An Unlikely Revolution

When Jesus came into Jerusalem in Matthew 21, he came with humility and meekness riding on a donkey. If you’ve grown up in the church or been around long enough you may know that this goes back to a prophecy about the coming Messiah in Zechariah 9:9. The people who walked with Jesus on this journey and shouted their “Hosannas” were looking for a King and a Savior to set them free from Roman oppression. 

But instead of beginning a revolution and going to take on the Pilate or other Roman officials- Jesus does something that would have been unexpected. He goes to the temple- the center of the Jewish way of life. He goes to the temple and begins to “cleanse” it by turning over tables and and driving those out who were changing money and selling doves. Jesus says,

“It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:13

The function of the temple was to be a place where people could come and prayer and encounter the presence of the living God. They came to have their sins forgiven- But instead the commerce was taking place in the out courts where women and Gentiles were to worship- but instead a market had been set up- keeping many who came to worship from actually worshipping. Because of this- God is being robbed of the worship and praise that God is worthy and deserving of.  By driving out the money changers- Jesus is driving out the evil that has become a part of the every day experience at the temple. Jesus cleanses the temple to restore it back to it’s intended purpose-  to welcome all people to the temple in order to pray and encounter God.

Here is what caught my eye and surprised me- not because I had never read it before- but because I was seeing it with fresh eyes. In verse 14- the blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple- and Jesus healed him. Immediately after this “cleansing” those who had been excluded come and encounter the power of God through Jesus. Even the children are in the temple courts shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

When we allow Jesus to cleanse our lives- to drive out the evil and the sin- we can then participate in the ministry that God has called us to. Our churches- when we examine our practices to ensure that our worship and ministries are about the worship of God rather than fulfilling our own desires- then we will see the lame healed and the sight of the blind restored. 

Jesus didn’t come to begin a political or military revolution. He went straight for the heart of the Jewish religious tradition and drove out the evil that had crept in. We must recognize that God desires to drive the evil and sin out of our own lives so that we might walk in God’s presence every day.

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A Late Review Of “Noah”

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This past Sunday, rather than reading the blogs and reviews I went to see Noah for myself. Shocking, I know. Why go see a movie for yourself when you can read blogs and reviews (sometimes by other people who haven’t seen the movie). So while this is a couple weeks past relevance, I thought I would share some thoughts from the movie. (**Spoilers Below, but my guess is if you’re reading this you’ve either read a bunch of other blogs on the subject, already seen the movie, or have chosen not to see it.)

  • Rock Creatures- seriously, this is the hard one to get past. For me, it was not because they were rock creatures, but because a big budget film and artistic team should come up with something less comic book. Could they be the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4? That seems like a possibility. In Aronofsky’s vision The Watchers are fallen angels who end up finding redemption by helping Noah build the ark. 
  • The Story Doesn’t Follow The Bible: Have you read the Biblical Account? It’s really short on details. Yes, only Shem has a wife in the movie where Genesis tells us that all three sons did. It does create more drama in the story. How did the animals on the ark not eat one another? Or Noah? Or the boat get filled up with animal droppings?
  • It was jarring and unsettling to see the Ark begin to float away while hundreds/thousands of people cling to life outside. Noah’s family gathers together as you can hear the screams of those who will die. This is the dark side of the flood account. Everyone dies except Noah’s family. Aronofsky did an excellent job of making that powerful point.
  • Noah retelling the Creation account on the Ark was one of my favorite parts of the movie. Visually captivating.
  • I loved the drama of Noah going mad on the Ark. Noah believes that God is punishing all of humanity and that his family has been chosen to save the animals and he believes that his family will die off. This is the task he has been chosen for (or so he thinks). This is what drives him to nearly kill his grandchildren rather than seeing them as a gift. Noah wrestles with depression and despair. He wrestles with the God of judgement and the God of grace.
  • I thought the bit with the snakeskin was weak. Others have written that its Gnostic. It was a part that I would’ve left out- but let’s remember- Noah was not a Christian. He was not even Jewish. Did he listen to The Creator (in the movie)/God? Yes. Was he possibly Animistic at this point? Possibly. There is a reason that Israel struggles for so long to get rid of idols and false gods-because they were coming out of a culture that worshipped multiple gods and becoming a people of the One True God. Too often we impose our 21st Century Western Christianity on the Ancient World.

After seeing the movie and reading many, many blogs (more than I should have) I have two thoughts to share. First- Christians need to lighten up. It’s a movie. We love our Veggie Tale version of Bible Stories to show our kids. I hate to break it to you, but Veggie Tales is not a literal word-for-word retelling of Bible Stories. But we give them a pass. Even The Bible Miniseries was not word-for-word and had some interesting interpretive choices (i.e. Ninja Angels, yet another white Non-Jewish Jesus). But we give them a pass because they are targeting at Christians to make us feel good about our faith.

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What the movie, Noah, did best- and you had to wait until the very end- is remind us that it is a story of a second chance. A new beginning. Noah, still struggling with judgement and depression becomes a drunk. He speaks with Shem’s wife about this new beginning they’ve been given. Noah sobers up and reconnects with his wife and his family.

Without saying it, Aronofsky reminds us that the story of Noah is not meant to be a literal account of how a boat was built, or how animals fit on the ark, or whether or not there were Rock Creatures- it’s an account of a second chance in the midst of our sins. As Christians, we should embrace that message- especially as we approach Easter Sunday and are reminded that Jesus went to the Cross to take on all our sin. Our unrighteousness. We have been given a new life through Jesus. The question is whether we will embrace that second chance or let it float by while we try to save ourselves. 

Did you see the movie? What did you like? What fell short? Have you had any good conversations about the content of the movie and the content of the Biblical account? 

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Pray Like Jesus: Living Forgiveness

Pray_Like_Jesus On Sunday, we continued our series on The Lord’s Prayer called “Pray Like Jesus” by looking at the phrase “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Forgiveness is central to the Biblical narrative. Jesus died on the cross, taking on our sin, so that we might be forgiven. As recipients of grace and forgiveness, we too are to forgive those who hurt us. We are to forgive as God forgives. But this is hard because we are not God.

I think rather than forgiving, what we often do is tolerate. We tolerate someone’s words or actions against us- where forgiving means we confront the offender and name the offense- and we make a decision to forgive. Forgiveness is not sweeping something under the rug, that’s tolerating. And if we tolerate, that we’ll one day pick up the rug and remember the offenses and hold it against the offender.

Forgiveness is different. It takes back the power from the offender by naming the wrong. But it goes a step further in releasing the offender from their offense. That is what God has done for us and the challenge is that we might do that to others. That when we truly forgive that we “set the captives free.” True, life-giving, chain-breaking forgiveness like this only comes from the love and grace of God dwelling in us (and for us to dwell in God).

On my own, I am not capable of this kind of forgiveness. But when I live in close proximity and intimacy with God, I become overwhelmed by God’s grace and desire to share that same gift of grace to those around me- especially to those who have hurt and offended me.

When we pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” we are praying that the breadth and the depth of God’s grace and mercy in our life would be evident and lead us to offer that same gift to those around us.

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Why I Won’t See “God’s Not Dead”

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I will not go see the movie “God’s Not Dead.”

That’s not saying you shouldn’t or can’t- but this kind of movie really is not something I generally get behind.

God’s Not Dead is about a college student with high academic goals being faced with a crisis of faith- having to prove the existence of God or else fail his Philosophy class. I have worked with college students who have had professors challenge their faith (at best) and tear it down (at worst). So the movie has a very viable story line. I’ve read some good things that the cast is good (a positive movement in Christian movies), and that the production value is good (also a positive when it comes to a Christian movie).

Here is why I don’t particularly like/enjoy/advocate movies like this (I could list several, but want to focus on one)- they often simplify life and tell the viewer how to think or believe. They get preachy. The “Christian movies” that I’ve seen often do not encourage critical thinking about faith, life, beauty, doubt, and our existence.

When I go and see a movie, especially if I’m putting down $40 of my hard earned money to see a movie- I want to get lost in the storytelling. I want to become part of the story. I want to be empathetic for the characters. I want to see how the movie reveals human nature, redemption and grace without saying “redemption,” “grace” or “mercy.”

This is why I’m excited about the NOAH movie. I want to see Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of the Biblical story (which is very short and lacking a lot details- which presents itself well for a movie interpretation) and see how Aronofsky understands the story. Movies like this (or The Matrix, LOTR Trilogy, Doubt, Inception, Looper and the list can go on) open themselves up for conversations about God, faith, life, grace, and redemption without being preachy- and open up those conversations with those who will never step into the theater to see God’s Not Dead- or even to one of our churches. This creates an intersection of culture and life where the truth of God can become a natural part of our daily conversations.

Here is an article about the Noah movie wondering if evangelicals will miss the boat on this movie!

I’ll be seeing Noah on April 6th with students from Wesley College- and afterwards discussing the movie over pizza. I’ll be post here about that experience.

Did you see God’s Not Dead? What did you think? Did it encourage your faith? Would a non-Christian come out of that movie convinced that God’s Not Dead? Are you going to see Noah?

FWIW- the fact that the Newsboys are in this is detrimental to my opinion. I was a Newsboys fan in the 90′s until John James left the band. I cannot listen to the boys from down under now that Michael Tait is the lead singer.

 

 

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Pray Like Jesus: Give Us This Day

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In our series, “Pray Like Jesus” we have been breaking down the phrases of The Lord’s Prayer and seeking to understand how we can move beyond saying/praying these lines to living out the model prayer that Jesus gives us. You can read the previous post here and here.

When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer: He prayed “Give us this day our daily bread.” Those who heard the prayer would have heard an allusion to the Israelites exodus from Egypt. You may remember the story. The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for 400+ years. Moses came before Pharoah and said, “Let my people go.” There were plagues, frogs, boils, etc. Finally, after the death of his son, Phaoroh said, “Leave.” So Moses led the people away. Until Pharoah had second thoughts and came charging after the people. The Israelites were caught between the armies of Egypt and the Red Sea- to which God opened the sea to provide a way out- and caused the waves to crash down on the Egyptian armies.

On the other side of the Red Sea- The Israelites are faced with the reality of their situation. While they are free, they know longer have access to grain, to meat, to milk, to food. There are no Chick-fil-a’s or Chipotle’s in the Sinai peninsula. And they begin to complain. They thought they would die in the wilderness out of hunger.  God said to Moses:

“I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day.”

According to Exodus- everyday the people of Israel would wake up to find a white, flaky substance on the ground. Exodus basically says it was Frosted Flakes in Exodus 16:14 “on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.” When they saw the Frosted Flakes on the ground, the exclaimed to themselves “What is it?” And it became known as Manna because manna means “What is it.”

But there was one catch about Manna- you could only collect enough for the day. If you tried to collect enough manna to last beyond today and into tomorrow, Exodus 16:20 says that the Manna became filled with maggots.

God provided manna in the morning and quail in the evening- there was no  refridgeration; no coolers; no way to keep the food beyond the day. So Israel had to daily trust that God would provide their daily bread. They could not worry about tomorrow. The lesson they learned is that God is enough for today.

This is a lesson that each of us must learn- that Jesus is enough for today. That whatever we’re facing, that Jesus is enough. If we spend too much time worrying about the future, worrying about what we cannot control- then we miss out on what God is doing in our lives right now. We must learn to be present in the moment- and in our prayer life trusting that God will provide what we need, today. Just as Israel could not get tomorrow’s bread today- we do not get tomorrow’s promises from God today. Our focus should not be so much on tomorrow as much as it should be on what God is doing in our lives today. We cannot trade away God’s promises for today by worrying about the future.

When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are declaring that God is enough for today. We are declaring that God will give us what we need. We are declaring that God’s grace through Jesus is enough for today. When when tomorrow becomes today God again will be enough to get us through the day.

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Pray Like Jesus: Your Kingdom Come

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In week two of our series, “Pray Like Jesus,” we looked at the phrase “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Kingdom is a phrase that is central to what God is doing from Genesis to Revelation- The Kingdom is present through Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection to release, recover, restore, and redeem that which has been bound up in oppression to sin. Luke 4:18-21 speaks to this as Jesus announces that the prophecy from Isaiah is fulfilled through him.

In short- the Kingdom of God is present in the person and the ministry of Jesus to release the oppressed, to give sight to the blind, to restore the broken, and to redeem the world from sin. The Kingdom is present.

Of course- it’s not yet fully realized either. One only has to watch the evening news or take a look at our own lives to know that sin still has a pretty tight hold on our world. So while the Kingdom of God is present through the life and ministry of Jesus- it is also “not yet” and will one day be fully realized when Jesus returns and sin and death are no more.

So where does this leave us today? When we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” we are signing up to participate in the Kingdom. N.T. Wright in his book, “The Lord and His Prayer,” says that this phrase is a prayer of submission and commission. We are submitting to the Kingdom and the will of God. Life becomes not about what we want- but about what God desires from us. Once submitted, we are called and commissioned to participate in God’s Kingdom work: To release, recover, restore, and point to the One who redeems. We are to live in such a way that our words and actions reveal that the Kingdom of God is present here and now.

This is why it is so important for disciples to understand the words we pray when we pray The Lord’s Prayer. This is not a prayer meant to be recited every day (or every Sunday) that will make us feel good, or make us feel like “we had church.” Rather, this is a model prayer- a way to pray- an example of how to cultivate our prayer life and the life we live. This prayer reminds us that disciples are submitted to the will of God and commissioned to do the God has given us to do.

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Pray Like Jesus: Our Father in Heaven

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A few weeks ago- we began a series on The Lord’s Prayer called, “Pray Like Jesus.” In the first week, we looked at the phrase “Our Father in Heaven” as a starting point- and subsequently will look at the other phrases in the prayer. The phrase sets up a nice contrast between the familiar and the Holy. The prayer that Jesus taught is predicated on an intimate relationship with God. Intimate enough to call God “Father.” In calling God Father, we are reminded that God is like a heavenly parent to us. Like a father, it is God we call out to for protection, guidance, assurance, for our example for living, and so on. It’s an image of a close, intimate feel of family when we call God “Father.”

So we have an intimate connection with God- but we hold that in tension with God who “is in heaven.” The God who is in heaven is a Holy God. The God who is in heaven is unlike our earthly fathers, regardless of how great or terrible they are. While the prayer has it’s foundation on a personal relationship with God- it is balanced with a reverent and awe-filled view of God’s holiness. This view of God brings us to our knees because our sinfulness cannot stand in the presence of the Holiness of God. Like Isaiah (Isa 6), when we come into the presence of the Holy God, we are undone and recognize our sinfulness, our brokenness, and the need for grace.

The Lord’s Prayer as a model reminds us of the priority of our prayers- we are to praise God for who God is first and foremost. Yes, we may pray out of crisis, need, or want- but we must not forget WHO we pray to. The Lord’s prayer reminds us that we can go to God in our times of need like we would go to our earthly father- and that our “Heavenly Father” is much bigger than the circumstances in our lives.

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