kind. Just like when Brand, a character from Interstellar says of love:

Love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving, that transcends dimensions of time and space.

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That line really did an impact on me. Contemplating on the theme of love biblically, I find this to be consistent to the Christian faith. Jesus says of the greatest commandment, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31).

About love, John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10).

In the great epistle to the Romans, Paul writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). He continues, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39).

The eternal and inscrutable love of God, bestowed unto His creations and His people, O how mighty and mysterious is this truth! O how this should change how we view our relationship with other people who are also created in God’s image, and most importantly, how our all devotion should be directed to Him alone.

Another example would be paternal love, a theme that can easily be found in most family movies. Of parents the Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

The captivating love between a woman and his son portrayed in the 2015 movie Room for example, a portrayal that surely is an effective tearjerker, when compared to God’s Word should then invite us to meditate on a love that is more transcendent, that even the strong bond of a mother and her child don’t come close. O how this should point us to the inscrutable love of Our Heavenly Father!

How immeasurable is this love! May we join Paul contemplating with other Christians, “.. the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” (Ephesians 3:18-19). O how such knowledge should compel us to love God more!

These are several examples of why movies are really precious to me. For me, these movies are great because they make most of Christ. Even though the directors don’t intentionally mean it to be so, the messages that they’re trying to deliver for me are whispers of deep yearning for something transcendent, Something awe-inducing in which all pleasure dwells, the One that deserves all praise and honor, the Trinitarian God Himself.

In the end, I love watching movies because they make me a believer. I hope it does the same to you too.

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Graduation

Last week, September 23rd was my graduation (yay!), an end to a four-year journey. Previously I wrote about the early days of my university life with all the bumps, the days of spending a semester in Germany, and I think it’s only fair to write one more as my days of learning came to an end.

For the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on everything that, by God’s grace, I’d been enabled to do and found myself keep adding to what an already long list.

I was only reminded to do so a couple days ago as I was in a car and passed through a road that was oddly familiar — one filled with memories of laughter, traffic jam, and utter fatigue. I realized that it was the usual route I took on my way from the office to my dorm during my internship days, more than two and a half years ago.

It was as if the traffic, the skyscrapers, and the bright lights then brought me back to those times.

One thing came to mind: God’s good.

As I relived what used to be my regular commute, I couldn’t help but think how He’s been faithful; how I could finally end up here, writing these words to you. I realized how even in those seemingly regular days, things beyond my comprehension are about to come to pass.

Without that internship, I would not be introduced to a lecturer who really inspired me and ended up guiding me in doing my thesis work.

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Without that internship, my semester in Germany would look completely different.

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Without that internship, I would not meet someone who graciously invited me to church and finally get baptized.

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What seemed to be a mere necessity for my study turned out to be something else entirely — to which I could do nothing but be humbled as I praise Him for His goodness.

And oh what a joy it was to have my parents pleased, seeing that their hard work is not in vain.

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And how thankful I was that I was mentioned as one of the best graduates.

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Oh these things are none of my doing, indeed.

What Now?

One of the reasons why I decided to write this blogpost is that I need a reminder similar to those times — moments when I was still studying, anxious about the upcoming internship abroad, swamped with the never-ending schoolwork — with the hope that, God willing, if I’m given the privilege to do even more, I could see that even in moments that I perhaps see as dull, God remains sovereign, and His perfect will shall come to pass.

The Bible writes that He shall do everything He pleases (Psalm 115:3), that nothing shall thwart His plan. And that His will far outweighs ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), His will is perfect, and that everything is done for His glory and our ultimate good. May we hold these truths closely in our hearts.

May in times of uncertainty we may be reminded of one unchangeable truth, fixing our eyes on Christ who at the right time died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6), accomplishing the will of the Father (Isaiah 53:10). May we remember that even in times of our suffering He remains close, for He was once clothed with the similar frail flesh and bones as we do (Hebrews 4:15), to be tortured with the worst punishment imaginable, died and rose victoriously that we may see that He is the only Way of life and there is nothing to fear in death. And that He encouraged us that we may take heart, seeing that He had overcome the world (John 16:33).

May we see that there is nothing in this world to boast in but Christ, for everything is from Him and to Him alone.

In times of despair and joy, may we draw near the all-sufficient Christ, and by His grace be strengthened to say with Paul, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philipians 1:21)

I rejoice in my Redeemer
Greatest Treasure,
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.

As summer flowers we fade and die
Fame, youth and beauty hurry by
But life eternal calls to us
At the cross

I will not boast in wealth or might
Or human wisdom’s fleeting light
But I will boast in knowing Christ
At the cross

— My Worth is Not in What I Own (Keith & Kristyn Getty)

 

 

 

The Experimentation Years

As a young adult living in the 21st century, I often hear that the teenage years are the crucial moments where one can explore the world to figure out who they really are — the things they like and what they would like to do when they grow up. Many teenagers are given the freedom to do all sorts of things — taking classes, applying for internships, or maybe even backpacking through Europe — to answer the big question, “What am I going to do with my life?”

This liberty of experimentation encourages us to see everything the world offers so that we may know ourselves better. Thus many nurture romantic relationships, apply to their favorite schools, choose career paths, believing in their hearts that it is the right thing to do. However, this exploration journey might not be forever a smooth sail — relationships may end with heartbreaks, school applications replied by rejection letters, and wrong career decisions leading up to frustration.

Sometimes we are unconsciously experimenting with our own lives, following the demands of our culture, with the hope that we’ll get the much-aspired answer to the question of our identity. Shall we find it in relationships, academic reports, or our professional accomplishments? Or have we been looking in the wrong place all this time?

Experimenting with the Heart

People have a lot to say about hearts. The heart is a delicate thing, they say. When we are about to make important decisions, we’re told that we should follow our hearts. “Go with your gut!” they say.

The Bible also has a lot to say about hearts. Ever since the fall, the disobedience of Adam and Eve has led humans to eternal death (Genesis 3, Romans 5:12). Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The famous reformer and theologian, John Calvin, goes even further, saying that the human heart is a “perpetual forge of idols.”

Naturally, our instinct tells us to follow our hearts, for it is the moral compass we’re commended to rely on. On the other hand, the Bible sees things quite differently; instead of trusting it, we’re presented to the only solution that only God can accomplish – change it, and follow Him instead.

God says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God is the solution to our heart problem.

Timothy Keller says, “If you try to put anything in the middle of the place that was originally made for God, it is going to be too small. It is going to rattle around in there.” None of our heart-forged idols — our relationships, study, or career — can ever fit to the God-shaped hole. We can experiment all we want, but none will quite fit. Ironically, in this search, our natural state fails to distinguish things that are truly beautiful and mere vanities (Romans 1:21-23).

About this C. S. Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We are far too easily pleased, indeed.

New Heart and Our Identity

Only a restored heart, the gift of salvation given by grace through faith, can point us to the only One who truly matters, God Himself. It is through Christ, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” that we’re enabled to know Him (Hebrews 1:1-3).

In our search for fulfillment, look at Christ who humbled Himself, not counting “equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philipians 2:6-7). Fix our eyes on the One who came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15, John 3:16), by “making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20).

About this Paul testifies, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philipians 3:8).

The experiments can now end. Our identity is found in Christ. What are we supposed to do with our lives? Glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

This is the gospel. This is our identity.

The Gospel and the Christian Life

 

“If I’m not showing grace . . . have I forgotten the grace I’ve been shown?” – John MacArthur

Someone once wrote that one of the biggest lie many Christians believe is thinking that they don’t need the gospel. Despite its very definition, the “good news” is popularly seen only good for people who are non-Christians, while for those who have believed in the gospel, it is often sidelined, replaced with a list of dos and don’ts instead, like so:

“Don’t lie! Don’t drink alcohol! Pray before sleep! Pray before meals!”

While they are commendable exhortations, it is unfortunate that despite such long to-do list, we might be missing the point, that is, the gospel.

What’s the gospel?

The Bible says that in the beginning was one God, co-existing in three different persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In Him is the perfect fellowship of love, each person indwelling harmoniously with each other. And in His glory is made manifest through creation, where He created the whole universe and everything in it. Continue reading

Reflections on Baptism

Yesterday, July 15th 2017 was the day of my baptism after years of embracing the Christian faith. I personally never thought that day would never come, to have fellow families and friends showing their support by witnessing this moment.

Looking back, years prior I was still reading my Bible in secret, fearing if my family were to find out. The Bible was a NKJV New Testament Gideon Bible, with a two-column side-to-side translation in Indonesian language. I would normally read before sleep, illuminated with a night lamp with yellowish hue placed above my bed. I would place the Bible beside my head pillow, start reading, and put it there for the rest of the night after I had finished. This fear-induced nighttime ritual was really challenging, and now that I think about it, was quite silly. Despite my own anxieties at that time – which were immense – it is not right to fear for my family to find out that I was practicing the Christian faith. As a matter of fact, I think my fear at that time was the fear of shame – one of the worst kind of fear.

To finally have the same people I once feared for expressing my beliefs coming to my baptism was beyond words. For years I thought that they were the problem, while it had actually been me. It felt easy to position myself as a victim, to feel self-righteous, for I was the only Christian in my household. But the problem had actually been shame – ashamed of embraching the gospel of Christ – making it even a worse kind of fear. But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and this perfect love is shown in Christ.

The desire to be baptized had been there ever since the moment I read the Bible for myself. At that time, however, I thought of being baptized as nothing more of a commitment, as if I have something to prove. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with a commitment that comes from a pure heart, my desire, on the other hand was self-centered and was highly contrary to God’s Word.

According to the Scripture, baptism is a symbol of “having been buried in him … you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God” (Colossians 2:12). It is also written, “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;” (2 Timothy 2:11). Baptism glorifies Christ, that we may boast in His death and resurrection, in which all our hope rests. The death and the resurrection of Christ – the gospel – is our sure foundation (1 Corinthians 15:14). If baptism was the proclamation of our self-sufficiency, it would diminish the glory of Christ, the very thing that awakens our heart to the incomprehensible beauty of God.

Therefore baptism is more than a personal commitment, but a proclamation of the glory of God, an expression of faith that relies solely on God’s grace. The baptism is a one-time event, as Christ had died and rose once and for all, that we may be set free from the enslavement of sin, and live eternally with Him, in whose presence is the fullness of joy.

I could have seen baptism as the proclamation of the confidence that was similar to Peter’s just before he was about to deny knowing Christ three times (Luke 21:33). But may our confidence rest in the finished work of Christ instead, and in Him who intercedes for us (John 17), as He also prayed for Peter lest his faith fails (Luke 22:31).

My journey towards this moment hadn’t been a smooth sail. In the past there had been countless moment of unbelief and constant failure. Yet God’s faithfulness prevails, for “if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13). It is Him who works within us and it is His righteousness that is imputed to us, so that all may be made right as we know our place as His creations, and worship Him as Our Creator, forever.

Baptism screams nothing but God’s faithfulness over people who least deserve it; it screams nothing but God’s grace. May this hymn be our daily prayer,

“My heart is filled with thankfulness
To him who reigns above,
Whose wisdom is my perfect peace,
Whose ev’ry thought is love.
For ev’ry day I have on earth
Is given by the King;
So I will give my life, my all,
To love and follow him.”

Amen.

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Merciful Father

Father, I am a sinner.

I just realized that in all the times when I would suddenly feel an insurmountable amount of guilt, I haven’t truly acknowledged that I am a sinner.

I’d have thought that I did good.

Prayers? Check. Reading the Bible? Check. Helping others? Check.

Then a deep sense of guilt would start creeping in, ruining the “good vibes” I had going. That morbid feeling whispers, “You’re a sinner.”

It is when the reality finally hits me, it feels like I have finally sobered up. It is when I am finally aware of my fallen nature, I start losing hope, leading up to the questioning of my faith – questioning God.

I’d then forget how I could claim that I am truly a Christian. That moment years ago, when it was the unlikeliest moment for me to confess my faith, I declared publicly, “I believe in Jesus Christ.”

What is wrong with me? I pray, I read the Bible, I help others, yet my heart is all hard and cold.

I forget how it feels to know Him personally. I forget His goodness. I forget who He truly is. Then doubting His existence will be the most logical choice. It feels so easy to give in, I can’t help it.

But He is truly merciful. Even in times like these, when my heart is so blurred that I can’t see Christ, He draws near.

He reminds me that He is the only reason why I believe. He is the reason why I could confess my faith. He is the reason why I could see how sin is just by the door, and I feel fear; a fear that I’d stray from Him.

So in all my weaknesses, I choose to forget Him completely – forgetting the Only One I should fear – silently wishing that hope and peace will start rushing in.

But in all my weaknesses, I also choose to forget that He is my hope, and He is my peace.

I’m trying to forget the Only Source of joy with the hope that I could find it in something else. I am exchanging God for mere vanities – praises, accomplishments – shouting, “I am the god of my own life”, hoping that I’d gain hope and peace knowing that I have it all.

Yet, in all my weaknesses, I am deeply unaware that although it might seem that I have much, I actually have nothing.

All these things just prove that I am truly a sinner. My heart condemns me, and it wins.

Or does it?

Apostle John writes, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20).

God recognizes our guilt. He knows.

Now it all comes down to one question, “Do we trust Him to bear our guilt? Do we trust Christ?”

Thankfully, in all our weaknessess, He remains faithful.

“When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast”
(He Will Hold Me Fast, Matt Merker)

In all our helplessness, He keeps reminding us that it is Him who saves us. By witnessing such mercy, we see His true worth – how unworthy we are, and how grand He is.

“Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson)

In all these things that we may see as evil, He uses it for good. Christ made sure of it through His sacrifice on the cross, so that we may come to the Father, and call Him, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

It is by His Spirit that we are enabled to confess that He is God (Matthew 16:15-17, 1 John 4:2).

It is by His grace that we are given the faith to repent (Ephesians 2:1-8).

It is by His goodness alone, to which we deserve not even a drop, He shows that He is God, and we can rejoice in Him (Romans 9:14-18).

Father, we are sinners, and Your Son came for this very reason, to save sinners. It is through the cross that we see the worst of punishments, that Christ endured Your holy wrath that should have been lavished upon us. It is a torture none of us can even start to imagine, Lord. Remind us of such torture when we’re drawn to sin, that these filthy acts are the reason why Christ came, and why You sent Your Only Son to die for us, the ones who can present nothing but filthy rags.

Father, I have never witnessed any miracle as Christ healed people – opened the eyes of the blind or made the lame walk. But may I never forget this miracle, that You changed my heart, opened my eyes to witness Your amazing grace, so that I may walk in the path of righteousness – a path covered with Christ’s blood – that I may live like Him, losing my life, that I may gain it in You, Lord.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Thank You, merciful Father.

 

Spurgeon on the Gospel Humility

We would have it so happen that, when our life’s history is written, whoever reads it will not think of us as “self-made men,” but as the handiwork of God, in whom his grace is magnified. Not in us may men see the clay, but the Potter’s hand. They said of one, “He is a fine preacher;” but of another they said, “We never notice how he preaches, but we feel that God is great.” We wish our whole life to be a sacrifice; an altar of incense continually smoking with sweet perfume unto the Most High. Oh, to be borne through the year on the wings of praise to God to mount from year to year, and raise at each ascent a loftier and yet lowlier song unto the God of our Life! The vista of a praiseful life will never close, but continue throughout eternity. From psalm to psalm, from hallelujah to hallelujah, we will ascend the hill of the Lord; until we come into the Holiest of all, where, with veiled faces, we will bow before the Divine Majesty in the bliss of endless adoration.

C. H. Spurgeon