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.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We must choose to be light in a dark world!

As many of you readers have probably already realized, I am kind of a strange person. Let me tell you, growing up I wasn’t completely normal either. Most children, when they are in upper elementary school/middle school have heroes, but they tend to be of either the sports figure or comic book variety. You know Mark McGuire, Troy Aikmen, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, etc. Me, no I was different. When I was between the ages of 10-13 my hero was an ordinary guy in a television series, an ordinary guy who happened to have one special gift (or curse as I he sometimes saw it): he received the next days edition of the Chicago Sun Times each day, or as he himself would say “I get tomorrow’s newspaper, today!” Some of you may have figured out by now that the man I am referring to is Gary Hobson, and the television series his character was featured in was “Early Edition.”

Gary is a normal guy. In the first season he works as a stockbroker but for several reasons, including the sudden gift of receiving the next day’s news he quits that job. Eventually he ends up buying a local bar and restaurant known as McGinty’s which he lives above in a one room apartment. However, despite being a normal guy, he uses this ‘gift’ to rescue people, and prevent tragedies from occurring each and every day. He touches many lives, even if it is just for a fleeting moment.

Throughout the shows much too short four season run, Gary also researches and learns as much as possible about where the paper comes from. While he never quite gets an answer, several friends of his have often speculated that it is from God. Though he never finds out where it comes from, he does learn that there was a man who received it prior to him, and that man’s name was Lucius Snow. Lucius worked as a typesetter for the Chicago Sun Times, and spent his days saving people in Chicago prior to Gary.

One particular episode that had a lasting impact on me took place during the third season, about six weeks before I turned 12 years of age. This episode was entitled “Fate” and it packed quite a lot of power, and Christian message! In this episode Gary deals for the first time with failing to save a man who was trapped on the roof of a burning building. Gary tried his best, but the man ended up falling to his death as he tried to cross a ladder that Gary has used as a makeshift bridge to climb across to a neighboring apartment building.

Gary blames himself for not saving this man’s life. His friend Marissa tries to tell him that this wasn’t his fault, that he can’t change fate. He responds by asking why he gets the paper then if he can’t change fate? Fate has always been an interesting concept to me, because in all reality it points to both the existence of God, and the existence of Satan. God created this world and everything in it (Genesis 1, Mark 13:19) but John tells us in 1 John 5: 19b that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Therefore, all the terrible things that happen in this world (like the death of the man Gary was trying to save) happen because we live in a sinful world that is under Satan’s control, they are not God’s fault. Therefore fate is in a sense is never chance, but determined by either God or Satan.

This is why John tells us earlier in that chapter “everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5: 4-5 NLT). By having faith in Jesus, we will have victory over all the pain and suffering that occurs to us in this world someday in heaven. Paul also teaches us that we are ultimately all citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and not of this world anymore, through our faith in Jesus.

Overcoming the evil within the world is not really what Gary faces in this episode. The evil he overcomes is his own feeling of inadequacy towards saving people after the tragic loss. Two days after Gary reads in the paper that he himself is going to die by falling through the floor of an abandoned store. He can find no reason in the paper why he goes inside this storefront, and he begins to wonder if in fact his fate is now to die because he ‘allowed’ someone to die. As it turns out, Gary goes to the storefront, and as it turns out, he sees two young high school aged kids sneak inside the boarded up storefront. He initially turns away, fighting the urge to go inside, but he realizes that if he doesn’t they will be hurt or die, so he goes in and tells them to leave. As he is leaving himself though, just as the paper had prophesied he falls through the stairway and is knocked unconscious!

As he is lying there beneath the rubble, he has vision, or dream where Lucius Snow appears to him and tells Gary that he understands what it feels like to lose someone he was trying to save. It is then, as Gary begins to let the tears come over the loss, that Lucius utters a phrase that I have never forgotten, he tells Gary to “count the living” and not the one’s that he hasn’t been able to help. It is then that we see a series of flashbacks from previous episodes showing people Gary had saved or helped throughout the series up until that point.

I distinctly remember at this point, at my young age, God speaking to me! He was telling me that in my life, I would need to remember this. See my heart has always been filled with desire for both evangelism for the lost, and discipleship for my fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Both of these areas can often become very painful, if I feel I am failing to share God’s love with someone who is not a Believer, or unable to guide someone who is struggling in their walk with the Lord, I often feel like I am not witnessing enough, or successfully encouraging someone enough! However, I don’t believe God wants me (and all of us who are Christians) to dwell on the people who are unresponsive to the Gospel or we are unable to give Godly council to. Instead He wants us to remember and realize that there are people we have helped, and to take heart, because we have been used by Him to plant the seeds of the Gospel in people’s hearts. Therefore we should keep witnessing and encouraging, because He does use us, just not in every situation! I truly believe God was telling me this through Lucius’ simple statement. The statement to Gary meant that he needed to realize that there will be times in his life, where people he is trying to save still die, but he needs to remember the lives of those he has saved! However, God was telling me that in my own life, there would be times where I would need to try my best, but not feel like a failure when I couldn’t help someone out. I would however, be fortunate enough to also bless people’s lives with my own life, and that is what I would need to focus on!

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul tells us “we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he has planned for us long ago.” Think about that, God views us as his masterpiece! Through Christ we are made new, and God has good things planned for us to do! From this verse, I gather that we aren’t supposed to dwell on our failures or past mistakes. It also is important to remember that God’s plans are not always our plans. We may not be the person God intends to use to ultimately lead a person to Christ. We also may not be the right person to help a brother in need, but someone else may be perfect for the job!

Therefore, we should always keep our eyes open for people who need a friend, or someone to talk to, and be prepared to explain our Christian hope if we are asked (1 Peter 3:15b). Ultimately, it isn’t that we have failed when someone doesn’t respond to what we say, it is simply that Holy Spirit isn’t working within that persons heart at the moment, however we don’t know when we God is going to work through us, which is why Peter tells us to always be ready!

As Gary’s dream is ending with Lucius, Lucius tells him that ultimately he can still choose whether he wants to continue helping people or not, and Gary then wakes up and yells for the rescue crews outside that he is alive, and they pull him out of the rubble! In some ways God gives us a choice to, we can either hold back and not be a light in a dark world, or we can let our light shine before people (Matthew 5:16) so they may drawn to us and want to know where our joy comes from. I have chosen to be a light in my generation, and I encourage you all to do this same. It won’t always be fun, in fact like Pastor and writer Mark Driscoll has said being a Christian often makes your life harder, but it is worth it, because one day we will be with Jesus in heaven! It should be our goal as believers to share about the Redemption we have experienced, so that many others will join us one day in Paradise!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

As Christians We Should Have Each Other's Backs

I never played high school football. My five foot nine inch one hundred twenty pound frame would have been slaughtered by six foot two hundred pound linemen in an instant, so there was no way it ever could have happened! I did however, have friends who played football in high school, and they have always looked back on their days of playing football as fond times in their lives.

Kenny Chesney captures that fondness in the lead single “The Boys of Fall” off of his newest album “Hemmingway’s Whiskey.” Chesney himself played football at Gibbs High School outside Knoxville, Tennessee, and you can hear the definite first hand experience come through in this song. In the opening verse you can hear how being on the football team in high school is truly a privilege born from hard work, but there is an immense reward attached to it, the reward of being respected and looked up to:

“They didn't let just anybody in that club,
Took every ounce of heart and sweat and blood,
To get to wear those game day jerseys down the hall,
Kings of the school man, we're the boys of fall.”

I think sometimes among Christians we get the feeling that we are never supposed to enjoy our accomplishments because it can turn into pride, and that is a very legitimate fear. The words of Solomon in Proverbs 11:2 tell us “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (NLT) so we certainly do need to be aware of becoming too prideful and full of ourselves. However, Solomon also wrote in Ecclesiastes that, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.” (8:15 NIV). While some commentators view this statement from Solomon as being sarcastically aimed at an unbelieving pagan culture, others like me, view it is a serious statement for the people of God, to know it is okay to enjoy life!

Therefore I conclude that the protagonist in “Boys of Fall” should take pride in his hard work paying off by being admired as one of the star football players in high school. However, there’s more to this fine song that can apply to those of us who call ourselves Christians. Let’s check out a section of the chorus next:

“'s knocking heads and talking trash,
It's slinging mud and dirt and grass,
It's I got your number, I got your back when your back's against the wall,
You mess with one man you got us all,
The boys of fall.”

While ‘talking trash’ certainly can often become offensive, harsh, and mean spirited; thus not God honoring, it also can be done in fun, and honestly something that will happen at sporting events both among players on opposing teams and in the stands among fans of opposing teams! The part of the chorus that stuck out to me immediately though, was the line “I got your back when your back’s against the way/You mess with one man you mess with us all.” In this line, I immediately heart the words of the Apostle Paul writing to the Church in Rome “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of His one body, and each of us has different work to do. And since ware all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5 NLT).

You see the body of Christ in some ways is like a football team! On a football team one player can’t play the game by himself. A quarterback would never be able to get a pass off if his offensive line didn’t block for him. A safety would never be able to have a chance at an interception without the defensive line putting pressure on the opposing teams quarterback. So it is with the body of Christ (the Church). We are all given different gifts by God (see 1 Corinthians 12 for more info on those) but the gifts we are given are meant for us to use collectively with the other members of the body of Christ.

Therefore, when one person in the body falls onto a hard time or is attached by the Enemy the rest of the Church must be there to defend him because in Chesney’s words ‘you mess with one man you mess with us all!” and in Paul’s words ‘we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.” Thus, we as the Church need to be there for our brothers and sisters when they are in need (Romans 12:13a) because we are all united in Christ, and have the common goal of loving and reaching our culture for the Lord. One person can not accomplish such a daunting task, which is why Paul tells us that we need to work together using our gifts for God’s work because these gifts are given to us ‘as a means of helping the entire Church” (1 Corinthians 12:6b). In this way the camaraderie that we see on sports teams does a wonderful job of illustrating to us what the Body of Christ should look like to our culture!