That Time God Spoke To Me In A Dream

What is the weirdest dream you’ve ever had? Mine happened on Friday night, and I’m still recovering from it.

I rarely have a dream I can remember. To this day, there are maybe a few dreams that I’ve had that have stuck with me – mostly these are nightmares of loved ones dying, me falling indefinitely, or being lost in a sea of clowns at the circus.

My imagination is a scary place.

So when I woke up on Saturday with a dream lingering still in my mind, I knew I should pay attention.

THE DREAM:

I still remember vividly being the father of three beautiful girls: an emotional and moody teenager, an overly energetic 10-year old, and a small delicate baby. The dream took place in what I imagine is my childhood home. The only child whose name I remember was the youngest, whose name was Charis, which means grace in Greek. I remember wrestling to encourage the oldest, settling down the middle, and holding the youngest in my arms. I woke up feeling so out-of-sorts. I felt love for children I have never met – a longing I’ve never experienced before. I felt my love for them in my sleep and that love is still echoing in my heart days later.

Every night I’ve gone to bed asking God to let me meet them again in my sleep. And every morning I’ve woken up disappointed. I have never had a “prophetic” dream before, but because of the impact of this one dream and how much I’ve dwelled on it, I started asking God if He was trying to tell me something.

THAT’S WHEN IT HIT ME…

Last month my mentor told me that his goal for me this year was to “grow in grace” – to be easier on myself and my role as a husband, pastor, and child of God. I strive for perfection. I put my value in what I do. And I gauge that value on others’ opinions of me. So I always feel like I can be better, or if people really knew me they wouldn’t like me, or that I am always “performing” and never able to truly be myself. My mentor knows this and was encouraging me to look past others and see myself as God sees me.

So it hit me that these three children are representing my life. The oldest was me as a teenager, lost and depressed, locking myself in my room to write songs, searching for meaning, wondering if there was more. Then I found new life and hope in Jesus, and with that came energy and excitement. I was a new person, completely different than the depressed kid of the past. But now my life has given birth to something else – Grace. And the same way my heart has been longing for Charis every night before bed, my heart needs to long for God’s grace.

I finally came to the realization of this truth three days after the dream. It happened Tuesday morning before I did my devotions. Later I shared it with our church staff, finally sharing the details of the dream and the name “Charis,” something I didn’t even share with my wife. I just wanted to share what I felt God was speaking to me. It was good to get it out there and put my faith in what God was speaking into my life. I was also hoping I would get some confirmation that I was hearing correctly what I felt God was loudly screaming in my ear.

About an hour after all of this went down, I got a message from my dad that he was at a hip coffee shop he thought I would like. He said it reminded him of one we used to frequent together in Ohio. He knows I love coffee, so he thought I’d appreciate it. With the message he sent a picture of the coffee shop. This is what the coffee shop’s name was along with what was written under it:

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Charis:

That which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness.

Undeserved kindness or favor.

THE COFFEE SHOP’S NAME WAS CHARIS!!!

WHAT?!

Okay God… I get it.

I needed to not just think God was speaking. I needed to know – especially with the weight of this dream and the depth of emotion it made me feel. And God spoke in such a powerful way!

SO WHAT’S THE POINT?

I need to let Grace grow in my life, let it develop and mature. I need to nurture it and care for it like it is my own flesh and blood. I need to feel it in my heart of hearts – God’s never-ending grace and mercy. No matter how far I’ve fallen or how short of the mark I am, Jesus still died for me and is offering me grace, mercy, and forgiveness. And while I don’t deserve this grace, I need to remember that no one deserves it. That’s why it’s grace.

What is God trying to speak to you? Are you listening? Are you waiting and asking for clarity when He speaks? Is He wanting you to understand something regarding His personhood – like He was speaking to me about His grace? Is He reminding you He is with you in your pain or uncertainty? Maybe He is encouraging to take a step of faith with a job or in reaching out to a family member or friend. But we need to be listening. And when He speaks, we must not dismiss it. So let’s open our ears, let’s listen to our hearts, and let’s expect God to continue to give us visions and dreams like we’ve never had before!

“My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9, The Message

Our Stories Have Significance: Reaching One More, Part 3

Have you ever grown up thinking one thing only to realize later in life that you were utterly wrong? We all think we know the lyrics to that song that’s always on the radio only to be met with strange stares from our friends when we belt it out in the car! Or we think a place from our childhood is ginormous and wondrous, but upon visiting in our adult years, we realize that it was really us who had ginormous imaginations and an eye open to wonder.

And then there’s the sadder versions of this realization. Something happens at work and it finally clicks that we are unhappy with our careers and have been unhappy for as long as we remember. We get thrown in the cop car and realize that maybe we shouldn’t have had that last drink before leaving the bar. We wake up one morning and wonder how we grew so far apart from the one we used to love…

Some lessons we learn instantly and others we learn over time. We think that these “experiences” are what shape us into who we are. But in reality, it’s the conflict IN these experiences that shape us and mold us into the men and women we are today. And the Bible is painted with vivid pictures of people, both good and bad, whose lives have been molded by conflict.

One of my favorite stories is the story of Saul.

Saul grew up in a well-to-do family, and in a class-structured society, this not only helped him in the Temple, but it helped him even as a citizen of the state. He considered himself of the most “holy” line; he was a man of honor and deserving of status. He was not only intelligent and articulate, but he had the education to back it up, studying under the most revered teachers of his time. He was named after Israel’s first king, and the stately name was fitting. Saul was being pampered as possibly the next religious leader in a Jewish land longing for redemption from the Roman state that ruled over them.

Saul was the type who would argue with those who disagreed with him. He was NOT afraid of conflict. He was proud, and not just of himself, but of his god. In the midst of his religious revelry, however, he went from serving The Most High God to instead serving the System – what his people called “The Law.” And Saul was so distracted that he missed the fact that Jesus had come and fulfilled the Law and its requirements. Saul stayed his course, not just fighting against God’s people – the church – but actually taking part in the execution of one of its saints.

But luckily, that’s not the end of Saul’s story.

While on the way to further persecute God’s people, Saul was met with a burst of light and sound! And it was amidst that bewilderment and fear that Saul had a realization. He was not only outside of the people of God, but even worse, he was persecuting those who WERE the people of God! Jesus met Saul in a vision while on the road to a city called Damascus, and while it took Saul three days to receive Jesus, it was that moment on the road that changed Saul’s trajectory forever. He was physically and spiritually blinded by this Damascus moment, but once he accepted Jesus, the blindness left him and he could see clearer than he ever had before.

If you heard Saul’s story on the Damascus road without any context, without knowing him or what happened next, it would sound like a tragedy. The newspaper headline would read: “Beloved Scholar and Future High Priest Becomes Delusional, Left Blinded.” And Saul had three days where he was blinded, only left with his thoughts, thinking of how he had gone so far off course from what God intended. Saul didn’t know that from this one moment, Jesus would lead him into a life filled with floggings, beatings, imprisonment, and eventually his own beheading. But even more so, this one moment with Jesus led Saul to a life filled with grace and a life of new meaning.

It still amazes me to think of how I once thought I had it all together… or maybe even better, that at one point in my life I thought I knew everything. And it takes one wrong lyric now to remind me that maybe I still have a little bit more to learn on this green and blue rock. I’m not just amazed at my ignorance, but I’m still amazed by God’s grace and purpose as well.

Maybe you are in the place Saul was before his Damascus road experience, thinking that you have it all together. You’re so busy going with the flow that you haven’t taken the time to see that your stream is leading off a dangerous cliff. Maybe you are in the midst of your shaping moment right now, and you’re left blinded and confused with what the future holds. Maybe you’ve found your purpose, but the new life you’re living is filled with things you weren’t expecting. It’s not as easy as you thought, and you need to be reminded of the love, grace, and purpose you now have with Jesus. Or maybe you’re on the other side of the story, but you’ve forgotten that your story still has significance. Your story can speak into someone who’s still lost – to someone who can’t see how the conflict can be put back together. They’re blinded, and you’re there to lift the veil from their eyes.

Your story has significance. Some will look at your life and where you’ve come from, and they will KNOW that Jesus is the only way you could’ve gotten where you are today… Nothing else makes sense. Or they’ll see the journey you’ve been on, and all they can say is, “How?” That’s when you can point them to that Damascus moment, and they can encounter Jesus for themselves. Take time to remember where you’ve come from. Look and see how you’ve grown. And look to find others that are once where you were, and show them that there’s a greater purpose and a way out of the mess.

 

 

 

A Miracle Not Meant For You: Reaching One More, Part 1

In chairs, the group sat in a circle in a living room. Some were on dining room chairs, some on couches, and some were on recliners. It was the common scene for a church connect group. There were appetizers lingering in the kitchen, waiting to be eaten. But first, the group was in the midst of a discussion. The question was simple, but it was a loaded one: “Who is your one?” Who is the one person whose life choices and circumstances breaks your heart? Who is the person who’s looking for answers in all the wrong places? At Sunday Service, when Pastor talks about “the lost” or those yet following Jesus, who is the first person who comes to mind? THAT is your “one.”

One of the individuals spoke up about his “one.” “There’s a lot of people that come to mind when I think of those who need Jesus. But if there’s a fire, I know who I’m going in to save first.” There might be many people who come to mind, but when push comes to shove, whose salvation is a priority? Whose eternal life is at the forefront of your mind?

Our church just began a small group series called “Reach One More.” It’s seven sessions of guided discussion geared to create conversation and action to evangelize – to reach the lost for Jesus. And while each session may only contain three questions, it stirs up something in people. It’d almost be easier to have more questions that tackle facts that invigorate the mind. But these questions nudge at the stirrings in the heart instead.

That’s why I love what that one group member said, “If there’s a fire.” It’s like saying, “If I knew I only had one opportunity, one chance at a miracle, I’d use up that chance – I’d put in all of my chips – on this one individual.” It’s powerful. And just like a house fire, it forces us to take priority off of ourselves. We have to be all in.

There’s a story in the Bible that this person’s story reminded me of. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas get disrobed and publically humiliated, beaten, and thrown in jail for casting a demonic spirit out of a young woman. As they are sitting naked in this jail cell, they start singing praises to God, which just BLOWS my mind. In the midst of one of the most humbling, humiliating, and horrifying moments of their lives, they take time to THANK GOD for what He’s done for them. And what does God do? He causes an earthquake to open the doors of the jail! They praised God and it led to a miracle! For most of us, it’s the opposite. We praise God after He answers our prayers.

But that’s not the crazy part. Most of us read this story, and we think that’s the miracle. It was Paul and Silas’ miracle and no one else’s. It’d be like being in a burning building and getting out alive. But the miracle of this story happened in the morning. When the guard of the jail wakes up, he sees that ALL the cell doors are opened, and knowing his future demise, is preparing to commit suicide. As he is about to fall on his own sword, Paul and Silas cry out from their cell that ALL of the prisoners are still in the jail.

Paul and Silas could have easily seen the doors open and think that the miracle was only for them. They could have said their thanks to Jesus and been on their way, not even knowing or caring of the future fate of this guard. But instead they stayed. Despite their circumstances, they stayed beaten, tired, hurting, and naked in a jail cell they were wrongly put in… for the sake of one person – that guard. This not only changed the life of the guard, but through this miracle, the guard AND his whole family were baptized.

Paul and Silas took the time to be aware of what God was doing around them. They knew the miracle wasn’t over yet. The doors might have been opened, but God was still at work.

In the midst of turmoil, as we feel like a burning wreckage is falling all around us, it’d be easy to see how getting out alive would be the miracle. Maybe it’s miraculously getting out of debt. Maybe finding out you’ve been mysteriously healed of cancer or set free from drug addiction has been your miracle moment. Maybe it’s that God mended back together a broken marriage that you once thought was irreconcilable. These miracles are good, but they aren’t just meant for us! These aren’t the miracles that have angels rejoicing in heaven!

Getting out of the burning building alive means you have the ability to go in and save one more.

It means that you can speak life into someone facing the very thing you just overcame.

Let us take time this week and remember to capitalize on the moments God has given us. Maybe it’s a window of seriousness for a friend who never gets vulnerable. Maybe you’ll have a random run-in with someone you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you get an opportunity to show love and inclusion in a situation filled with judgment and hate. Let us find those moments of signal fire and smoke and run into those burning buildings with reckless abandonment.

Because “our” miracle may be meant to save someone else.

Who Misses Out When You Miss Church?

Who misses out the most when you miss church?

It’s not the church. The church isn’t an institution; it’s a movement. The church knows that it is in people’s best interest to live sacrificially – giving their time to attend church, trusting in God by giving tithes and offerings, and serving in their church and in the community. But the church has existed for thousands of years. And while a church can’t function without people or volunteers, the church and its pastors are more pained that people aren’t living out their greatest potential more than being pained that people aren’t filling the seats. The church as a whole doesn’t miss out when you miss a church service.

It’s not your community. When you don’t come to church, that also means you aren’t bringing a neighbor or friend or coworker who needs to hear the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done for them. But there still might be next week or next month to invite them to church. With all of the different media sources out there, there are so many opportunities to hear about Jesus and the church. And, I’m sure there are other people who know them who could invite them to church or share the gospel with them. And… believe it or not, you can share the gospel with someone without necessarily inviting them to church. So the world isn’t missing out more than they already are when you miss church.

What do you miss out on when you miss church? You may miss out on being in community and worshiping with other believers, but most churches now have a completely interactive online campus, where you can worship and hear messages. Not only so, but just because someone doesn’t attend church, it doesn’t mean that a person is in spiritual decline. I can skip going to the gym but that doesn’t mean I’m not working out in my free time. A person might still read their bible and pray and be in community with Christians regardless of their Sunday attendance. So people don’t necessarily miss out themselves when they miss church.

What about your children though? Most children I know don’t have the means to get themselves to church. Most don’t have the discipline to know to read their bibles. They may not have the understanding of knowing the value of worshiping in a community. An adult might miss a Sunday and make up for it by listening to a podcast or watching online, but what is available for their children? There are no kid’s sermons that church’s post online. There’s no “online experience” for children. The biggest loser when families miss church are their kids – plain and simple.

Have you ever thought about what your kids or family miss out on whenever you miss church? Do your kids have a community of friends their age who are a positive example? What kind of priorities are you raising your kids to have? Who are the adults who you allow to speak into their lives – coaches, teachers, friends’ parents? There will be a day when your kids will give less value to your voice as their parent. Parents need to raise their kids around adults who will speak life and wisdom into them, so that when the time comes and these kids start to pull away, there are voices around them that speak the truth. We need to see who it really costs when we miss Sunday services. The next generation is at stake.

At The Feet of Jesus

I sat on the ground disheveled, bruised… petrified. There was so much yelling going on around me and there was a precipice before me. It was as if an explosion occurred with all of the surrounding calamity, and my ears began to ring. My life was on the line. And I couldn’t focus. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stay calm. And as I stayed on the ground, fearing to move, one of the men, the man they dragged me to, bent down next to me. It was there that a divide opened between time and space.

He drew a line in the sand.

I was dragged out of my house while in the act of committing adultery and was set at Jesus’ feet, though I didn’t know who he was at the time… But then again, did I really know myself at the time? In the heat of an argument, Jesus drew a line in the sand, a precipice, that divided me from my accusers. “The one who has never sinned should be the first to stone this girl,” he said. They knew at that moment that they all stood condemned. In a world where I was seen as a whore and they as God’s elect, Jesus put us on the same plane – we were sinners. And there, amidst the chaos and confusion is not just where I saw God, but it was where I met Him.

That was the first time I sat at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus always knew the right thing to say. That’s why I was always so enamored by his teachings. One time, he and the disciples came over to my house. As Jesus began to teach, I became so enraptured in his words that I completely forgot what I was doing. They were at my house, and I wasn’t doing what was expected of me as a woman or the host. I wasn’t helping my sister clean or tend to the house. But at that moment, I didn’t want to be the host – I wanted to be a student. I wanted to be a disciple. My sister tried to do everything herself but eventually her frustration spilled out, and she asked Jesus if I could be excused to help her. Jesus’ response was astounding.

He said that I chose the better thing by sitting at his feet.

As a woman, I was expected to tend to my male guests. The last thing I should have been doing was to sit while my sister did all the work. In a culture where I was expected to fit a certain role, Jesus included me with his Twelve. I was part of His own. I was a disciple.

That was the next time I sat at Jesus’ feet.

I was with Jesus even when the rest of the disciples fled. It was John who came to me and Jesus’ mother to tell us that Jesus was taken. It was then that we found out that Jesus was to be executed. I observed in horror as my mentor and my friend was beaten within an inch of his life. They dressed him up and paraded him around like an animal. They were making an example out of him, and there was nothing we could do but watch.

We followed him as he carried his cross through the winding city to the place where he would be made a spectacle. I had to look away when they hammered the nails into his fragile hands. What we thought was the end was soon approaching. Through everything Jesus was never hostile or angry. The religious leaders who were putting him to death were irritably standing next to us. Jesus looked at them with compassion and then looked up to the heavens. “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” They weren’t his villains. They were merely victims of a sinful world – the world he came to save.

It was then that I realized what it truly meant to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus truly lived out what he said were the greatest commandments – he loved God with everything he had, and he loved others like their needs were his. He deserved more than any ruler or king to have others bow at his feet, but instead he washed the feet of those who followed him. At the feet of Jesus is a place where all sins are seen the same. It is where all people are equal regardless of the gender or race they were born with. It is a place of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Do you sit at the feet of Jesus?

 

A Beautiful Bouquet

I don’t know any kid who doesn’t love dandelions.

As a kid, I remember rubbing the pollen on my forehead. It would leave yellow oily smudges like it were cheap face paint. I remember having a contest with my friends to see who could blow the seeds off of the dead dandelions the fastest. It was a contest I would have with myself to see if I could blow all of the seeds off with one fatal gust of breath. I also remember getting off the bus after school and picking the biggest dandelions I could find to give to my mother. I would find a cheap cup, fill it with water, and place them on a windowsill as though they were flowers.

I think now as an adult, if I would pick dandelions for my girlfriend, I would soon be without one.

There is a popular story in the gospels where Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. It is coupled together with a couple other stories in Mark explaining the expansion of the message of the gospel. At the root of his parable, Jesus was saying that though his message has started out small, it would soon grow a large following. It isn’t necessarily a parable of growth, but it is more of a parable of contrast – explaining how great things always start from things that are small.

A Tree and a Weed:

As far as dandelions are concerned, I think you understand. You can have one dandelion in your yard, and in a day there could be dozens. This is the focus of the parable, but like with the dandelions, there is one crucial aspect people are missing when they read this passage. And though this might not be the main idea of the text, it was still an intended illustration made by Jesus describing the Kingdom of God. Mustard plants, much like dandelions, were a nuisance to those whose gardens they overtook.

I don’t think any Jew at the time would describe the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed. Many Jews would describe the Kingdom of God or Israel like a mighty Cedar – a strong lavish tree with many uses. Cedar would be a sign of strength and a sign of stability. Jesus instead likens the Kingdom of God to a bush that overtook one’s garden. Once mustard was in one’s garden, it was most likely there to stay. To take out the plant would be troublesome, because the seeds alone germinate as soon as they hit the ground. Jesus knew the Old Testament. He could’ve equally used a parable describing the Kingdom as a Cedar, but his use of the mustard plant is important.

The Kingdom of God isn’t going to look like what the Jews were expecting.

Where many Jews thought they were God’s only people, Jesus made a way for ALL people of every tribe and every tongue to be part of the People of God. The mustard plant will grow so large that birds will perch in its branches. No one wants birds in their garden much like how many farmers put scarecrows in the cornfields. Yet Jesus makes this sound like a good thing.

Where many Jews and others thought they should revolt over Rome and rule the world, Jesus instead taught to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemy, and to put other’s in front of oneself. When many Jews and even the disciples thought the Messiah would come and deliver the people from their physical bondage, Jesus instead died at the hands of the very government they were trying to overthrow. Jesus came to deliver them from their spiritual bondage.

The Kingdom of God might not look like what we are expecting either.

While many churches spend their time looking to bring in young suburban families, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God is longing to see people in the slums and ghettos and cities. While American churches long that our government be right-wing conservative Capitalists, I can’t help but think that the Kingdom of God will welcome the Socialists who follow Christ as well. While many in church praise their pastors, I can’t help but think the people in the Kingdom will praise janitors and ushers, teachers and social workers, and the developmentally disabled as well.

Have we been looking at the Kingdom of God all wrong? What are our priorities as the body of Christ? How are we bringing heaven to earth? What are we doing to point those who are lost to Christ? How are we making the physical world a better place?

We need to learn how to stop saying we love people, and we actually need to start going out and loving people. We need to not get bitter at those who we don’t agree with. We need to love our enemies, and we need to encourage those who are going through difficult times instead of continually kicking them to the ground. We need to stop quoting the Ten Commandments, and we need to start following the One who perfected the Law. We are not only representatives of the Kingdom. We are representatives of Christ.

Embrace God like you’re holding a bouquet of beautiful dandelions.

Truth and The Bible

Sometimes I forget what Bible College has taught me.

Or maybe it’s that I forget that people haven’t been taught the same way.

I don’t mean it in a bad way. There are many good things and, crazily enough, bad things I learned while in school. When I was finished with my first semester of my sophomore year, I was confused as to how I went this long not being equipped with what I learned up to that point. Every new thing I learned was like another tool on a utility belt, and I was the Dark Knight of biblical exegesis, preparing myself for when I would go out into the world and defeat Falsehood with the Truth of the Gospel.

Then something happened.

The bible ended up becoming a textbook to me. It was hard to balance the scales of seeing the pages of my bible as inspired text while learning about textual criticism and the like. I became cynical of speakers and preachers and teachers and commentators. I started to only read the ESV, because it was more literal to the original text, and if ever I saw an ambiguous passage, I knew I could just look it up in the original Greek (or Hebrew… if you’re into that stuff).

The bible is a crazy thing. Some people see it as an inspirational text. Some people use it as a justification for war, sexism, racism, patriotism, and capitalism. And some people see it for what it is – the Word of God. The Bible was given to us to share with us the story of Salvation History and our place within it. It is a guideline for how we are to walk in the Spirit. And to mishandle or misrepresent what the bible says is to potentially misrepresent the God who orchestrated the words in its pages.

Just because it is true doesn’t mean it is biblical:

This is an interesting statement, but what I want to address is “exegesis.” Exegesis means, “to lead out” and has the idea of drawing an interpretation out from Scripture. Many bible college students know that the opposite of this is “eisegesis” – or “putting in” one’s own interpretation to a text.

What this means is that someone could be saying all the right things, but not using the right proofs to do so. A classic example of this (and one MANY of my professors used) would be when Jesus calms the storm. By reading this passage in context, the author isn’t trying to say: “Jesus will calm the storms of your life.” What the author is trying to say is clear at the end of the text: “Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”

Now, it is very well true that Jesus will bring peace to those who suffer. He says it in one of the Beatitudes. But to say that this is what Mark is trying to say in this passage takes away what Mark and God intended – that Jesus is divine. Not only does he cast out demons, and not only is he an incredible teacher, but even the weather is subject to him. For who else can control the weather but God himself?

By putting our own interpretation into a text, we run the risk of being able to justify anything with the use of smoke screens and poor context. Almost every text has one interpretation (for possible exceptions look at prophesies or the idea of sensus plenior). What makes a text different is how we apply that single interpretation to our lives.

Just because it isn’t biblical doesn’t mean it isn’t true:

This is something I find myself saying to my roommate a lot. He laughs at me, because we both know it really doesn’t make sense without an explanation. It honestly makes me feel like a heretic sometimes when I say it. But everyone knows that this is true. There are many ideas, and there are many things that are true that aren’t included in the bible. I know abortion is wrong. I believe that a fetus is actually a person, so it would be wrong to terminate a pregnancy. That isn’t anywhere in the bible.

Smoking isn’t anywhere in the bible.

Swearing isn’t anywhere in the bible.

The word “trinity” isn’t even in the bible.

If we believe that God is truth, then it must also be true that all truth is God’s truth… I’m sorry if you had to read that twice to get the full force of what I was trying to say. It’s scary to admit, because this leaves a big open gray area for a lot of things not mentioned in the bible. But God gave us the bible so that we can make godly judgments regarding these other things. The bible has nothing written against slavery, but we all hopefully know that it is wrong to own a person and to treat them like property.

The bible is the greatest guideline we could have on how to live life. It helps us to understand what God has brought humanity through. It shows us examples of the early church, so we know how to restore God’s kingdom to earth and know how to live Spirit led lives as well. The bible isn’t a tool used to bind people. It isn’t an instrument meant to control people. And it isn’t a book full of passages we can fill with our own “revelations.” This is the greatest physical tool we have for living out the Greatest Commandments. Let’s remember that it might not have all the answers, but it helps equip us to discover them for ourselves.

A Theology of Expression

Some people have a problem with being thankful. I am not one of those people.

I thank God for things all the time. But I am not one of those irrational people who thanks God for everything – like inventing cars, or soda, or diabetic socks, or bacon. God didn’t invent those things, stupid people. But I usually pray a prayer of thanksgiving every time I eat a peanut butter sandwich that goes something like this: “God, thank you for creating the man who invented peanut butter.” Now, you might say that is George Washington Carver, but you’d be doubly wrong. So, maybe I have to retract my statement about bacon, but the rest still stands.

I’m so glad that God has inspired so many men and women to think, invent, and create.

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can cause a person to paint a picture, write a song, develop an invention, or pen Scripture. All forms of expression come from some form of inspiration. The key to discovering a great form of expression is to look at the inspiration. God is the highest form of inspiration there is. He is the Creator of the whole universe – from the stars in the sky to the fleas on a dog. Every night when I walk into my house, I look up at those stars and am continually reminded at how inspiring God is.

Just like you can look at a great painting and see the heart of the artist, you can look at the heart of mankind and see the hand of God. You can look at Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and see the love of God. You can see the conquest of Joshua and see the wrath of God. You read the Psalms and see how God inspires man. The Bible itself is another example of God inspiring man – in more ways than one.

Expression is only as good as the inspiration behind it. If your inspiration is temporary, if it is fleeting, if it can fail you, your expression loses significance. People who don’t live in an area where there are peanuts probably don’t care for the inspiration behind peanut butter. People who write songs about sex or drugs or money don’t create inspiration. But songs and paintings can be temporary or about current situations in time and still hold eternal significance depending on the inspiration. Great expression always inspires. It’s contagious.

My pastor said a few weeks ago that the gospel isn’t centered on expressing oneself but denying oneself. This is one of those statements though with a paradoxical twist – it is only when denying themselves that people can truly express themselves. If God is the highest form of inspiration, the highest form of expression comes through Him. This can be heard in Handel’s Messiah, seen in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or experienced while walking through a park on a nice day.

A great thing about expression is it speaks about and to its inspiration regardless of how explicit that mention might be. There are some great worship songs out there that are glorifying and directly speak to God’s character. Then there are those songs that speak through metaphor or situations to point to spiritual and godly truths. I think one of the disasters today of the Christian music industry is its forcefulness of the inclusion of God. People love NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot because their expression isn’t forced; it is fluid and it is natural.

One of my favorite songs of all-time is called “John Wayne Gacy Jr” by Sufjan Stevens. In the song, Stevens talks about one of the most prolific serial killers to ever live. The song is disgusting and it leaves the listener feeling sickened as the song progresses. In the heart, the listener feels how wretched this killer was. Then in the last line of the song, Stevens says: “In reality, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

There it is.

What a phenomenal song to express the fallen nature of mankind and to show the morality engraved in the hearts of man to feel sickened by evil. It is something I loved about the show Breaking Bad. No show in the history of television has painted such a vivid picture of right and wrong. This is the key to great expression. This is a key that opens many doors and leads the artist down many corridors. This is the key that allows one to think outside the box, outside of themselves, and potentially outside their present reality.

What inspires you?

Living in an Era of Technology

It is always funny when you are with a group of people and then realize everyone is on their cell phone. You or someone else points out that all of you aren’t really together; you all chuckle, and then go back to what you were doing. Then there are those who make a big deal out of it. Like, by not talking and being on your phones, you aren’t really hanging out. You are all still alone – just alone while being together.

There are good and bad things about living in this age of technology. Many people seem to tilt one way or the other and that makes sense – different people use technology and are involved in social media differently. Those who are more involved will obviously see a lot of the benefits, while those who are less involved will see a lot of the deficits.

Social media is good in that it links people. Same with cell phones and other technology. I love that I can Skype or Facetime with people on the other side of the country! I love that instead of talking to one friend at a time, I can multi-task and text several friends throughout the day. Social media is good at that. It is so good, that technology has linked cultures where there once was a divide.

People across America used to be divided by their different regions. Different people in different areas of the U.S. had some things in common, but there were a lot of differences. With the growth of technology, many people who were raised with social media seem closer linked with their generation. Trends now aren’t regional. Trends now go national. This makes it easier to communicate and market audiences. It also takes away a lot of individualism.

A lot of these individuals struggle with an identity crisis. They want to be different yet belong, and with so many different unoriginal outlets, the chase becomes tiresome. Many individuals can be in a group of people but feel alone. They do not know how to verbally socialize with others, because they are so used to being able to edit what they write through texting and social media. They are used to writing without seeing the emotions they are causing others, and the shift from private “social media” to public interaction can become overwhelming.

Many people don’t know how to be alone. Or they don’t know what it is like to miss someone.

If you are dating someone, I am pretty sure you text constantly. Surprisingly, that wasn’t always the case. You couldn’t keep tabs on people. You simply had to trust them. You hoped they would meet you at the restaurant or the movies when they said they would. Even parties with friends were a risk. How would you know if any of your friends would be there? You didn’t, and if they weren’t, you would be there and would have to make new friends.

Many teenagers and young adults don’t know what it is like to make new friends. Instead of going to an event and meeting new people, if their friends text them and tell them they aren’t going, then chances will be slim they will go themselves. They can just stay home and “connect” with their friends online or do something else – something that is comfortable.

Social media has its good qualities. Because of it, I can connect with anyone in the U.S. I can just ask them about what so-and-so said on Twitter or ask them what they thought of a certain YouTube video. I can keep in contact with them regardless of where they live, because they most likely live in a place where there is Internet connection. Unfortunately, there are also negative sides to social media and technology. There is never a sense of longing – it can always be fulfilled with some Facebook creeping and a text message. There might be unity, but at the cost of individuality.

And technology prevents us from taking risks. At my job, I put on a lot of events. I’m not going to lie… I think some of them are pretty cool. It becomes disheartening though to know that if a couple college students decide they can’t come or they don’t want to come, that the rest will follow their lead. They are afraid to branch out. They are afraid of awkward silences. They are afraid of meeting new people. They might not say it. They might not even realize it. But it is true.

Does social media and technology run your life? Do you need a GPS to figure out where you are going? Do you text all of your friends before deciding if you want to go to an event or party? Do you always have to know what your love interest is doing? Technology is a great tool, but it fails when people completely rely on it for everything. It fails if we use it as an excuse not to grow socially. It fails when we can’t live in reality.

Noah: A Review

It was difficult going into a movie without bias or prejudice. I now understand why jurors in a courtroom shouldn’t have prior knowledge of the case they will be sitting through and making assessments on – their prior experience has clouded what they may think of the case. “Noah” is no different – among conservative evangelicals and many others, Noah stands on trial. For the sake of those wanting to watch the film, I’ll save any spoilers for the end of the article (and let you know when I start to spoil things). For additional input, I loved what Brett McCracken had to say for Converge and this article that was posted by RELEVANT.

NOAH

I give Noah a solid C.

While many of us cringe to see our favorite books or novels be made into films, Aronofsky already made his viewers skeptics by picking a biblical narrative. Most other bible stories have chapters or even whole books they can go off of, while the Noah account only has several chapters at best (in which Noah only speak three verses!). Anyone wanting to make a movie out of Noah has to fill in all the gaps somehow. This is where I can see most people getting upset with the film. Aronofsky doesn’t take anything away from the Noah narrative, but what he adds may make people angry.

Here’s what I liked. I liked how human Noah was. I liked how tragic the movie was, yet how merciful God was. I liked how God was a central character to the film. I liked how the movie used a story from the past and made it resonate with people of today. I definitely wasn’t angry throughout the whole film. I left feeling challenged at some points, with slight disappointment towards some of the film’s artistic executions.

First, I want to tackle some misconceptions. Those who say God is not in the movie have no clue what they are talking about. God is a central character in the film, only being referenced to as “The Creator” – a move that makes sense with how close Noah is to the Creation Story. God is seen as the one who made the earth. He is also the merciful God who is sparing Noah and the judging God that is condemning mankind.

Another misconception is that this is an environmentalist film. While taking care of God’s creation is an important issue in the movie, it is as big of an issue in the movie as it is in the biblical account. God has called mankind to be stewards of His creation, and they are being wasteful. This is something I think Aronofsky plays well with. Cain is the one who started the first civilization. Being wasteful and wrecking the environment is just a physical representation of how evil mankind has gotten. You won’t feel like mankind is bad because they hate the environment. You’ll feel like they are evil all over even to how they treat God’s creation.

Within the first several minutes of the film, you get the sense that this world isn’t quite like the world we live in today. When watching it, I couldn’t help but have a feeling like I was in a place similar to Middle Earth, and fortunately many others agree. With Noah being only ten generations since the Garden, earth before the flood has almost a mystical and whimsical sense to it. Many of the characters even have shaman-like powers verging on witchery. Is this what prophets used to be like? Creation before the Flood seems to still have a lot of the residue left from when God was in the Garden of Eden. But does making the earth seem like a mythical place take away from the main plot? I think there are some places where Aronofsky succeeds and some places where he fails. I think it was Aronofsky’s intention to have the audience feel like they were between worlds. He was nearly successful with it.

What I loved the most about the movie was how dark and real it was as far as the situation at hand. Here you have a man whose family are the only people to survive their own prehistoric apocalypse. Building the ark isn’t something that was filled with bliss and happiness. Throughout the film, Noah wrestles with his obedience to God and struggles to understand what God is trying to tell him. Noah, like the biblical Noah, was a man, and after the flood you see Noah having to live with the choices he has made up to this point. After seeing all of mankind destroyed, the first thing Noah does is drink away his pain. Noah is someone who I think anyone can relate to, and I applaud Aronofsky for that. Whether or not you think a prophet should be relatable is your opinion, but Noah is a man who struggles with his choices, misunderstands the full message of God’s commands, and is fallible.

Okay, so how was the film as far as just being a work of art?

It definitely wasn’t perfect. It was choppy and busy. The plot was very complex and everything hit a climax at one point of the film. In my opinion, it was a train wreck that ended up being turned into a piece of art. The points leading to the climax were catastrophic. But I thought the resolution was masterful. It was a movie with a brilliant development and a brilliant conclusion.

The cinematography was weird. I felt like many times the artistic dimension of the film was a bit forced. If anyone has seen a film by Terrence Malick, I feel like Aronofsky was going for an artistic feel much like one of his films. I just feel like Aronofsky failed to capitalize on it. In the end, the piecing of the film didn’t seem natural. I wasn’t swept into the dreams and visions and stories. There were places in the film where the CGI was brilliant and beautiful then there were other places where it was terrible. The post-production was very inconsistent, but that could be because they spent so much time trying to please their target audience. I also thought the acting was a bit over-the-top. If you see this as a Hamlet-esque film (like McCracken described it), then maybe this is okay. There were moments when the actors were brilliant, then there would be monologues that seemed again, forced. I thought it was just boarder-line cheesy at times – reaching for the audience to feel emotions by over-selling them on the screen.

Like I said before, I think the biggest problem people will have will be with what Aronofsky added. I don’t think most of it is objectively wrong, but for subjective reasons, I didn’t like much of it.

SPOILERS ahead.

Glenn Beck’s biggest problem with the movie seemed to be Aronofsky’s interpretation of “The Watchers” or Nephilim (Gen 6:1-4). In the bible, in simplest terms, these are fallen angels. While most people have their own ideas of what angels look like (that are equally inaccurate in the biblical sense), Aronofsky has these fallen angels being molded in the form of Rock Men. They almost reminded me of Tree Beard from LOTR. I haven’t yet decided if I didn’t like them because I thought they were too mythological or that I thought they just looked stupid from bad CGI, but I didn’t like them. I try to think though of something better that Aronofsky could’ve done – maybe Giants or just glorified human beings – but I don’t know if anything would make The Watchers cool. I don’t know if the story would be better without them. Before you get angry with this, remember that the bible also has tales of Leviathan and other creatures we try to write away or create explanations for. This is just one man’s explanation, and I just wasn’t a fan of it. By the time the Flood came, God had mercy on the Watchers and welcomed them back into heaven. This part was probably one of the most unsettling parts of the film for me. I’m sure it will leave you wondering too why God would have mercy on them and not on all of mankind. Thinking about their role in the film is dizzying.

There is also a brief glimpse of evolution in the film. If you aren’t looking for it though, you probably won’t notice it. While on the ark, Noah takes time to tell his family again the story of Creation. While going through the days of Creation, you see each animal group evolve into the next. What I applaud Aronofsky for is not showing that happen to mankind. Mankind still held a special place in the movie. Adam and Eve were wrapped in light. They were still set apart. This may unsettle some, but for me it wasn’t a big deal. Mankind was still set apart. Not only so, but the evolution montage was beautifully done and only filled about one or two minutes of the nearly two and a half hour film.

The movie is filled with Noah wrestling with his obedience to God and not wanting to be merciful at all to mankind. At the end of the film, I thought Aronofsky showed God’s mercy beautifully as Noah makes a decision to spare his family from the destruction of God. Throughout the film Noah thinks that humans will no longer take part in God’s creation. He assumes that if God wants to kill off all of mankind, then he and his family would be the last of them, dying off once Noah’s youngest son passes away. Noah comes across as a lunatic for a good hour of the movie as he tries to understand the task God wants him to fulfill, and he struggles to take it to its bitter end. At the end of the film, God is seen as a Being who either allows mankind the freedom to choose his destiny or a Being who knew Noah’s choice from the beginning (thus giving him the task to begin with). Only a bible scholar will notice the tightrope walked for this part of the film. This will definitely put a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone looking at the narrative through Sunday School eyes. But it causes Noah’s humanity stand out. Noah isn’t God in this movie as much as any of mankind is. The reason for Noah’s survival isn’t necessarily his goodness but God’s mercy.

This film definitely isn’t perfect. It definitely isn’t a Christian film. This is about the God of the Old Testament, so there is no need to mention Christ. It definitely could be toxic to anyone wanting to use it to further bash God or Christians. But when the movie ends, I don’t know of a person who wouldn’t want to pick up their bible as soon as they get home.