Monday, December 19, 2011

"...But the Lord was with Joseph" (and George Bailey too!)

Christmas time is here my friends, that special time of the year where we bake exorbitant amounts of cookies, buy gifts for our family and friends, decorate both the inside and outside of our houses and [hopefully] spend time reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas, which is of course the birth of our savior Jesus Christ!

One of my family’s other traditions involves watching several Christmas movies on a yearly basis, and one of our all time favorites would have to be “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Over the years, as I have watched this movie, I am always moved [like most people I’m guessing] by the ending. However, last year I began to realize that George Bailey’s whole life reflected and paralleled the life of the Old Testament Biblical hero Joseph, in a couple of different ways.

For example, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt a land that he certainly would never have chosen to reside within, as they were a pagan nation that did not in any way worship the true God of Israel. (see Genesis 37) George Bailey from the beginning of the movie states that he wanted to ‘shake the dust of this small town’ of Bedford Falls and live in a big city where he could ‘build things.’ However, due to his father’s early death, George is instead stuck in Bedford Falls managing his father’s small building and loan business, where he probably felt like a slave in some ways, though he certainly was not in an horrendous a situation as Joseph, because he still was surrounded by family and friends.

As many of you who know Joseph’s story probably know, God was still with Joseph in Egypt, even when he was wrongfully accused of seducing his master’s wife and thrown in jail (Genesis 39:11-23). George Bailey suffers being wrongfully accused of stealing his businesses money by a bank examiner, because his Uncle and business partner Billy accidentally allowed the money to slip into the hands of the movie’s villain Henry F. Potter, who instead of returning the money, keeps it in an attempt to bring George and his business down! However, the same could be said of George that the Bible tells us about Joseph, the Lord was with him.

This we see in a number of ways. To begin with, we are shown that all of George’s friends and family are praying for him as he is rushing around town in Christmas Eve night in a panicked frenzy trying to come up with the 8,000 dollars he has ‘lost.’ This is from a Biblical perspective, exactly what we are supposed to do when one of our brothers or sisters is in distress. The Apostle Paul teaches us in 1 Timothy 2:1 “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” (ESV) That means that we should pray for others in our lives. Moreover, James 5:14-15 teaches us that “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call upon the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith, will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” I believe this can apply not only to physical illness, but any sort of anguish that one is going through, and in this movie George is certainly going through mental anguish.

In fact, George himself prays to God on his own behalf, asking that He ‘show me the way Lord.” It is at this point that Clarence, George’s guarding angel arrives on the scene, and shows him that his life has been a life that has been well lived. Clarence of course does this in the unorthodox fashion of granting George’s angrily expressed wish of “I wish I had never been born.”

This then, allows George to see all the ways his life has touched the lives of those around him in the small town of Bedford Falls. His brother would have drowned at age nine. The building and loan business would have closed decades earlier, and a fact that is easy to miss in the movie, the plastics factory that George had urged his friend Sam Wainwright to build in Bedford Falls during the Great Depression, and provided hundreds of jobs for its residents in the process, would never have existed! In many ways, George had saved his small town from becoming a horrendous and depressing place to live!

Remember Joseph in Genesis, he did something similar in Egypt. You see, because God’s hand of favor was so strongly on his life, God allowed the Pharaoh to have a prophetic dream, that only Joseph could interpret through his God given gift of dream interpretation. This not only got Joseph out of jail, but also allowed him to be promoted to second in command under Pharaoh! All of that was because Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream to mean Egypt would have seven years of great crops, followed by seven years of famine. Thus, Egypt stored up a lot of extra crops during those seven years of plenty, and became the epicenter for providing thousands of people food who probably would have other wised perished from starvation! Think how bad life would have been in Egypt and the surrounding lands if Joseph had never been born!

To close let’s bring things back to George. He had spent his life modeling Paul’s command in Ephesians 4:1b-3 to “walk in manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It was now finally his friends’ turn to take all of the gentleness, patience, and humility that he had shown towards them over the years and turn it back towards his direction. The did this initially by uplifting him in prayer, and then took action and began donating as much money as they could possibly afford to replace the $8000 that had been lost!

Indeed while the writers of “It’s A Wonderful Life” may not have intended for it to, I’ve always felt that this film shows what true community looks like, and what the Church should truly model to the world. We are called to be a ‘city on a hill’ (Matt. 5:16) that is visibly different to on looking world, and there is no better way to shine brightly on that hill than by fulfilling a need of a fellow Believer in dire straits!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Baby I'm Alright, With Just A Kiss Goodnight"

In the recent September/October 2011 issue of RELEVANT magazine, there was a very disturbing article entitled “The Secret Sexual Revolution” which unpacked a disconcerting fact that 95% of young unwed dating people in America between the ages of 18-29 are currently sexually active. However, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to us as Christians, since we are well aware of our cultures glorification of sexuality outside of marriage. However, a whopping 42% of those sexually active were those who claimed to be Christians! When the numbers are broken down even further RELEVANT”s research indicates that only 20% of all unmarried people claiming to be Believers are still virgins! That is scary and depressing news!

That is why when as song like “Just A Kiss” by Lady Antebellum arrives on the scene it is such a welcome breath of fresh air! Here we have a mainstream hit making pop/country band writing a song that conveys an abstinence message! Journey with me as we unpack it a little more in the following paragraphs.

The song begins finding our young protagonist singing about the struggle of temptation the is inevitable in any dating relationship, though I will point out that some decisions can be made to avoid some of these struggles in a moment, but first, here are the first two stanzas:

“Lyin' here with you so close to me
It's hard to fight these feelings when it feels so hard to breathe
Caught up in this moment
Caught up in your smile

I've never opened up to anyone
So hard to hold back when I'm holding you in my arms
We don't need to rush this
Let's just take it slow.”

First off, it probably is not a good idea to be snuggling up with your boyfriend or girlfriend in a vertical position. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 5:3 that “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people” (NIV). Therefore, I can fairly easily conclude that putting oneself in a position of temptation is wrong in the eyes of God.

However, that being said, I like how this young women in a story recognizes she is being tempted, and admits she is struggling with her ability to ‘fight these feelings’ and ‘hold back’ yet she ultimately states ‘we don’t need to rush this, let’s just take it slow.” You see friends, Paul also realizes that sexual temptation is going to come upon us in this life, and while it is certainly best to take all precautions to prevent any hint of it in our lives, we are human and going to be tempted at times. That is why he wrote us instructions of what to do when we are tempted: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6: 18 (ESV)) The young women in our song is telling her boyfriend to stop and ‘take it slow”

This point is driven home in the chorus:

“Just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight
Just a touch of the fire burning so bright
No I don't want to mess this thing up
I don't want to push too far
Just a shot in the dark that you just might
Be the one I've been waiting for my whole life
So baby I'm alright, with just a kiss goodnight”

What a great message to be bouncing around our countries radio airwaves. While she may not come right out and say ‘we aren’t going to have sex’, the subtle message of ‘baby I’m alright, with a just a kiss goodnight” certainly indicates a girl saying her boyfriend needs to leave after kissing her and nothing more. The bridges clarifies matters in my view:

“No I don't want to say goodnight
I know it's time to leave, but you'll be in my dreams

I like that! Honest, but still standing by her convictions! That is one of the biggest things sexual intercourse can do to people when it is outside of marriage, it leaves nothing left to “dream” about! The Christmas present has been opened way to early and there is no mystery left between the guy and girl anymore. It spoils everything!

I know one of the biggest things that I look forward to when God one day leads me into a special dating relationship will be the excitement and joy that comes from dreaming about the girl I am dating and leaving plenty of mystery to be discovered along the way, most of which will only be discovered if we get married. I have guidelines and precautions that I will be sure to follow when the time for dating comes that will help keep me pure, including but not limited to, being sure I am never alone with the girl anywhere where temptation could get the best of me. That is how I will model Ephesians 5:3 and 1 Corinthians 6:18 to the best of my human ability, while letting God into every area in that relationship. Thus, I will then be able to tell my girlfriend each time we part ways that I am ‘alright with just a kiss goodnight.”

To close this blog I want to be sure to end on a hopeful note. While 42% of Christians are in a current sexually active relationship, that is still less than half, which means the majority of Christians are still holding on to abstinence! However, I want to speak to those who may have already indulged in the act of sex either before they were a Believer, or in a moment of weakness after becoming a Christian. Let me tell you this: there is most definitely forgiveness in Christ. In 1 John 1:9 we are told that, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (emphasis mine).” That means pre-marital sex is included! While some will quip that a person can’t ever be a virgin again, and that is indeed true from a physical standpoint. However, emotionally and mentally I truly believe a person can have a mindset adjustment into living a life of purity from the moment they are cleansed by the Lord on, until the day they marry!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"How Can You Not Get Romantic About Baseball?"

Baseball has been my favorite sport since I began watching it with my Grandfather late in the glorious Cleveland Indians 1995 season. I was eight years old then, and my love for the game has only grown as I am now in my mid-20’s. My interest has now expanded into all facets of the game including how teams decide whom to keep and whom to trade when the time comes. I also have developed a dislike for all the powerhouse teams who can spend all the money they want and bulk their teams up like a weightlifter on steroids. Thus when the movie “Moneyball” came out last month I was immediately drawn to seeing it, as it feeds both of these interests in telling the true story of Billy Beane the Oakland Athletics General Manager who in 2002 built a winning team out of a bunch of guys that other teams rejected for various reasons.

Beane as it turns out met up with a young and upcoming baseball statistician named Peter Brand who had begun analyzing players and screening them for a stat that very few teams ever look at (even to this day), a player’s on-base percentage. Employing computer-generated player analysis Brand could examine all players at all levels of baseball (minor league, rookie ball, and major league) and determine which players would get on base most often, and then recommend them to Beane so he could draft or sign them to contracts.

The film is a genuine treat for anyone who loves both baseball and a true underdog story. As Beane states at the onset of the movie, when expressing frustration over teams with big budgets sucking up all the good free agents from small market teams, “there are good teams, there are bad teams, then there’s fifty feet of crap…then there’s us!” It is soon after this statement that he meets Brand, and the two get to talking about this new idea of employing computer generated analysis.

From here we as the audience are taken on a journey of the Athletics’ 2002 season. They started very slow that year, and were in last place in the American League’s Western Division in May. Throughout those early months, Beane employed a lot of patience with Oakland’s manager Art Howe who didn’t want to play some of the players Beane has signed in the off season because he didn’t believe in Beane and Brand’s concept of using statistics. Beane shows great patience with Howe, and very rarely even raises his voice when arguing with him over the players involved, calling to mind the words of Solomon in Proverbs 15:1a ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath.” However, Beane eventually chooses to force the issue and trades away one of the young rookie players Howe wanted to play everyday (Carlos Pena) so Scott Hatteberg (the player Beane liked) would begin getting everyday at bats. Howe isn’t happy, but he chooses to reluctantly go along with the idea.

By mid-season the A’s are still struggling and Beane begins to realize that young Jeremy Giambi, one of the young players he signed because of his high on base percentage, is becoming a bad influence on the team with his party boy lifestyle. Realizing that he had made a mistake in bringing Giambi to the team, Beane elects to trade him to another team, thus again exhibiting Biblical wisdom this time from Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:33 by recognizing that “bad company corrupts good character.”

What then happens as the season moves into the post all star break part of the schedule is truly remarkable! Suddenly all of the players Beane signed begin to shine! With help from Beane’s encouragement the players begin to attempt to draw as many walks as they can, thus causing the opposing team’s pitcher to throw more pitches, thus getting him out of the game sooner. By mid-August another remarkable thing transpires, the Oakland Athletics began an incredible winning streak, one of a nature that hadn’t been seen in baseball since the 1930’s! Suddenly the A’s are in first place and showing no sign of going back! Thus, many of Billy Beane’s critics who thought he was crazy during the first half of the season, slowly began becoming believers in this new baseball philosophy!

Throughout the movie, there are many examples of Biblical concepts some of which I have highlighted already, plus the almost too obvious David versus Goliath story interwoven between the lines of the script. Beane carries himself in a gentle but confident manor. He isn’t afraid to ask players to man up and be leaders on the team, as he does with one of the few veteran players on his team in David Justice. He also isn’t afraid to call guys out who care only about partying and not giving it their all in trying to help the team win, as is the case with Jeremy Giambi who as I mentioned earlier he trades mid-season. The whole film also tremendously exemplifies what it looks like to stand by your beliefs when others around you question you on them, something the Apostle Paul tells all Christians to do when it comes to doing the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58)

There is so much to glean from this movie, aside from the fact that it is tremendously entertaining and a true love story to Major League Baseball and the enjoyable ride a baseball season is for a diehard fan. This is so summed up by Beane himself near the end of the movie during one especially moving scene, the details of which I will not reveal here, when he says “how can you not get romantic about baseball?” As the incredible 2011 World Series Champions the St. Louis Cardinals taught us, yes, indeed Mr. Beane, is surely is impossible not be romantic about such an amazing and unpredictable sport!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Summer To You All!!

Summer time is here! Being that today is the first official day of summer, I thought it would be fun to examine a song that became popular during one of the most exciting summers of my high school life, the summer of 2004. The song is ‘In This Diary” by the band The Ataris.

In the song, lead vocalist Kris Roe writes about his greatest summer and the chorus featured some interesting and thought provoking lines:

“Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up,
These are the best days of our lives,
The only thing that matters is just following your heart,
And eventually we’ll finally get it right.”

Now for years, I have been just singing along with this song every time it comes on my iPod or car stereo, but it recently struck me how unbiblical this idea of ‘following your heart’ is.

Roe, writes that in life ‘the only thing that matters is just following your heart” but one doesn’t have to look far in this world to realize that a lot of sin is committed because people follow their hearts. This is probably why God told the Israelites in Numbers 15: 39b that they are remember His commandments and to ‘not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after.” (ESV)

When we follow after our own hearts a lot of disaster can await us. Think for example about how easy it is to fall into sexual sin if you follow after your own heart. The heart will say that if you ‘love’ the person you should sleep with them. Your emotions and desires (which stem from the heart) will leave you longing for sexual intimacy, and it is only if you keep your mind focused on God’s word and immersed in his Spirit that you will be able to live your life in a manner worthy of the Christian Faith (2 Timothy 1:11). That means abstaining from all sexual immorality, which is sinful in God’s eyes (1 Cor. 6:18)

Speaking of the heart Jesus also taught us in Matthew 15 that, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all other sexual immorality, theft, lying and slander. These are what defile you” (v.19-20a NLT). Yikes! A lot of sinful things come from the heart then! I don’t know about you but I don’t think following our hearts will ever lead to us eventually “finally get (ting) it right.”

However, there are also parts of this song that are very positive in theme. Take the first part of the chorus which states "Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up.” I can attest to this being true. Now that I am grown up and out of high school and college I can tell you that there is something special about being young and innocent of some of the evils and nasty parts that life holds. I think this is why Jesus taught that “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Luke 18:17 ESV). You see we need to possess a childlike innocence, and more importantly trust, in Jesus to inherit the kingdom of God! As they grow up, most children are less likely to be cynical about the world and life in general. This is the type of attitude Jesus wants all of us to have when it comes to His kingdom! The Gospel is good news, and it leaves little room for cynicism.

One other theme of the song is the concept of how spending time with friends is essential to our ability to make memories. As the first stanza states: “All those nights we stayed up talking/Listening to 80’s song/And quoting lines from all those movies that we love/It still brings a smile to my face…”

That first part particularly rings true. How many of us have had those special times where we simply talked for hours with people who were of like mind and like heart, and didn’t even realize we had been talking for such a long period of time! God intended for us to be relational people, it is why he created the first romantic relationship and marriage when he stated that “it is not good for man to be alone” in Genesis 2:18. Romance is the most intimate of relationships here on earth, but friendships are an easy second. In Acts 2:42 Luke tells us that the early church members spent a lot of time under the ‘apostles teaching and fellowship’ and in Acts 2:44-47 we are told that all the believers lived together in community and shared everything. That is pretty strong evidence that we were created for community in my view!

Thus, as summer kicks off for all of us, make it memorable! For those of you who are Christians and involved in a local Church, get out there and do an outreach. Have a barbeque or block party at your house and sit outside long into the night talking and laughing! Pray for one another and be united in spirit (Acts 2). Make memories! And always keep in mind Jesus’ words of loving others because He first loved us (John 15:12). Don’t follow your own heart, but seek what is on the heart of our Father in heaven, and allow Him to guide you!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

One Day At A Time

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”
-Romans 12:15 (ESV)

This verse may be one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. However, how many people truly take into consideration what this means and implies? Isn’t it much easier to be jealous of someone when they are rejoicing and happy? Isn’t it natural to be jealous when a friend gets that job they’ve always dreamed of and your still working at a job you hate?

Similarly, isn’t it rather easy to distance oneself from a friend who has lost their cousin to a sudden heart attack? Paul tells us that while these may be our natural methods in which we deal with such situations, it certainly is NOT the right way we, as the body of Christ, should be dealing with such matters! Paul tells us to be happy and rejoice with our brothers and sisters in Christ when God blesses their life in a special way! We are to celebrate with them and along side of them, because we are a family and families should celebrate together!

The same is true for when a brother or sister is grieving a painful loss, whether it be the loss of a parent or the loss of job or the death of a dream! We are to go to them and spend time with them. Often times we don’t need to say anything, just simply showing up at the funeral or taking a meal over to our friend is more than enough. I have also found that it is sometimes better to let the person talk and that I simply listen and give them a hug.

One of my favorite movie’s that illustrates the concept of community rallying around a hurting person is Cameron Crowe’s (“Jerry Maguire”) 2005 masterpiece “Elizabethtown.” This film tells the story of a young man whose father dies suddenly while visiting relatives in a small Kentucky town. The young man (Will) is asked by his family to fly into the small town to help and make funeral arrangements. When Will arrives in Elizabethtown, Kentucky he is met by relatives and family friends whom he hasn’t seen in years, but all whom loved his father and want nothing more than to grieve with him. They hug, tell stories and reminisce about what a great man Will’s father was. Will also receives compassion from strangers and people he doesn’t know, including Claire a young flight attendant who he met on the flight from Oregon to Kentucky. Claire views life in a unique and positive light, which aides Will tremendously as he mourns the loss of his father.

Another part about the grieving process that is so important is knowing that God wants us to take life a day at a time. We experience so many emotions throughout the process that it can be very overwhelming. However, Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:34 “don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (NLT). Therefore, I don’t believe God expects us to try to tackle everything we are feeling in times of grief at once, but instead allow Him to help us through each day, one day at a time. In many ways Claire does this for Will, by encouraging him to take every emotion in and ‘experience the incredible melancholy’ that life sometimes throws at us.

I recently was blessed by both of these concepts in my own personal life. Back in April, my Grandmother passed away after a six-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. When it came time for the funeral, many of my friends completely surprised me and stopped by, just to give me a hug, and say that they were sorry for my loss. This meant so much to me, as just a simple a thing as showing up richly blessed me, and reminded me that God loves me, and has blessed me with friend who love me as well!

I also have learned that grieving needs to be taken a day at a time. Some days it is harder than others, and there is often no rhyme or reason to why I suddenly feel angry at one moment or sad at another. However, I have been able to claim Matthew 6:24 that I will not worry about tomorrow because my Heavenly Father is taking care of me, and no matter what I am feeling, He understands.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sound that Alarm, Bob! Sound that Alarm!

“Once Upon a Time”

When you hear those words, what do you most commonly think of? A story right? Generally a fairy tale or fable more than likely. Bob Dylan opens his 1966 magnum opus “Like A Rolling Stone” which was once voted by Rolling Stone magazine as the “greatest rock song of all time” with this phrase. The song tells the story of a person in a high place and high position in society who ultimately loses their prestige and popularity, leading to feelings of drifting directionless on stormy seas.

As the song opens we are introduced to a first character, who is given a stern warning:

“Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you ?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you”

This calls to mind immediately the words of Solomon in Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (ESV). In Dylan’s words people are warning our character that she should beware because she is ‘bound to fall’ however, she thinks they are kidding with her. Thus, this character is prideful thinking nothing will happen to her. As the song continues however we find out:

“You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?”

Indeed our protagonist has been humbled. In this way, I’ve always felt Dylan was acting like the watchman in Ezekiel 33:3-6 who we are told should warn the town of coming danger. If the watchman warns the town of coming danger and they do not listen, the townsfolk fate is their own fault, however, if the watchman fails to warn the town of impending doom, the fate of the townsfolk is his fault in the eyes of the Lord.

Let’s continue a couple of stanzas down

“You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.”

Here we see our main character has been deceived by people who she thought were her friends but were indeed her enemies, wolves in sheep’s clothing if you will, to burrow Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15 about false prophets who can lead us astray, and take from us everything they can steal, including our souls when it comes to speaking in eternal terms!

I also like the imagery of riding on a ‘chrome horse.’ Chrome which is made from the chemical of chromium is actually not a super rare chemical, but is very rust resistant for a metal, and appears to be a lot more impressive than it really is. Thus our character is riding on a chrome horse that makes her appear more important than she ultimately is.

The last stanza sets up some interesting ideas as well:

“Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you'd better take your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.”

I like the concept’s here that Dylan discusses in reference to the thought of a wealthy person needing to pawn a diamond ring. I doubt that a thought like that would ever cross their mind, yet there will come day for every person that puts us all on equal footing, it will strip even a decorated French war general like Napoleon into rags. That great equalizer is death, and every single human being on earth will experience it.

Jesus spoke about the concept of what happens when we die on several occasions, one though that is most poignant to our song exposition here though. Jesus tells us a parable in Luke 16:19-31 about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus would wait by the rich mans gate every day just hoping that he could raid the rich man’s trash in order to feed himself. The day came when both men died. The wealthy man who never cared at all for the poor went to hell, while Lazarus went to Heaven, where he had the opportunity to hang out with Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel! The rich man is able to look up and see both Abraham and Lazarus in paradise and begs for Lazarus to dip his finger in cool water to cool his (the rich mans) tongue for he is in anguish! Abraham’s response is chilling:

But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” (Luke 16:25-26 ESV).

I don’t know about you but this may be one of the most terrifying passages of scripture when it comes to what happens when we die. There are two options: Heaven or Hell. That is it! So often times we see people in society who become wealthy and comfortable here in this life, but unless they surrender their lives to Jesus will spend eternity in Hell. Jesus once also said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 19:24)! Why you ask? Well, I think it because wealthy people simply naturally desire to become wealthier, until greed consumes their life! Christianity teaches that we are to lay aside our desires and seek God’s will, that is whole lot easier to do if God has brought you to a place where you have nothing but Him and Him alone, and need to trust Him alone, not money, not status in society, not your own mental or physical abilities, no Him and Him ALONE!

It is not easy friends, and that is why it is so important to store up treasures in heaven (Luke 12:33) and not be as concerned with what happens to us in this life. Don’t get me wrong possessions are fine, but when they become idols we have a major problem. It can send us away from the Lord the person who gave us life, and leave us with ‘no direction home/like a rolling stone.” The good news is, there is Grace for those who have lost their way, but only through Jesus the man who died to save our souls! Yet in order to be saved we need to lay our lives, our wills, and our desires for anything that is not of God (Rom. 8:7), in order to receive that Grace, the kind only God can bestow on us through His Son!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Each Of Us Has Something Special to Offer The World

Having the humbleness to recognize that you need help is probably one of the most important character qualities one can have. How many poor grades on English papers, or customer’s becoming angry with you for being too slow with their food could be avoided by simply knowing when to admit that you are in over your head. Craig, the hero of the fine 2010 movie “It’s Kind of A Funny Story” has this quality. Craig has battled depression for several years, and even been on Zoloft for his depression, but decided not to take his medication anymore and became depressed, to the point of contemplating suicide! However, instead of going through with the tragic act, he walks into a hospital and asks to be admitted for help. After some persuading of the doctor that he needs to be hospitalized, because he truly doesn’t understand why he is so depressed, he is admitted for a five-day observation period and the story begins.

After being guided by the young Doctor Mahmoud, who is completing his residency in the hospital psych ward, to his room. The doctor introduces Craig to Bobby, another patient who to Craig seems completely happy and at ease, leaving Craig to wonder why he is even checked into the psych ward to begin with. Craig is also introduced to Muqtada, who will be Craig’s roommate for the five- day period. Muqtada, Craig is told never leaves his room and rarely leaves his bed, often only to use the restroom. From there Bobby gives him the tour of the rest of the patient all whom have disorders such as schizophrenia, or Turret’s syndrome, leaving Craig a bit unnerved at having to stay in such a facility. When he asks the chief Psychiatrist to allow him to leave early, she tells him that since he has been admitted, he must now stay for the five-day period. Craig’s parents also visit him and his Dad reminds him that he has a application to a accelerated summer school due soon.

Throughout the movie Craig fills in the blanks for us with overdubbed information. It is there that we learn that Craig truly doesn’t know why he is depressed, but that his parents desire for him to achieve a lot in his life, and that he is very smart and attends a prestigious New York high school. We also learn that Craig’s best friend Aaron also attends this same school with his girlfriend Nia, whom Craig has had a crush on for a long time.

All of this background information is important as the film unfolds because several things happen. To begin with Craig finds a mentor in Bobby who helps guide him and give him the necessary kick in the butt when it is needed. Bobby encourages him to get involved in the activities that the patients participate in, such as group discussion time, and music therapy. He also encourages Craig to begin talking with young Noelle, a patient who is also Craig’s age. One scene that is particularly memorable is a scene where Craig and Bobby are playing basketball in the hospital gym, a place they have snuck to illegally. Bobby walks Craig through the ropes of how to ask a girl out that is both humorous and heartfelt.

The whole concept of mentorship that is portrayed here through Bobby and Craig is a Biblical idea. In Titus chapter 2 Paul encourages Titus to mentor the young men in his church by teaching them ‘to live wisely in all they do’ (Titus 2:6-7). This whole chapter in Titus is a discussion on the importance on mentorship for both men and women, and throughout this movie, Bobby does give Craig solid and wise advice.

As far as Craig’s friendship with Noelle goes, he begins by playing a question game that she tells him to play in which she asks a question and Craig’s response must also be a question. This is a fun scene in this movie as well. By the end of their conversation Noelle races him to the Art Therapy meeting, and it is there Craig while claiming he can’t draw, sketches an amazing piece of art that is unique and praised by everyone in the room! It is here we see that Craig is finding out that his true purpose in life is probably not becoming a lawyer like his father seems to think his son should be, but an artist instead. Craig soon realizes that when he is drawing his depressing and suicidal thoughts disappear, as he tells the Psychologist soon after in a private meeting.

When viewed in light of the Christian worldview this makes sense! As a Christian I believe that God creates every one of us with a purpose and gives us gifts to help us to accomplish that purpose. The Apostle Paul talks about this a lot in 1 Corinthians 12, which those of you who know your Bible will realize is the famous passage on Spiritual gifts. Particularly this section of 1 Corinthians 12 stands out to me on this topic of our purposes in life: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit, and there are varieties of service but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities but it is the same who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4-7 ESV). That last verse is especially important to focus on. God gives us each one or more gifts that is for the good of many people! Think about that God has a plan to accomplish certain things through each and every one of us who looks to His Son as our source of Salvation! The last thing we should do is to try to fulfill a purpose that he has planned for someone else trying to use a gift He hasn’t given to us! Craig’s revelation here, subtly accentuates this point quite nicely!

One last topic I would like to cover here involves Craig’s new budding relationship with Noelle, and the challenge that Craig has on his plate when he finds out over the phone that his friends Aaron and Nia have broken up. Nia then calls Craig and tells him that she would like to visit him, and when she does it becomes obvious that she is suddenly attracted to Craig very much! The begin to make out and she aggressively begins to pull him down on bed in Craig’s room. Fortunately though, Muqtada, Craig’s roommate emerges from the lavatory and immediately breaks up their passionate make out session by chasing Nia out of the room screaming she is ‘temptress’ and that he will not allow ‘sex on his bed in his room!” Craig runs out after her screaming that he love her, only to realize Noelle has heard him and looks completely hurt and dejected! Muqtada right here acts as another mentor in a sense that he, like Solomon in Proverbs 7 warns Craig of how a women’s motives can lead a man astray very easily.

Craig realizes how badly he has messed everything up with Noelle, and he decides to stay in his room with Muqtada and quite going out in the world because as he says to Muqtada “you had it right all along Muqtada, it is better to stay in here and not ever go out there!” This is when Bobby pays him a visit and utters the line that he needs to get up dust himself off and chose to find happiness again, because ‘those who aren't busy being born are busy dying" which some of you may recognize as a line from Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” off his 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home.”

That is the overall message to this film, we need to live our lives because each of us has something special to offer to the world. Young Craig learns this while spending his time in the psychiatric ward. He learns that he has a gift for creating unique art, and that many of the other patients also have special gifts. He learns how to seek forgiveness and how to bring out the best in people. Lessons like that are often the hardest to learn, but can be the most rewarding once we’ve learned them! God desires us to learn lessons like these because as King David wrote in Psalm 51:6 “You desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise.” It is not until we are truly honest with both ourselves and God that He can grow us in wisdom, which leads us to being able to have the ability to teach and help others!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

For those of you who want to learn more about Jesus Christ, the man who's Resurrection from the dead we are celebrating tomorrow...

Those of you who have followed my blog over the last couple of months know that I am a huge fan of Author and Pastor Mark Driscoll, who’s Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington has grown in leaps and bounds over the past ten years! What is amazing about the story of Mars Hill’s growth is that Driscoll refuses to compromise on any issues related to what Scripture says on controversial topics such as Jesus being the one and only way to Heaven, and homosexuality being a sin in the eyes of God. He preaches the Bible and doesn’t ever apologize for it! In a culture that is more and more pluralistic each day, this is a victory!

Most recently, I read Driscoll’s 2007 book “Vintage Jesus” which he based on a series of sermons he gave back in 2006. Throughout this amazing book’s 12 chapters, Driscoll examines questions about Jesus in terms of Jesus’ Divinity, Jesus being human and God at the same time, Jesus’ mission on the earth, why Jesus had to die, and where Jesus is today. Following will be some of my thoughts on some of the many highlights of this book.

In examining how human Jesus was, Driscoll concludes that Jesus was 100% human and 100 % God, meaning that Jesus was God, but also understood everything about what it was like to be human. He would have had to use the bathroom, and would have laughed and cried and felt every emotion we humans experience, yet he did all of this without sinning! I particularly thought is was cool how Driscoll mentioned that Jesus must have been fun to be around, because he was invited to parties and weddings (John 2) and frequently spoke to large crowds ( one example is in Matthew 5).

There is also a chapter that I would recommend anyone read who has ever wondered about the Old Testament prophecies regarding Jesus. In a chapter entitled “How Did People Know Jesus Was Coming” Driscoll reviews 25 Old Testament prophecies regarding Jesus, and then shows how Jesus fulfilled each and every one of those prophecies by citing parts of the New Testament! It is very powerful to see Jesus’ fulfillment of so many prophecies given in some instances, 1000 years before He was born! Whether you are a Christian or a person simply questioning the existence of Jesus as Lord and Savior, I dare you to read this chapter and not be blown away!

Another fine point in this book, that completely made me stop in my tracks was a point Driscoll makes in the chapter on why Jesus had to die. In this chapter Driscoll reflects on the statement the Apostle Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 about how Jesus became sin so that we might become righteous in God’s eyes. Driscoll writes that when Jesus hung on the cross “Jesus became a homosexual, alcoholic, thief, glutton, addict, pervert, adulterer, coveter, idol worshiper, whore, pedophile, self-righteous religious prig---and whatever else we are.” That is why He had to die such an ugly and unfathomably gruesome death. He was taking God’s wrath for the entire sin of the world on His back, and actually became that sin in the eyes of God as He hung dying on the cross! In light of the fact that we will be celebrating Easter tomorrow, this makes Good Friday, which we celebrated yesterday, all the more sobering a day for us to commemorate!

One other section of this expository look at Jesus is Driscoll’s discussion of the three roles Jesus plays in our lives. He is first a Prophet, who speaks directly into our lives about areas in which we sin, and leads us into repentance for those sins. Next, He is our great High Priest, who as the author of Hebrews points out is now “the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey Him.”(Hebrews 5:9b) Another words, once Jesus as our Prophet convicts us of our sin, He then intercedes for us on our behalf before God, and God grants us forgiveness (Hebrews 5:1-2). Lastly, though Jesus also should be our King, so that He has rule over everything in our lives. As Driscoll states, “Jesus is not just the King who rules over nations on the earth and principalities and power of the heavens, but He also rules over our pants, web browsers, refrigerator, debit card, cubicle, and car horn. As our King, Jesus demands and deserves obedient loyalty to His commands over every aspect of our life.”

That is powerful stuff, and certainly an area that I need to work on, but it is a process, that takes years of walking with the Lord to establish, though we will never be able to do it perfectly because this is a fallen world with sin in it (Genesis 3). However, Driscoll is right when he says Jesus needs to be all three of those things in our lives, and as Believers it is good for us to strive to give Jesus authority over every area of our lives! Living this way is not easy, but I can tell you that the more I’ve started giving everything over to Jesus in my own life, the more I’ve seen Him grow me in my love for Him!

Other highlights of this book include the sections where Driscoll looks at where Jesus is today, and what will happen upon Jesus’ return to earth. You see, Driscoll points out quite accurately that we have no idea when Jesus will return, as Jesus Himself told us that He didn’t even know, only God the Father knows (Matthew 24:36). Therefore, Driscoll points out that all these people who claim they have figured out the exact day that Christ will return are bogus, but He will return, and when He does it will be to judge every person who has ever lived. Those that accepted His gift of atonement for their sins, will spend eternity in Heaven with Him, while those who did not accept His redemptive Grace will spend eternity in Hell apart from Him! If that doesn’t make those of us who are Believers want to share the Gospel with everyone we have the opportunity to share it with, I don’t know what will!

To conclude, I can easily recommend this book to just about anyone who wants to learn more about Jesus. Whether you are an inquisitive agnostic or a person who has been a Christian for more than 20 years, I guarantee you will learn something from Mark Driscoll’s incredibly well researched testament to Jesus Christ, the man who was sent by God to save our souls!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jesus offers forgiveness and cleansing for the scar of sin on our lives!

Our sins have consequences. It’s true, sometimes we don’t see the effects of our sin right away, but they do have consequences. That concept of sin causing problems and scarring in our lives if you will, is one of the themes that is discussed by John Rzeznik lead vocalist and songwriter for the Goo Goo Dolls in their 1995 smash hit “Name.” The lyrics from the second verse have a lot for us to unpack as far as Christian concepts:

“Scars are souvenirs you never lose,
The past is never far,
Don’t it make you sad to know that life,
Is more than who we are.”

Let’s take the first example about scars being ‘souvenirs you never lose.’ Sometimes Satan makes it so easy for us to think we know better than God when it comes to what is best for us. Thus, we decide that acts which God calls sinful really aren’t sins for us, and that we should act on what we feel and tell God that we know better than Him and we aren’t going to listen to what He says in His Word about how we should live. When this happens it so often times turns out that we realize that God was right and we were wrong. This is why the Apostle Paul warned us concerning sin in Galatians 6:7-8 “Don’t be misled. Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” (NLT)

The concept of reaping what we sow fits well with the concept of sin ‘scarring’ us in a sense that we can’t forget sin. The Holy Spirit will always convict us about such matters, and that conviction, if unacknowledged will lead to scarring. Paul calls that producing a harvest of “decay and death” which is really not a pretty picture! However, what I love about this passage of scripture is that it ends with an encouraging remark. If we live our lives to please the Lord, we will harvest ‘everlasting life from the Spirit!” That to me is very encouraging and exciting! Don’t get me wrong living our lives to please God is not easy! In fact it is very hard, but there is a promise of a reward attached if we do this!

The second part of the stanza here is also interesting to delve into. I find it perplexing that Rzeznik considers it sad to know that life is ‘more than who we are.’ Then again in a culture that is obsessed with selfish and egocentric behavior among our most famous celebrities, it shouldn’t surprise that an unbelieving world would not want to face the fact that life is not about us! But there couldn’t be a more accurate statement made, and it once again lines up with truth in the Bible.

In Colossians 3:2 Paul writes: “Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth.” That’s right, friends, we as Believers are not supposed to dwell too much on the distractions that demand our attention down here on earth, that are often futile efforts to build ourselves up! We often forget that life is so much more than what is currently going on in our lives. Whether it is good or bad, it is important to keep in mind Paul’s words about our thought life. God doesn’t want us to be consumed with ourselves down here on earth. He wants us to mindful of Heaven, and that in my view means a couple of things. One it means to have a longing for Heaven and the paradise that is awaiting us after our lives here on earth are complete. However, it also means to keep our minds on the things that matter to God. It means we can’t be selfish but instead be servants like Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4.

The concept of being able to focus outside of ourselves can be hampered as well by falling into sin cycles that can plunge us into despair. As “Name” continues into it’s next stanza Rzeznik addresses this in a unique way:

“You grew up way too fast,
Now there’s nothing to believe,
And reruns all become our history
A tired song keeps playing on a tired radio
And I won’t tell no one your name.”

This concept of ‘reruns becoming our history and ‘a tired song’ playing on a ‘tired radio’ all conjure up images to me of a cycle of behavior to me, behavior that the song’s story teller seems to desperately want to get out of but is unsure of how to. Sin can be like that quite often. The first taste is often sweet and pleasurable, enticing us to want more, which leads to us continuing in that sin, until we are so hooked we don’t know how to even begin getting out.

Sexual sin is especially this way, because it feels good in the moment, but barring the Holy Spirit is present in our hearts to convict us, it leaves us feeling hollow and empty later. Yet when the temptation arises again, it can be easy to jump right back into the same behavior all over again, because we as humans become easily addicted to things that makes us feel good. I think this is why Jesus told us that ‘the highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13b-14 NLT). Being a Christian is hard folks, plain and simple. However, as Christians, we have the ability to ask God for help in fighting Satan’s temptations and He will help us. As Paul writes in Titus 2:11-12 ”For the Grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self controlled, upright and Godly lives in this present age."

Think about that, God’s gift of Salvation helps us to say no to sin! The Holy Spirit within each and every one of us gives us that power, but we need to ask Him for help! God is a faithful God and Jesus promised that He will give us anything that we ask of Him, if it is in His plan for our lives (John 14:13-14). Friends, sin does leave scars on our lives, but you need to know that God can cleanse us from0 those scars left by our sin! Oh don’t get me wrong some sins are going to leave a mark on us for a time, but in God’s eyes if we have asked Him for forgiveness, that sin is no longer remembered by Him (1 John 1:9). So since God has forgiven us, often times we then need to be able to forgive ourselves, and ask forgiveness of those who we have hurt by our sin. These things will take time, but once we have invited God into the process, true healing can begin

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Journeys Are Sometimes Necessary In Order For God To Teach Us Lessons

Life is a journey friends, and it only moves forward. We can’t go back once a moment has passed. Singer Anna Nalick once wrote in her hit single “Breathe (2 AM)” that ‘life’s like an hourglass glued to the table’ and it is true! Therefore, as believers we should try to make each and every moment count. The Apostle Paul tells us this in Colossians when he wrote “Live wisely among those who are not Christians, and make the most of every opportunity” (4:5 NLT). See every moment spent in this life is important to God, especially those moments we spend around those who are not Believers, and we need to keep that in mind.

Sometimes God takes us on a specific journey to teach us some things about life as well. Many of us have heard stories of people who took time off from work and the minutiae of everyday life to seek God and hear from Him. In some ways this is true of Brett, Martine, and Gordy, three travelers who run into each other by accident on journey across Post Hurricane Katrina Louisiana in the movie “The Yellow Handkerchief.”

As the movie progresses along, we learn about each character and how they are on a specific “journey” in their lives. For Gordy, he is traveling across America searching for what it means to be a man, because his own father abandoned him when he was young. Martine, is a young 15-year-old girl, who suffers from a poor relationship with her father, and thus has looked for meaning in sexual relationships with boys from in her small town school. Brett, meanwhile is fresh out of spending six years behind bars, and on a journey to possibly reconnect with his estranged wife, though he isn’t ultimately sure if he will be able to do that or not, or if she will even take him back if he does find her.

As the story progresses these three characters that had planned to travel with each other for one day keep being brought back together through various circumstance. They also begin to learn lessons. Early on in the movie, young Gordy tells Martine that he is incredibly attracted to her and that he would like to kiss her. This scene occurs while the three of them or in a hotel, stranded because of a heavy rainstorm. Martine, who we have already been told has been taken advantage of before, agrees to allow Gordy to kiss her. However, when he kisses her passionately and begins to climb on top of her she screams and stops him, leading Brett, who had been in the bathroom, to separate the two of them for the evening.

The next day Brett quietly remarks to Gordy, that girls need to be romanced and that they don’t want to simply jump into bed with a guy. While, this certainly should have included Brett telling Gordy that sex is meant for marriage exclusively, there is still some Biblical truth in Brett’s statement. In Song of Solomon 2:3-5 the women in the poem writes “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love” (NIV). Hmmm. Banquet halls and being feed raisins and apples,(sweet foods back then) sounds a lot like dinner and chocolate nowadays perhaps? The point being the Bible tells us that a woman values a man who pursues her by romancing her and winning her heart. This in some ways is the truth Brett is telling young Gordy.
Brett meanwhile is battling a dark secret from his past. He was in jail for manslaughter, and though the death that resulted from an accident that he contributed too, there is no way that it was really his fault. Yet, Brett deep down can’t forgive himself, which I think is a predicament many of us might confess is something we struggle with all the time. When we mess up, it is so easy to beat on ourselves for days, weeks, or even years! Even if we have confessed this sin before God and man, we can still harbor anger at ourselves for mistakes we made years earlier.

The good news though friends, is that God doesn’t want us to be bound by our past mistakes. That is why he sent Jesus into the world, to die for that sin, so that we could walk I freedom. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:7 “In Christ we have redemption and forgiveness of sins.” Think about that word ‘redemption’ for a second. defines it as ‘deliverance or rescue’ and ‘atonement for guilt.’ That means we are no longer guilty in God’s eyes of for those sins. It is as if they never happened! Now don’t get me wrong in this life the effects of some sins can continue to be viewable in our daily lives, but God doesn’t want us to view ourselves as un-forgiven. He wants us to move on and allow Him to use us for His glory again!

David wrote in Psalm 130:7 “O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is unfailing love and an overflowing supply of salvation.” From this verse, I think we can conclude that God demonstrates that ‘unfailing love’ for us through His gift of salvation, and I can’t believer he wants us to take that love he has for us and basically say ‘I know you’ve forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” You see in the end, how God views us is what matters, not how we view ourselves!

As Brett progresses in his journey, he begins to realize that maybe he can forgive himself, and decides to take a chance, with encouragement from Gordy and Martine, to walk out that newfound self-forgiveness. The ending brings about the importance of romance that Brett told Gordy about to full circle, and leaves us as an audience seeing firsthand what a newly forgiven person looks like! While it may not specifically reference God in this movie, God is ultimately the author of the greatest story about Redemption, and it is neat to see earthly examples of this in Hollywood movies!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Honoring You Father and Mother is a command, not an option!

"Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God will give you.” (Exodus 20:12 NLT)

Many of you will recognize this passage of scripture as being the fifth commandment in the list of the Ten Commandments God gave the Israelites after He freed them from being slaves in Egypt. From a young age, I have always been struck by this commandment! For one matter, it is the only commandment of the ten that has a promise attached to it, basically meaning that if we obey God in this commandment, He will bless our lives by giving us a long life. While it could be argued that He was specifically addressing the nation of Israel, I believe he still desires that we honor our parents as well. I will address this more later, by discussing a few other passages in the Bible on the matter of the relationship between children and parents.

I have always been passionate about this topic. I have been blessed to have been raised in a Christian home with parents who I always trusted and believed had what was best for me at the heart of their decisions and rules. Yet, in our culture today, I see more and more disrespect for parents and general authority figures, and it grieves and angers me terribly. Most recently this topic of respect for one’s parents and the authority they have been given by God (Ephesians 6) came up while watching my favorite current prime time TV series “Parenthood.”

This series tells the story of four grown children and their emerging families. All four children are parents, and they still spend time learning from and hanging out at their own parents home. The oldest son is Adam, and he and his wife Kristina have two children, Haddie and Max. Over the course of three episodes (“Opening Night,” “A House Divided” and “Just Go Home”) that aired this past February on NBC, Haddie becomes upset and angry with her parents over their decision to not allow her to date Alex, a young man who is four years older than her and comes from a troubled past. This leads her to sneaking around so she can see Alex, which ultimately leads to her getting caught by Adam and Kristina. Her parents ground her, and even take the door off of her bedroom, stating that she has broken their trust, so she needs to earn back her right to privacy. This then leads to Haddie running away from home and moving in with Adam’s parents (her grandparents) for a while. Naturally this leads to a rift between Adam and Kristina and Adam’s parents.

Looking at this fictitious example of a how one child’s rebellion against her parents can cause so many relational problems leads me to believe this is why God has spoken so much about the importance of children honoring their parents. For example, in Proverbs 23:25 Solomon writes “So give your parents joy! May she who gave you birth be happy” (NLT). Think about that, as children we are to bring joy into our parent’s lives. Other translations say let your father and mother “be glad” about you. I don’t think that part of making your parents glad about you involves not trusting them enough to believe they know what is best for you. It is important to remember that wisdom comes with age (Job 32:7), therefore we should trust that our parents are wiser than we are.

Paul also speaks about children’s relationship with parents on two occasions. First is that we are to obey our parents because it pleases the Lord (Ephesians 6:1) and secondly, that disobeying our parents is a sin (Romans 1:30). I realize that not all of you who read this have had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home by Christian parents. However, I believe God still desires that you honor your parents whether or not they are Believers. The only exception that I can see to this rule is if you parents would tell you to do something that is openly sinful. It is important to know that while your parents may not be Believers they still have lived longer than you and therefore can still have that “wisdom that comes with age” that Job talks about.

To be fair though, Paul also addresses the responsibility that parents have to their children. In the same chapter of Ephesians where Paul commands that children obey their parents he also says this to Fathers specifically: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV). This is pretty clear to me that while we as children have a big responsibility to follow God’s command of obeying and honoring our parents, our fathers have even bigger responsibility in this matter. They are commanded not to anger or exasperate us as their children, but to bring us up so that we learn to honor God. That is huge responsibility, because let’s face it our fathers are under a lot of pressure, and they will blow it sometimes, but that is where we must extend them grace.

As for our mothers, Proverbs talks about how our mothers are to be honored for serving the Lord “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Proverbs 31:27-28 NIV). That’s right, as children we are to call our mothers blessed and be a blessing to her. A Godly mother and wife will work hard for her family. This is in my opinion one of the gifts God gives to a woman. Women are more relational than we men are, and therefore the ability to manage and maintain a household comes more naturally to a woman than a man. While God calls me to be leaders of their household, He gives the gift of running and maintaining the everyday parts of life to come more naturally to a woman. Therefore because of gifts God gives to both our mothers and fathers, we are to honor and respect both of our parents.

Let me also say that the Bible never seems to say that once we turn 18, we no longer have to honor our parents. That however, seems to be a common thought in America today, where we are considered adults on our 18th birthday, and thus freed from parental authority. Unfortunately, I have seen this thought process creep into the Church at times, and it is rather disturbing, as I see no Biblical backing for this belief. Don’t get me wrong the Bible does talk about children growing up and moving out from under their parents roof (Genesis 2: 24), but it never says that we no longer need to honor and respect our parents after we move out, or become legally adults.

As Haddie’s grandmother ultimately said to her while she was staying with her, and away from her parents, “honey you need to just go home!” It didn’t matter whether or not she agreed with her parents or not, she belonged living in their house and honoring their decisions, even if she didn’t agree!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We must not put our hope in people, but instead put our hope in the Lord

Have you ever thought back to your childhood and how you used to have such a vivid imagination and longed to simply spend summer afternoons outside playing in your backyard until it got dark? I don’t know about you but I miss the innocence of my childhood immensely sometimes, before I knew how much darkness and cruelty there is in the world around us. That innocence is written about quite nicely in “Toy Soldiers,” Carbon Leaf’s 2002 masterpiece that appeared on their equally perfect album “Echo Echo.”

As the song begins we find the protagonist falling asleep and dreaming about his childhood:

“I fell asleep in my writing chair
I dreamt I'd found my childhood stare
To family dinner Christmas night
We'd cross the river shipyard lights
Before the heartbreak and unknown.”

You see he is dreaming about Christmas time with his family and the joy he felt ‘before the heartbreak and unknown.” That is a special time in our lives and it is a time that I believe God gives us when we are children as a gift. As children we sometimes find it easier to apply the words of David in Psalm 37:4 “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” As children it is much easier to have the joy of the Lord because we look around and primarily see the good in the world. I realize this is unfortunately not the case for some children, as tragedy like death, divorce and financial discord can strike in any family when children are young, but for many of us, we have grown up blessed with that special innocence and joy. I know that despite the fact that I was a very shy young man, I had joy most of my formative years.

In Matthew chapter 19, Jesus’ disciples try to keep parents from bringing their children to Him for blessing, but Jesus rebukes them saying “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom Of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14). Think about that statement for a minute, commentators have said this means that if we approach Jesus with a childlike faith that He can do anything and He is God, Jesus will bless that faith. Because we live in a cynical world, this kind of ‘childlike faith’ that David also talks about in Psalm 116:6 is harder and harder to maintain, but it is an essential part of faith as Christians. We serve big God, who is capable of anything, and I know I sometimes forget that myself!

As the song progresses we find the protagonist making a statement that reflects a loss of childlike faith, while finding him longing to get that kind of faith back once again:

“We find the people of our dreams
We find that they're not what they seem
I've learned that people come and go
I've learned that families break and grow”

Don’t we all often find that things like people, jobs, and sports teams often don’t fulfill us the way we thought? We think that we have that dream job, or can cheer on championship sports team, or have met our dream girl or guy? Yet all of those things and people are living in a fallen world with us, and therefore are going to let us down. That is why Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:8 “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. "For whom am I toiling," he asked, "and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?" This too is meaningless— a miserable business!” (NIV). In this instance the man is alone with no family, but he still has worked hard and earned great wealth, yet he is not content Solomon tells us. In achieving his wealth it appears that he forgo any family or friendships, which ultimately leads to despair according to Solomon. Solomon then goes on to say “Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning.” (v. 4:13).

Jesus warned us by asking in Luke 9:25 "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (NKJV). You see if we don’t have material wealth but are wise and know that we should seek the Lord in everything we are richer than a King who has everything but will one day die and be able to take none of it with him! That in some ways is what Carbon Leaf are saying by writing about how people, jobs and families let us down.

If this is true then, how are we supposed to have any kind of hope, joy or faith like a child that both David and Jesus have stated is so important? Well, David gave us some great advice in Psalm 33 for starters. He writes in verse 20-22”We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.”

See friends, anything in this world is going to let us down at some point. I say that with a firm hold on my diehard optimist card. The reason for this is the fact that there are, as Paul wrote “mighty powers of darkness who rule this world” (Ephesians 6:12b). When you keep in mind this fact, that Satan and his demons are active in our world with the goal of causing us pain and wrecking havoc on our families and friends, it is easy to see why people will ultimately let us down. That is why we must not put our hope in people, but in the Lord alone! His love is as David wrote an ‘unfailing love’ that we can trust in, no matter what comes our way in life. We won’t always feel that love, but we can confidently know that His love is always there, no matter what!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Our ability to be discerning can sometimes get 'Tangled' up between light and darkness

"18There is no judgment awaiting those who trust him. But those who do not trust him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God.
19Their judgment is based on this fact: The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.
20 They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished.
21 But those who do what is right come to the light gladly, so everyone can see that they are doing what God wants." John 3:18-21

Have you ever thought about why so many crimes are done at night, under the cover of darkness? I think Jesus’ words above give us a pretty convincing answer to that question. Particularly the end of verse 19. People whose actions are evil are not going to like being in the light, because it exposes their evil deeds. In the same way, when we invite Jesus into our hearts, He exposes the ‘dark’ parts of our lives, the un-confessed sin and secrets we don’t want anyone else to know about.

The concept of light representing all that is good and pure, and darkness representing all that is evil and sinful is demonstrated finely in Walt Disney’s newest cartoon movie “Tangled” a retelling of the classic story of Rapunzel, the girl trapped in a tower with very long hair. The story begins by telling us that a special flower that had healing powers was used to heal the Queen as she was about to give birth to a princess. The princess was then born and her hair glowed brightly like the flower and it was soon discovered that her hair had the same healing power.

The evil Mother Gothel desperately desires to be kept perpetually young, and is convinced that the power inside of the young princess’ hair would allow her to stay young. Thus, she devises a plan to break into the castle and cut off a lock of the princess’ hair to have with her at all times. However, she finds out that when the hair is cut, the healing power ceases to work. Thus she kidnaps the princess and takes her away to live with her in a tower on the outskirts of the kingdom, and because Rapunzel’s hair only has the power if it remains uncut, Mother Gothel never once takes scissors to the princess’ hair, thus her hair is very long by the time the story picks up again 18 years later.

As princess Rapunzel grew up, she was constantly told by Mother Gothel that she can’t leave the tower because the world is a scary and evil place. Even at age 18, this is still the case. Every time she talks about the world to Rapunzel, the scene always becomes dark. This illustrates how Mother Gothel has something to hide and is fearful of light. By contrast Rapunzel’s hair glows whenever she sings and has the power to keep Mother Gothel young. Whenever Rapunzel is at the center of the scene it is always light, demonstrating her innocence and purity.

The contrast is recognizable immediately for those who are paying attention. The Apostle Paul asks in 2 Corinthians 6:14b “what fellowship can light have with darkness” and we see this illustrated as the movie progresses. Rapunzel has a deep desire within her that she doesn’t completely understand. This desire is to be able to leave the confines of the tower and go to see these mysterious lights that appear in the nighttime sky every year on her birthday. She has noticed these over the years we are told, and had always believed that they had something to do with her. She thus pesters Mother Gothel to allow her to go and see the lights closer up, a request which Mother Gothel always flatly denies.

Then one day Flynn Rider, a kingdom outlaw on the lam from the law takes solace inside of Mother Gothel’s tower while she is away. Rapunzel kidnaps him, ties him up with her hair and questions him about the outside world. She makes a deal with him to take her to see the lights and he reluctantly agrees. So she hides Flynn in a cupboard, convinces Mother Gothel to leave again, and sets out to see the lights, with Flynn as her reluctant travel guide.

As she goes along, she at one point feels guilty about disobeying what Mother Gothel had told her about leaving the tower. Flynn replies to her that some rebellion is a normal part of growing up, and I immediately thought of what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 22:15 “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of child.” Rebellion is for the most part foolish, and a part of children’s sin nature. So in some ways Flynn’s statement is true, it is a normal part of growing up, but not necessarily a good part. However, as the story progresses we see how while rebellion is certainly not right, God still uses it for good, as he so often does in our lives (see Romans 8:28, and Genesis 50:20).

Another biblical parallel with this story is as some of you might expect, the story of Samson recorded in Judges 13-16. You see like Rapunzel, Samson had long hair that was never cut, because God told his parents that they were not allowed to cut his hair (Judges 13:5). Therefore, Samson grew to be a man possessing superhuman strength, which was endowed upon him by God to accomplish the task of rescuing the Israelites from the Philistines. However, Samson knew that if his hair was ever cut, his strength would leave him, because of God’s covenant made about him with his parents before he was born.

Rapunzel’s hair as I said previously, has the power to keep Mother Gothel young, and as we find out later I the movie, heal wounds as well. However, much like Samson, if her hair is cut, she no longer has those special abilities. That is another reason Gothel kept her locked up because not only did she want to keep Rapunzel’s special power exclusively for herself, she also didn’t want anyone to ever cut Rapunzel’s hair.

The concept of light and dark makes a return later on in the movie, as after Rapunzel has made it to the center of the kingdom and gone out to see the lanterns fly in the sky, Mother Gothel finds her at night, and tells her under the cover of darkness again, that Flynn is going to betray her and that she should come back to live in the tower again. Rapunzel doesn’t believe Mother Gothel until she sees in the darkness the shadow of a boat leaving the shore way, with Flynn on board (though it is hard to tell whether or not it is him, and what Rapunzel can’t see is that Flynn is tied to the ships steering wheel being forced to leave).

Once again, Mother Gothel works under the cover of darkness to deceive Rapunzel into believing lies. Satan himself tends to lie to us by deceiving us into believing things that we deeply fear will happen, are happening! Jesus Himself warned us in John 10:10a that “the thief comes to steal, kill and a destroy.” Most Biblical scholars agree that here Jesus was definitely referring to Satan as the ‘thief’ and I most emphatically agree. You see friends, Satan never wants us to believe that God has plans for our lives that are to bless and not harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). He wants us to stay wandering around in the darkness not believing we can be anything or accomplish anything more than a meaningless existence. However if we seek out God, He will reveal Himself and His will for our lives to us, though it may take time.

Sometimes He will give us a vision in our minds for what He wants us to do, sometimes he speaks in dreams as he did many times in the Bible (Genesis 41, 1 Kings 3:5, Matthew 2:13). Other times he speaks through people who give us Godly council about questions and issues we have in our lives. As the movie draws near to it’s exciting conclusion, Rapunzel appears to have a kind of dream where it is revealed to her that she is in fact the lost princess who the lanterns are lit for each year, which reflects how God is at work in our lives and can use many ways to communicate with us!

Being sensitive to those times when God is speaking, while always keeping in mind that Satan is out in the world trying to keep us in darkness away from God’s light, is essentially a message that one can glean from this fairy tale. You see Satan can use people to tear us down, as much as God can use people to build us up! Being able to discern when we are being deceived is a process that takes years to learn, and a lesson that I don’t think we will ever be able to completely learn while we are still in a fallen world. That is why Paul warned the early church in Acts 20 that after he left “savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (v. 29b-31 NIV). The Enemy is present in the world, and he loves darkness and hates light, therefore it is good to pray that God’s light would illuminate our minds so we don’t get deceived and drawn away by the darkness the Thief so badly wants us to wander around in forever!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

We were made to think Eternally

"She prays to God most every night
And though she swears He doesn't listen
There's still a hope in her He might
She says I pray
But they fall on deaf ears
Am I supposed to take it on myself?
To get out of this place”

Do you ever feel that way? I know I have. So many times in our lives, we feel like God isn’t listening to us, or for that matter isn’t hearing a word we say, our prayers are like Dave Matthews has written here, “falling on deaf ears.” It’s not a fun place to be, but did you know that King David felt the same way at times? Check out his words in Psalm 109:1-3 “O God, whom I praise, don’t stand silent and aloof while the wicked slander me and tell lies about me. They are all around me with their hateful words, and they fight against me no reason.”

You see in this first part of Psalm 109 David feels like God is standing silent and aloof while he is struggling with people slandering his name as King. I think this is a normal part of the Christian life. I don’t pretend that I understand why God doesn’t appear to answer our prayers sometimes either. However, I will point out that sometimes God’s silence is His way of answering us. Perhaps the silence is His way of saying “no” to our request, or it could also mean ‘wait’ for a time. Despite all of these struggles that we have, God wants us to trust Him anyways, and that is a tough pill to swallow, but at the same time I find some relief in that fact.

In my own life, I’ve found that when God appears to be silent on a issue that I am bringing before Him, it is often that He is asking me to lay down what my desired outcome in the given situation, and fully submit to what He knows is best for me. King David also wrote about this subject in Psalm 5:3 “Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.” I emphasize that last point where David writes ‘wait expectantly.’ You see we need to seek the Lord about our desires and needs, but then we need to wait on Him. God is sovereign (Psalm 68:20) and He does know what is best for us.

The chorus of “Grey Street,” the Dave Matthews Band song I am writing about and quoting from today, features these lines that bring up another point of interest about mankind:

There's an emptiness inside her
And she'd do anything to fill it in
But all the colors mix together
To grey, and it breaks her heart”

This concept of an emptiness inside that all human beings have has been written about by theologians and saints in the past. Saint Augustine, one of the early Church leaders first brought this topic up as the “God Shaped Hole” that every person has within their heart that nothing in this life will fill. The only person who can fill that hole is God. Augustine used Ecclesiastes 3:11 as one of his main arguing points for this concept and I think his argument is quite valid. Ecclesiastes 3:11 finds Solomon writing this: “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end.” Think about that, God has planted the idea of eternity in the human heart! That means that every person has been designed by God to think in terms of living forever! He has designed us to know deep down that we are incomplete without knowing what it is like to be loved by Him with a love that is unfailing (John 1:17, Psalm 36:7). So our lead character in Matthews’ song has an emptiness inside her that she herself can’t fill in, because she is probably not a believer. She prays to God but she doesn’t feel He listens, and while I have already talked about how we as Believers can and at times do feel that way, I think it is probably even more normal for a person who hasn’t put their Faith in Jesus for the redemption of their sins and been born again to feel this way.

You see a person who hasn’t been redeemed through Christ’s blood has an image before God that is marred by sin. If they fail to acknowledge this fact and cry out to Christ for forgiveness, there is a barrier between God and that person. In Isaiah 59:2 we are told that sin can cut us off from God. In Romans 7:24-25 Paul tells us that we are still sinful in nature, but through Jesus, and only Jesus, we can be free from that sin.

Therefore if we are sinful by nature and sin cuts us off from God, it would only make sense that people who are not Christians would not only feel a emptiness inside due to the fact they haven’t asked Jesus into their heart, but also feel like their prayers aren’t being heard or answered. Dave Matthews has said this song was inspired by the life of poet Annie Sexton who suffered most of her life with bipolar disorder that ultimately lead her to commit suicide in 1974. Most her life was spent crying out for help, but as far as we know she never became a Christian. However, she was deeply aware of an emptiness inside of her, and it seems and she battled a depression because of her disorder, and that emptiness, almost her entire life.

It’s a sad story, which leads me to my final point. People that are battling depression and a sense of emptiness inside of them are just the people we as Christians need to be on the look out for. As our economy continues to be on the down and out, and unemployment rates continue to rise, people are going to become more and more aware of the void in their heart, and in many ways begin to develop what John Calvin would call the Sensus divinitatis which is Latin for “Sense of Divinity” which he taught meant all of humanity has a sense that there is a God in Heaven! When a person is at this point in their life, where they are feeling empty and yet a sense of God’s existence, is where I believe the Holy Spirit is at work beginning to lay the groundwork for bringing that person to Salvation. That is where we as people who are already Believers come in. We can be a guiding light to answer some of their questions about why they feel so empty and alone, and lead them to accepting that they are sinners and Jesus came to give them life and life abundantly (John 10:10). While it is ultimately God who I believe brings a person to the point of accepting Jesus, we as Believers can allow God to use us to be the human guide to bring another to Him. Therefore my encouragement to all of us today as the Church is to keep our eyes, minds, and hearts open for the lost in our community. We never know when God is going to bring another person to His Son, and He desires all of us to have a hand in accomplishing His desire to redeem someone’s heart!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Holy Spirit Should Be Our Compass

Numbness is the loss of feeling. It can be both a physical loss of sensation in a part of our body, or an emotional loss of feeling in our heart. Jonathan Taylor, the protagonist of Tammy Kling and John Spencer Ellis’ 2009 novel “The Compass” is dealing with an emotional numbness that has left him feeling completely hollow. In the first chapter we are told that Jonathan has spent three days walking through the Nevada desert. He has no more water and very little food left, but he doesn’t care because he has suffered a deep loss of some kind and no longer cares whether he lives or dies.

Enter into the picture a woman who introduces herself as Marilyn who provides Jonathan with water and offers him a place in the shade near her tent to rest for the night. Marilyn, realizes that Jonathan has suffered a deep loss and somewhat prophetically also realizes that the deep gash that is still healing on his forehead is from a suicide attempt. She realizes that Jonathan is lost in his life’s journey and offers up this round of advice. “it doesn’t matter what you seek or what you find. What matters is that you allow your compass to guide you , and your gifts and knowledge rise to the surface, so you can live out your life’s purpose.”

This statement here is somewhat Christian at its core. You see for us as believers that ‘compass’ that Marilyn is speaking of is the Holy Spirit who Jesus told the disciples would come after He was taken back to Heaven. The Holy Spirit is our guide in all truth (John 16:13a) and we need to let Him guide us in our lives. The Apostle Paul also talks about different spiritual gifts that are given to all believers (1 Corinthains 12, Ephesians 4). We as believers are to use those gifts to further the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus to put a definite Christian spin on Marilyn’s statement, if you let the Holy Spirit guide you, your spiritual gifts will be revealed to you, so you can live out the calling God has for your life.

As Jonathan gets to know Marilyn better he learns she is dying of a malignant brain tumor, and that she was once a psychiatrist, but now is choosing to live out one of her lifelong dreams of being a photographer for her last days. At one point she makes another important statement to Jonathan: “We’re not guaranteed anything, you know, yet we come into this world feeling entitled as if we are. We arrive acting as if we’ve been handed a manual for life with a certificate that guarantees us a hundred years.”

In America today, with all of our advanced medical technology it is so easy to not even give a thought to the fact that we are mortal individuals who will all die at some point. God never guarantees us long lives, which is why Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 that we should “Remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” These are wise words from Solomon. We should as Christian’s seek to honor the Lord with our lives every day, and as Paul wrote in Romans 12:1 seek to offer our bodies as living sacrifices as “a spiritual act of worship.” Notice Paul says ‘living sacrifices’ not ‘dead sacrifices.’ God does not want us to kill ourselves the way pagan cultures often would commit suicides as an act of worship, but instead to sacrifice our personal wills for our lives, so that He can take control and use us in the way that He knows is best.

As the story moves along, Marilyn offers to give Jonathan a free helicopter ride to New York with her, where she is planning her next photography trip. Jonathan agrees to go, and once in New York he checks into a remote cabin lodge where he meets an Italian man named Pete who owns and maintains the lodges. Pete is the next person to speak truth into Jonathan’s life.

Pete is a fun character in this story. He shows up at the cabin and offers Jonathan a lot of wisdom and advice, as well as shots of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Half of the time Jonathan just wants to be alone for the day, but Pete always seems to show up. Pete also inscribed the Italian poet Dante’s words from his story “The Divine Comedy” above the front door of the cabin. The words are in Italian but Pete translates them for Jonathan and says they mean “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” As one would imagine Jonathan finds this a weird thing to inscribe above a, but Pete tells him that not everything has to make sense in life. He also tells Jonathan that in “The Divine Comedy” the same words are written above the entrance to Hell. Now that to me certainly makes sense, as the Bible tells us that Hell is a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12) and that there will be a lake of fire there that everyone who is not a believer when Christ returns will be thrown into (Revelation 20:14-15). Therefore, there can be no trace of hope in Hell.

Pete also tells Jonathan that “we all have a war within us like two warring bluebirds.” This echoes quite well what the Apostle Paul told us in Ephesians 6:12 “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.” You see the ‘mighty powers of darkness’ are the ways in which Satan tries to tempt us into sin. Because we live in a fallen world (Genesis 3), Satan has dominion in the world around us, which is why so many terrible things happen in life. However, for those of us who are Christians, we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to combat the evil forces that Satan sends our way. Thus a power struggle wages inside of our hearts. The good news is though that those of us who are Redeemed can call on the Lord at any time and he will deliver us from the temptation of the Evil one (2 Timothy 4:18).

As the story progresses and Jonathan accompanies Pete on a trip to Italy after Pete learned that his mother passed away. They land in Bucharest, Romania and part ways, Pete goes on to Italy and Jonathan goes on to Transylvania. There he meets a young man at the hotel he is staying at named Solomon, who works at the busboy for the hotel, as well as begging for money in the streets. However, Solomon’s passion is gardening, and he tends to a small garden outside of the hotel. Solomon and Jonathan connect immediately and Jonathan soon realizes that Solomon is quite perceptive for being so young.

At one point Solomon asks Jonathan “Don’t you ever wonder about the meaning of life? Your destiny is like this garden you must water, weed, and repeat.” As Christians we can know the answer to this question about the meaning of life. While what Solomon says here is true, we need to be watered (through Jesus the Living water [John 4]) and we need to be weeded (or the term Jesus uses pruned [John 15]) the real answer to our purpose in life as the humanity God created is in Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” You see by showing others mercy, and letting our actions justify us as Christ followers, we can be a light to a dark world. By being humble in the Lord’s eyes, we demonstrate to the world that we are under an authority that is greater than this world has to offer, because our goal is to let our light shine before mankind (Matthew 5:16).

Another word of wisdom from 10 year old Solomon comes when he practically quotes 1 Samuel 16:7 to Jonathan. He tells Jonathan that God looks at the heart of people, and not their outward appearance, which is the same thing God told Samuel in that verse mentioned above. Solomon reminds Jonathan that it is truly our heart that matters to God, and not our outward appearance that most of us care so much about.

From Transylvania, Jonathan decides to head to Holland, where while stopping in at a bicycle rental shop one day, he meets Toin and his girlfriend Anja. Toin we are told was once a professional bicycle racer, who due to a lapse on judgment one day in race was hit by a car and paralyzed from the waist down. Toin and Anja offer to allow Jonathan to stay with them in their apartment in exchange for working the bike shop. It does appear that Toin and Anja do cohabitate, and though they have talked about marriage, seem to be hesitant to actually go through with their plans. Unfortunately, this is happening more and more in both America and the world today. I think this is primarily because sex has become so normalized and not something incredibly special and only enjoyed between married couples, the way God intended it (see Genesis 2:24, and Proverbs 5:18-20 for two examples highlighting this in scripture).

Be that as it may though, the main purpose that I believe Toin and Anja are in Jonathan’s life is to help him towards the healing process of his tremendous loss. Toin is somewhat of a local celebrity, and he always has free drinks at the local pubs. Thus he and Jonathan spend a lot of time talking about loss while consuming beer. At one point when Jonathan hears the story of Toin’s accident that ended his bike racing career, he gives Toin his condolences. Toin’s response is rather blunt with several bold statements: “Are all American’s like you?.. Are they all pathetic a**holes who sit around and feel sorry for themselves?”…. “Old pain is like an anchor: Useless.”

Ouch! This does a fine job of illustrating though how sometimes God does use people to speak bluntly and directly into our lives. Don’t get me wrong, when someone is grieving we need to show them compassion, but at some point and when the Lord leads us to, we also need to remind them that Jesus told us that the world would give us trouble, but we could have peace in Him (John 16:33). He also taught us though the despite our pain, He had come to give us Life and Life abundantly (John 10:10). That verse has brought me much comfort over the years, and sometimes we I have been in pain over certain things in my my life, having someone remind me of both of those passages from John has encouraged me. Sometimes God truly does want us to lay our pain down, so that he can give us abundant Life through Jesus, despite our grief and sadness. Old pain can be like Toin said an anchor, an anchor that hold us back from the abundant Life Jesus desires to give us.

As this novel begins to head towards a close, Toin finally convinces Jonathan to call his brother back in California. Jonathan agrees and the conversation with his brother throws a twist into the story that ultimately leads Jonathan back home to the states. There he begins to heal some of the wounds that have been draining him since the start of the book.

While this book is full of Christian concepts and ideas, it also is full with some overly New Age influenced thoughts. While God and Jesus are talked about throughout the book, there is no direct mention of the Holy Spirit. Instead as the book title implies plenty is said about the inward ‘compass” that guides us all, as I mentioned in the Marilyn example earlier. As the stories in the book of Acts testify to us, the Holy Spirit is the one who guides us to God’s will and purpose in our lives. All of the early Church leaders such as Peter and Paul both talked in great lengths about following His guidance. After all Jesus promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come after He was taken into heaven (John 14:16-18). As Believers we are all given that gift of the Holy Spirit the day we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Thus He is our guide in life, not some mystical ‘compass’ that this book describes. So many times authors Kling and Ellis seem so close to Christianity, and yet other times they seem rather far away. Don’t get me wrong this is a fine novel, but it needs to be read with care and recognition that it is not a Christian book, but a book that communicates a lot of Christian like messages.