Monday, August 13, 2018

Christopher Robin: A great reminder to find joy in doing nothing


Looking for that few-and-far-between good family movie to see in theaters? Let me suggest Christopher Robin, the latest Disney live action re-make of some of its most beloved characters. The story is simple and sweet, and the message the movie leaves you with is surprising Christian: "Sometimes doing nothing is the best way to do something."

It's a foreign message in our hectic, driven society. So much stock is placed in work and gain, that we forget that God calls us to rest and enjoy His good creation too. Perhaps we've forgotten whether the price we pay today for tomorrow's achievements is really a worthwhile investment. Perhaps we need a little-minded but big-hearted silly old bear to remind us of what is really important in life.

This is definitely what Christopher Robin (Played winsomely by Obi Won Konobi, AKA Ewan McGregor)  needs. We learn early on in the film that Christopher has long since lost the wonder and simple joy of his childhood days in the 100-acre woods. Instead, he's now a thirty-something year old living in a business world where you swim or sink, and he is making desperate compromises to avoid sinking. One of these compromises is cancelling a weekend he promised to spend with his family so he can stay afloat at work. "Dreams come at a cost," Christopher reminds his daughter. "Nothing comes from nothing." His point is that he simply cannot waste valuable time getting away to do "nothing" with his family. Anything that would compromise his efficiency, Christopher reasons, must be avoided.

So of course, when a little yellow bear in a red shirt suddenly enters his life again, his first thought is, "I don't have time for this." Pooh's appearance in Christopher Robin's adult life is the inciting event of the film, and Christopher's quest to get Pooh out of his busy life and back to the 100-acre woods where the bear belongs brings a lot of simple, funny moments, highlighted by Pooh's unassuming friendliness and wit. It's these moments that have Christopher (and us too!) rediscovering the amazing benefit of joy and rest, especially with those you love, by the end of the film.

There is seriously nothing that parents should concern themselves with content-wise in this film, barring one Hefalump scare that might be frightening to super young viewers. No innuendo or insinuated adult messages (a refreshing break from Disney's trend of late!). No violence to speak of, except one quick war scene (Showing how Christopher Robin fought in World War 2). Seriously, I don't know how this film got its PG rating; it's the closest thing to "G" I've seen out of Hollywood in a long time. Add the fact that the live-action, stuffed-animal versions of Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Roo are just so darn cute and so amazingly well done (with Rabbit and Owl also smashing as real talking animals), and this film becomes a simple joy to watch.

So, looking to escape from the adult world of swimming or sinking for awhile? Take your family and enjoy this movie together! The last scene of Christopher Robin especially struck me, because of its direct parallel to something Jesus talked about. "What day is it?" Pooh asks (and I paraphrase) as he and Christopher Robin sit on a log and enjoy the sunshine.

"Well today of course, silly old bear," Christopher Robin responds.

"Oh good. yesterday being tomorrow was too much day for me," Pooh says. "I am glad it is today."

It is a reminder to us all just to enjoy today and not worry about tomorrow. As Jesus says in Mathew 6:34, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Yes, our todays have trouble, but it also has joy, if we spend it the right way. Our work can be motivated by contentment, not covetousness. Our most important things can be sitting across from us at the dinner table, not waiting to be worked on in our briefcase. We can choose to find joy in our get-it-now culture through rest, and that is a Disney message worth supporting.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Dirt and Eyes

This time of year, mowing can be pretty miserable.

Contrary to popular belief, it actually does get really dry here in the Evergreen State in the summer, and just as soon as the soil dries out and the moles push it on top of the lawn in nice big shovel fulls, mowing can be like creating my very own dust storm. It's so bad I have to stop sometimes and let the dust clear. It gets in my eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and well pretty much all over me, but it especially hurts in my eyes. And that's even while wearing a dust mask and safety shades. My new saying between wiping my eyes and coughing is "Dust finds a way."

Interestingly, though, I have started to realize that there is a Biblical picture in this mess. My struggles remind me of one of my favorite Jesus stories in John 9, where Jesus stoops down, spits in some dirt, and applies the muddy remedy to a blind man's eyes. I' always get a huge grin out of this story, and it is my guess that John was grinning too as he wrote the whole account down. The rest of the story gets even more humorous after the blind man washes the mud out of his eyes and is healed; his exchange with the disbelieving and spiritually blind pharisees is simply classic. This newly-healed blind dude had so much cheek! The Pharisees didn't find his sarcasm all that funny, but man, I would have loved to have been there to give that bro a fist bump.

The grins aside, I love the practical application here for me! Could it be that Jesus lovingly puts a little dirt in my eyes by way of healing my spiritual blindness? It sounds kind of strange, even borderline heretical, but I believe it's true!

Now to be clear, I don't mean "evil" by dirt. But I do mean "trials," and it's very clear that Jesus lovingly puts some trials in our lives so that we can learn and grow from them. The dirt hurts in the moment, but when I run to the life-giving water to be washed, I come up healed and able to see spiritual things more clearly! That's been true so many times in my life. Every time I go through a trial, it makes me run to Jesus, and I find cleansing and healing! I come out of it with more spiritual wisdom and maturity then I ever find in the good times.

Now, to switch gears a little bit, there is very clearly some "evil" dirt we gotta get out of our eyes too. This isn't the stuff Jesus puts on us, but the stuff we foolishly bring on ourselves. It's pictured in Mathew 7 as both a log in a hypocrite's eye and a speck in another poor soul's peeper. A big takeaway from the parable? Get the stuff out of your eye! And when you've done that and can see clearly, help your brother clean his eyeballs as well. Here too the solution to getting clean is running to the pool of life-giving water, Jesus, to wash. As John 1:9 puts it, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The final point is, the fact that we only see clearly when we get the log out of our eye should give us pause to try and keep dirt out of our eyes in the first place. When we don't see clearly, bad things happen both physically and spiritually, amen? I confess I have hit a rock or twenty while mowing because I can't see clearly. And a nest of wild baby rabbits. Yes, it's true. So sad. :(

This guarding of our eyes against dirt is especially relevant for us young men, I think, and our battle for sexual purity. We need to be like Job and make a covenant with our eyes not to lust after any young woman. Of course, making a covenant is one thing; keeping it is the rub! Even worse, it so often feels like our culture is a great big dust storm that we are walking into with our eyes wide open. But keep renewing your mind, men! Keep being transformed rather than conformed!

I specifically exhort you, young men, because I can empathize with you and truly feel our struggle, but it is, of course, important for everyone--male and female, young and old--to keep our eyes clear! The lust of the eyes is one of the "big three" things the world pulls us into, but if we are Children of God, our love for God is our motivation now. (1 John 2:15-16) So friends, I really want to leave you with this encouragement: you have been redeemed, so shine brightly for Christ by keeping clear eyes!

The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Mathew 6:22-23

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

New Short Story: What Really Matters


To the new believers who rekindle my own ember of faith by their enthusiasm for the Lord and His Kingdom. I love being around your joy.
-----
Her white-blonde hair catches the bright gymnasium light as she spins, like the first glimpse of a winter sunrise. Her blue eyes are half-closed and dreamy toward the brilliant chaos of the dance around her, but when she completes her spin and faces me, her eyes focus on mine without reserve and my already bumbling attempt at dancing gets even worse. I know if someone were to take my pulse, my heart would be racing. Racing with powerful emotions. Racing with longing . . . and even a little hope. 

Her name is Beth, Beth Copeland. Every male in Valley View Christian High, freshman to senior, knows her name. She’s that one girl blessed with such amazing beauty as to be the automatic dream of the entire school, or at least most of it. Boys want to date her. Girls want to look like her. Teachers hope they might be featured in a magazine someday under the headline, “New Face of America Accredits Success to High School Teacher.”

And she is actually dancing with me. 

I didn’t think she was in my league, of course. I am a lowly sophomore who barely made the football team earlier this school year. I weigh exactly 137 pounds, though that is a six-pound improvement from the start of the year. I am average in just about every way: height, IQ, abilities, you name it. I’ve never been in the limelight for being good or bad, unless you count a couple of school plays (never a lead) or my baptism (only half my church family cared to see it). 

All that changed, though, when I caught a pass from Dillon Seewald on the last play of the season and scampered into our rival’s end zone with the winning touchdown. Suddenly I was a hero, someone the team wanted to hoist up and carry on their shoulders. My name became known by more than a handful of people at my school; it became a household name, really. Everyone heard about me, in this town and the next. A student Youtube video of my catch has even gone semi-viral, with all of 3,873 views last I checked. That day became the best one of my life, and in my mind’s eye that football game became simply The Game, capitalized.

I thought I had lived my fifteen minutes of fame to the fullest, and just a couple of minutes ago, you would have found me where you’d find any average, insecure sophomore at a winter ball: hanging out at the punch bowl with other sophomore and freshman boys while glancing over nervously at girls. But then Beth had walked up.

“Hi,” she had said.

“Hi,” a couple of the boys had replied. But then I realized she was talking to me.

“Beth,” I nearly choked on my punch. “Hi.”

“How’s it going, Kevin?”

“Good,” I nodded, but all the while I was wondering how Beth knew my name. I had never spoken to her before, of course. I wondered if she had been at The Game. Or maybe she’d seen the YouTube video. I realized I was still nodding and stopped abruptly.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m doing fine.” She shrugged. “You know, If I didn’t know better, I would think you guys thought the winter ball was all about drinking punch.”

“I, uh, haven’t really learned how,” I confessed. “How to dance, I mean.”

“It’s easy,” Beth said. “Look, you can’t be worse than Jeff.” she nodded at a known class clown dancing with uncoordinated abandon. His ill-fitting black jeans and clunky sneakers only added to his look.

I shrugged.

“Want some punch?” one of the other boys suggested. His voice sounded kind of like a mouse learning how to talk.  

“No, thank you. Too much sugar.”

“Oh, ha ha,” the boy said. Another added that he was on his sixth cup and didn’t care.
There was an awkward pause.

“Well, I guess I will go wait around for a guy to ask me to dance,” Beth said. “It’s funny how they still want guys to ask girls to dance.” She looked at me.

“Do you want to?”

“Want to what?”

“Dance,” I gulped. “You know, with me.”

And here we are. I part hands with Beth and twirl with the girl on my left. Then I am facing Beth again. We step close, then apart, then close again and twirl. I have to let go of her hands again at that point in the dance, but I don’t want to. Then the music fades out, and the dance is over, wayyy too quickly. I never thought minutes could pass like seconds.

Beth curtsies and claps, and I bow awkwardly. One of my hands makes it behind my back like I’ve seen in movies, but the other one just kind of hangs there. I join in the applause for the dance to cover up my embarrassment.

Beth steps to my side and slips a hand in my elbow as the dance caller instructs, “Lead your partner off the dance floor.”

“Do you want water?” I ask.

“Yes, I’m parched.” She says. She smiles, and I am glad I didn’t make a joke about punch.
I lead her toward a couple of orange Gatorade tubs labeled “water,” steering clear of the sugary punch but flashing a triumphant look at the boys gathered around it. All the while I am trying to work up the courage to ask her for a second dance.

“That was fun!” I say.

“Yes, it was. And I am sure your dancing will get better with practice.” She says it in such an offhand manner that I am left scrambling to consider it a compliment.

“Practice makes perfect,” I joke weakly.

“Well, better at least,” Beth replies lightly.

I start, stop, and hesitate. “Would you—”

“Hi Beth!”

We both turn at the familiar voice. “Oh hi, Dillon!” Beth replies, and she says it with more life in her voice than she ever had to me.

Dillon is a total stud in his perfectly fitted vest. Every inch of his 6’2” frame stands out, and his muscles ripple nicely under the rolled-back sleeves of his red dress shirt. His hair is combed up and back perfectly, and he is smart enough not to try the senior beard, so his face looks well kempt. He is a good guy on the inside, too, a picture-perfect high school quarterback.

“Looks like you were having a time of it out there,” Dillon says. I notice he omitted the word “good.”

 Beth giggles. “Well,” she says giddily, “Kevin is better running with a football in his hands.”

She and Dillon laugh at the joke. I don’t find it that funny. At all.

“Come on, Kev, lighten up, man!” Dillon holds up his balled hand for a fist bump, but he holds it high enough to where I have to reach up. A fleeting fantasy crosses my mind of fist bumping his square jaw instead, but I laugh lamely and reach up for his fist with mine.

“Can I please have the next dance with you?” Dillon asks Beth.

“Sure,” Beth replies. And just like that, she has left my side and linked arms with Dillon.

“Don’t you still want water?” I say.

Beth shrugs dismissively. “No, I’m fine.”

“It’s okay, we can grab water before the next dance,” Dillon says kindly, and he guides her off toward the water.

I stand in the middle of the dance floor for a minute, heart sinking. I turn on my heels and walk back to the punch bowl. The split halves of my heart seem to bounce in each shoe. But who was I to think I’d ever have a shot with the prettiest girl in the school, anyway? Sure, I had my moment of fame during The Game, but now I realize that Dillon was in that game too. He was the one that drew off the defense toward him, buying time for the little sophomore no one thought to guard to get out into open field. He even faked to our 6’5” tight end for good measure before he threw it to me. I was a nobody that Dillon had made a somebody by his greatness.

“Dude, harsh,” one of the freshmen says to me. He is outweighed, though, by the jealous derision of the other boys as they grind me back down to where I belong with biting half-jokes and sarcasm.  I ignore them, fill a cup with punch, and wander away. I think about crossing the dance floor to the cluster of chattering girls we boys  had jokingly named the “magpies,” but my heart is just not in it. I feel a need to talk to someone. Someone who can help me out of my budding identity crisis. Someone who will truly listen. Someone adult, even.

I look around the chairs laid out for the parents of the students attending the dance. Very few parents have come, and I don’t know any of them. I don’t even know some of my friend’s parents, come to think of it. One older man catches my eye, though. He looks rough. His skin is weathered and three days’ worth of gray stubble isn’t enough to cover deep wrinkles and even a scar that runs across his left check. He wears a flannel and a pair of brown Carhartt’s that have small tears in the legs. My first thought is a cry for school security, but yet, the man’s countenance is inviting and kind—friendly even. It piques my interest, even disarms me, and I instinctively walk toward him. I am not completely sure why in the moment. Maybe I think it wil cheer me up to talk to someone who has had a rougher go at life than me.

There are two seats open next to the man. I don’t want to sit next to him, but sitting a seat away from him would put me next to Dorothy Dreyer. She is our PE teacher, but ironically, she’s one of those people who kind of takes up more than one chair. I sit in-between the two seats, hovering awkwardly above the crack. I glance once at the man, then look away. We stare out at the dance floor.
 
“Another dance is starting soon.”

I can tell in my peripheral vision that the man is trying to make eye contact with me. “I . . . it’s just not my night,” I mutter.

“Not mine either. The one night I have visitation with my daughter, it’s the school ball.”

“You could dance with her.”

“She’d be embarrassed.”

That is kind of what I am inwardly thinking. “Who is she?” I ask after a moment.

The man inclines his head in the direction I have studiously been avoiding looking toward. “The tall, slender girl there, with the blonde hair and turquoise dress? That’s my daughter. Beth is her name.”

Now I look the man in the eye.  “Wow,” is all I can manage.

The corners of the man’s eyes wrinkle even more as he smiles. “Don’t look so surprised, buddy. As you can tell, she takes after her mother.” the man adds “in a lot of ways” under his breath, but I am too busy wondering if talking to Beth’s dad will boost my chances with her to notice. Probably not, since I never knew Beth’s dad was even a part of her life. I don’t figure Beth is too proud of him.

“She’s dancing with the school quarterback,” I say, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Yeah, I see that. And she was dancing with Valleyview’s hero a minute ago.”

I smirk ruefully. “You can see why it’s not my night.”

“Yeah, I know why you’d feel that way. I’ve had a lot of those nights,” Beth’s dad says, but then he smiles. “They’re not so bad anymore, though.”

“Why not?”

“Well, do you know Jesus?”

“Um, yeah.”

“He saved me. He saved me from my selfish living.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with dancing,” I mutter.

“Everything, buddy, everything,” Beth’s dad replies. “Take me. Before Christ, I pursued girls because I thought they would fulfill me. I pursued sports because I thought it would give me meaning. I made money because I thought that’s what people did to satisfy their wants. When my dreams failed, I felt empty, meaningless, and unsatisfied. When I did catch my dreams, I was happy for a while, but still unsatisfied.”

I look at Beth. “Like, how?”

“Because everything in the world is broken, I guess. None of it is complete. Even if you get it, it still leaves you wanting.”

“Maybe you just never completely had your dream.”

Beth’s dad looks at me sharply. A flash of something—is it hurt or anger?—shows in his eyes, but then he softens. “That’s not true. I had Beth’s mom, once. I had a great job. I was a successful salesman; I had money.  And then we were blessed with Beth, my starlight.”

The conversation has taken an abruptly personal turn so fast, that I grow uncomfortable with it. Curiosity overrules me, though, and the questions keep coming out my mouth before my better judgement stops them. “What happened?”

“I was left wanting.”

“They left you?”

“I left them first, in my heart, and I was too pathetic to do anything about it. My wife filed for divorce, and she won custody. She took my starlight with her. Jesus was nudging me all the while, trying to show me that I was building a house upon the sand, but the rains came before I realized it.”

“That’s rough,” I say after a bit.

Beth’s dad nods sadly. “It was for years, and for awhile I didn’t want anything to do with my family ever again. I picked up some bad habits, drinking and fighting primary among them. That’s how I got this scar.” He fingers the scar on his cheek. “All my selfish dreams ended in scars, really.”

“But why were they selfish? I mean, can’t our dreams be good?” I ask.

“Well, I used to think that dreams were kind of amoral, you know? But now I believe that if Jesus isn’t in our life, our dreams can’t be selfless or good, because we’ve lost sight of what really matters.”

“Which is . . .” my voice fades into a question mark.

“Building God’s kingdom, glorifying Him through it. Can’t you see it? Our own little kingdoms of fame, wealth, possessions, relationships, and stuff just kind of die with us.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I say.

“You don’t sound very convinced.” The man is still smiling.

“I just don’t see how I can stop dreaming. Like, I don’t want to give up.”

“Oh don’t get me wrong, I still have dreams. But they’re different now, you know? It’s hard to explain . . . I guess the way I’d put it is that my dreams no longer center on what I can do for me, but on what I can do for God.”

The music fades, and a dance ends. I stir restlessly. I hadn’t really set out to hear the life story of a total stranger, and somehow his words aren’t comforting. Or at least, they’re not what I want to hear, even though I had asked all the questions. I get to my feet. “Well, I should probably get back to the dance.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get to talking so much.”

“It’s all good,” I say, even as I start walking away. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye, buddy, take care.”

I walk into the men’s bathroom. I check myself in the mirror. A tuft of my hair is struggling to stand at attention against a heavy coating of hair gel, and I do my best to smooth it down by wetting my palm and pressing it to my head. My average face seems to tilt closer to the ugly side of things under the harsh bathroom lights. I pretend to be washing my hands when another boy comes by, but as soon as he’s in a stall, I stare at myself some more. I stare into my own eyes, wondering about myself, wondering about my dreams.

“Do they really matter?” I whisper. “Do I really matter?”

Staring at my own ordinary self, the odds don’t seem to be in my favor.

I imagine a scar running across my cheek. I shudder, because in the mirror it looks real. My fingers instinctively press my cheek, feeling for the scar tissue. There is none, of course. My skin is smooth, like a baby, really. I don’t even have stubble yet. Your whole life is still ahead of you, I think to myself.

I turn from the mirror with a sigh and wander back out into the gym. Another dance has started already to a lively party song, but I filter lifelessly through the glitz and lights and dancing teens. I hit the door out of the gym, and it swings open to let in a breath of fresh night air. The song and noise of the dance fades and then cuts off abruptly as the door closes behind me, and I am alone in the dark.

I look up.

The moon is hidden behind a cloud, but the cloud’s edges glow a brilliant silver. The sky is a dusky bluish-black, perforated by the twinkling light of a sprawl of stars. I remember a recent science lesson on the stars, how they hurtle along in perfect unity with their neighbors in one huge, awe-inspiring dance. I’m struck by how immense and beautiful it all is, and really, how tiny I am.

“I’m nothing,” I whisper.

It’s freeing, now that I have actually said it. It puts my own petty kingdom of self-worth into perspective. I committed myself to Christ, to the one who created everything, but I haven’t really been living for His glory, especially after The Game. The pursuit has left me empty and sick. Sick of trying to impress, only to be rejected. Sick of chasing, but never really obtaining. Soul sick, I think that is the name for it.

“Can you heal me?” I whisper.

I listen for a voice, either booming or still and small, but I don’t hear anything coming down from above. I guess I never really expect God to speak back to me anyway. But it still feels good to talk to Him again. It’s been so long.

“God, I’m back.”

It’s really the only thing I can think to say, but a thought sparks in my mind at the same moment. It’s about a verse I had read awhile—well really quite awhile—ago, something Jesus had said. I couldn’t quote it exactly, but I know Jesus had said for people to come to Him, and He would give them rest for their souls. Rest. That sounds good.

Like a rush I remember other words of scripture; I remember more about God. Christians are dearly beloved children of God. He will work all things together for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to His purposes. He is faithful, even when we are faithless. It’s like the rush or remembrance fans a smoldering ember deep inside me, an ember of faith that has been slowly burning out. Passion rises inside me, the same passion I felt when I was baptized. It’s passion to break away from an empty life and live differently. It’s passion to serve the One who gave Hs life for me so that I might truly live. It strikes me that this is probably what makes Beth’s dad so eager to share about Jesus in his life. There’s purpose in this passion.

“It’s true, this is what really matters.” My thoughts spill out my mouth. “I’m nothing, but I’m not worthless. I’ve been redeemed by a great price for a great purpose.” I smile, grin even. “Thank you, Lord, thank you!” I whisper earnestly.

And then, almost spontaneously, a line from the Lord’s prayer springs from my mouth, and I have to repeat it again, slower, to catch what I mean, to really pray it as a heartfelt prayer.

“Your Kingdom come,” I pray. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”


Monday, April 2, 2018

Embracing the gift of singleness

I tell people I am “romantically asleep” when they ask me the “do you have a girlfriend?” question. Yes, it’s kind of a weird punch line, so I usually explain by saying something like,  "Now don't get me wrong, being single is tough. I know I don't have the gift of singleness, and I am working super hard to establish myself to be able to be married ASAP. But until I reach that point, I have thought it best just to stay single." If the person I asked genuinely cares about me, or if they’re not slowly backing away from me with eyes glazed and jaw gaping, I also add that being "romantically asleep" is hard, painful even, like the pain Adam felt in his sleep when God pulled a rib out of his side.

Yes, this answer is too long. Sometimes a “no” works too. ;)

Thankfully, a sermon by pastor Matt Chandler on "singleness" hit me right between the eyes last week.. It helped cut through my elaborate story and gave me fresh perspective on this season of singleness I find myself in. Pastor Matt talked about how all singles have been given the gift of singleness—that it's not just reserved for those "Eunuchs born that way" in Mathew 19:12. Whereas I viewed singleness as a gift given to those who don't feel their need deeply for a help meet, Pastor Matt challenged us to view our current singleness as a blessing, even if we desire to be married.

Like 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 says, we singles aren't bound by the extra "worldly" worry of caring for our spouse. We can be more devoted to serving the Lord, and this season of our life can be used powerfully for Him! Singleness is a benefit according to Paul, and this revelation is the only way to make sense of 1 Corinthians 7. We should accept this truth and be thankful for it! How repulsive to see a child open a gift from their parents--and then immediately whine that it's "not what they wanted". How much more despicable would it be for us to do the same thing to our Heavenly Father!

I don't want to be that whiny child. I refuse to treat being single as a burden any longer; I refuse to put on that long face of "poor, weary saint" like the Pharisees did when they were fasting. This season of singleness that God has called me to is not a burden, but a gift! I desire to enjoy it to the fullest, for His glory.

Matt Chandler shared this quote in his sermon, and it really sums up where my heart is now: "I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to deserve a [spouse] or too spiritually mature to need one. I am single because God is good and this is his best for me." Page Benton Brown.

Yes, that is true! I really do believe it, and I am enjoying “his best for me”, just like I will enjoy pursuing someone, Lord willing, when the time is right. I do love this season of hard work and challenging college goals. I love the "free time" I have to pursue Godly knowledge through good sermons, books, and the different avenues of ministry I am pursuing as a man "anxious only for the Lord.” I won't waste this time being anxious for the help meet God is still fashioning for me. One day, Lord willing, later this year when I have another busy mowing season (possibly my last!) under my belt and am closer to graduating, I will wake up and start looking for a help meet suitable for me, but for now I am peacefully asleep.  And no, I don't think it hurt Adam when God took a rib from him anymore. I can honestly say that and believe it. I am experiencing this comfort in Christ! God is so good, and He knows just the gifts to give his children in their seasons of need.

Do you need this same encouragement to view this season of singleness as a blessing? I will share the link to Matt Chandler's message below. I would also encourage a careful reading of 1 Corinthians 7 after watching the message. It's my prayer that it will encourage you like it did me, single brother or sister. It's heartbreaking to think that any Christian would bemoan a gift from God! Take heart! God knows exactly what we need, and He provides in His good timing. Enjoy the abundant life he gives now, no matter what season of life you're in!

Here's the message:  Matt Chandler: Singles

God bless you all! 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Keeping the Captive

KEEPING THE CAPTIVE

To my dad, and to all the Godly mentors the Lord has brought into my life! Thank you for your grace and patience in all you have taught me over the years! May I always speak the truth. . . but in love.

~~~~~`

Too busy to rest, then too restless to sleep. What an odd sensation these Earthlings lose themselves in. They pride themselves in their freedom while they wholeheartedly collect chains. Another pleasurable sin, another vice, another death. We see the natural progression of the natural man, and sometimes we think our job is easy. 

Take my captive, for instance. Your typical, foolish Earthling. He doesn’t help our cause much, but that’s okay. He is slowly dragging himself into the dirt, crushing himself under a load of sins and chains he’s been collecting since birth. I’m watching him right now. I’m obsessed with keeping him. It’s my job. I have provided him with the essentials, of course—a pathetic fa├žade of “life is good” and a couple of weapons to fight back the logic of the enemy with. In one hand he carries the wisdom of man, their primary choice to deflect the evident truth that there is a God. It’s a blunt spiritual sword, really, because who can deny His existence? In the other hand he carries a shield of healthy skepticism of spiritual things. He doesn’t even think I or my kind exist!  I smile at this little captive soldier I’ve built. His armor is so pathetic . . . no more than a mask to hide the deep pain of a meaningless life. And yet off he trudges into another day, ready to fight for his freedom to remain my captive.

You can see why I think my job is easy sometimes, and I am only a low-ranking force compared to most of my comrades! Pardon me for not introducing myself earlier. My name is Lucius, and I am an enlightened angel serving the Morning Star. I reject the plan my Creator had for me, and I live to serve my new lord in his quest to establish his kingdom over all the created world. I live, like he does, to steal, kill, and destroy. I repeat that pattern over and over with each new assignment—each new captive— I am given. I steal away their hope and chance at an abundant life. I crush their earthly life. And they are destroyed forever in an eternal punishment so horrible it was originally reserved for us. Yes, you simple humans call us demons, but don’t forget what we once were. We’re more real, more glorious and profound, than you ever will be in your natural state, Earthlings. Which is why we want to keep you that way.

Does my captive even know we are destroying him? He must know, because despite my hardest efforts to the contrary, he has been exposed to the light several times. He knows of the abundant life our enemy offers . . . a life of true freedom and broken chains. A life of power over the grave and victory over our temptations because of the work of the Son of Man. It’s terrible. Sometimes I can’t believe he doesn’t wake up and see it. Is sin that pleasurable that he would choose it over life?

I jerk myself from my contemplations and turn my attention back to the task for the day. Keep him captive; don’t let them change him. A flash of doubt sparks through my mind. My orders are clear, and though they seem utterly antithetical to my mission, I trust with utter confidence in my superiors. I am taking my captive to see a Christian today. We’ve been orchestrating this appointment all morning, and it is almost show time.

My captive is hard at work at his day job. He works at Starbucks—long shifts too. As many hours as he can get. Right now, he is wiping tables. He’s got his back turned to the Christian, who is walking toward him with coffee and computer bag in tow, but that will change in a second. Sure enough, almost right on cue, the Christian opens his mouth to speak. Here we go!

“Good morning! Thanks for wiping that table.”

“Yeah, not a problem,” my captive replies.

“I can’t stand tables that still have crud on them,” the Christian says. He unslings his computer bag and plops it on the edge of the table, where my captive has already cleaned. They are now on opposite ends of the table from each other. My captive has his head down, rubbing away at the sticky ring someone’s caramel frap has made. The Christian is staring at him awkwardly, waiting for him to finish, trying to think of something else to say. He shifts from one foot to the other, then takes a sip of his coffee. He gulps it down too quickly, I think. It looks like he burns his throat.

“You having a good morning?”the Christian all but chokes out.

“I’m hanging in there.” My captive straightens up and snaps his rag clean. I am afraid he is going to turn and leave, but thankfully, for the sake of not looking completely indifferent, he reciprocates the question. “How about you?”

“Oh I’m good!” the Christian replies. “God is good!”

There it is. Finally! These Christians, they are often so slow getting around to mentioning the God they claim to serve. This is the whole point of the meeting though! A test. A conflict. And if all things work out as planned, a captive even deeper in bondage. I lean forward, watching every moment unfold. I’m ready to insert myself if need be.

Right on cue, my captive bristles. Up goes his shield. It’s invisible to earthly eyes; I wonder if the Christian even notices it. But regardless, my captive’s words make it clear where he stands. “Well, I’m glad God’s working out for you anyway,” he says.

“You don’t believe in God?” the Christian asks. Ah, you see, he wants this opportunity too. The spiritual conflict is inevitable now. I feel myself thrill to the fight. The coffee house setting fades and all but disappears in my mind’s eye. I am immersed in this glorious, eternally-impacting struggle.

My captive shrugs. ”I don’t know. I believe in things I can see and observe.” With these words, he unsheathes the spiritual weapon I have equipped him with, the wisdom of man. I’m disappointed to see that he doesn’t thrust deep with it. Not yet, at least. Maybe he will once he feels more threatened.  
“I have seen and observed God!” the Christian replies. “He is evident in all His creation!” With these words, out comes the Christian’s weapon. It shines brighter than gold, like sunlight on a pure, white snowfield. It is sharp and deadly, able to cut right through the pathetic armor we equip our captives with.

I shudder and draw back, suddenly terrified. What am I thinking! Such a weapon can easily destroy any fortress I might build. It is absolute torment to me! In a moment, I am ready to take flight and flee for my life. Let me go black to darkness, away from the light and the battles. Who cares what happens to my captive, if only I am safe from that terrible weapon! But my eyes lock with one of my superiors across the room. He is a seasoned warrior for our master; he has destroyed countless numbers of captives. He tells me in that glance to hold on.

“I only know,” my captive is saying, “that many, many smart people believe in evolution. What’s more, science has proven it!” It’s a weak thrust with a blunt weapon. Such a jab won’t dent the shield of faith most Christians have, and sure enough, it glances harmlessly off this Christian’s shield.

The Christian raises his brilliant weapon high. It is his turn to strike. I all but grovel in my place behind my captive, knowing I will feel the terrible bite of the Christian’s spiritual weapon. Surely it will rip me to shreds, or if not me, then my doctrines of deceit.  The weapon drops, and I all but screech and flee . . .

 But the blow doesn’t strike me! It cuts deeply into my captive, rending right through his pathetic armor. I hate to see the armor rent, but I am so glad I didn’t receive the blow that I can’t be truly upset.

“The fool says in his heart, there is no God! Fools deny the self-evident truth of God and suppress the truth with their own foolishness. You are a fool if you follow them!”  

Again and again the Christian raises his weapon and strikes. He shares truth after truth, battering down my captive’s feeble attempts to raise his shield of skepticism.  At first I flinch with every stroke, sure one of them will be directed at me, sure that my plans for keeping my captive will be harmed. But with each stroke, I grow more confident, and then even exuberant as I watch. My captive reels from each blow. His spirit is being crushed. He is being emptied and insulted, bludgeoned out of humanity itself. The Christian’s work is far more devastating than any of my efforts in my captive’s life the last year. What amazing destruction! The Christian’s weapons are indeed powerful.

I realize the brilliance of my master’s scheme. Why take my captive to a Christian? For precisely the reason before me! Their weapons can cut deeper than any of ours, even our most potent ones like rage, jealousy, and slander. We know this from experience. Countless numbers of our spiritual strongholds have fallen to the power of their weapons and the Lord they serve.

But what if—imagine this! What if these Christian soldiers mistake our captives for their enemies?

The battle is over. My captive disengages, too weary to continue. The Christian watches my captive as he heads back to the employee section of Starbucks and he even calls out “God bless you!” as if he has just won a great victory. But it is I who have won! Yes, my captive lost his shield and weapon—they are battered to pieces!—but he still carries his chains. He stumbles underneath them, his inward person too damaged to hold up under them much longer.

My captive finds his way out the back door, to where the employees who smoke take their breaks. His friend Joe is there, sprawled out on a green, rust-speckled bench. I wave hello to my comrade assigned to Joe, and he gives me a knowing look and a thumbs up. Joe takes a drag from his cigarette and does one of those “cool man” chin bobs at my captive. “What’s up, dude?”

“I hate Christians.”

Joe laughs. “You too, huh? What happened? Some zealot aim his blaze of glory at you?”

“Yeah, big time Bible-thumper.” My captive sighs, kicks at the cigarette buds that litter the floor, and sits down on the bench next to Joe. “What’s their problem, man? Do they take pleasure in ripping us apart?”

“Naw, they want you to believe what they do, bro.”

“By pounding me into the dirt? I’d rather go to hell than believe what they do.”

“Haha, that’s the spirit. Believe in what makes you happy, that’s what I live by. If that sends me to hell or not, I don’t know. But at least it makes life here bearable.” Joe taps the ashes out of his cigarette and leans back like he has just shared a bit of profound wisdom.

“Keeps our Sundays free, that’s for sure,” my captive replies wryly. For the first time this morning, he smiles. This is perfect! Bit by bit, Joe has nursed my captive’s wounds. He’s helped him recover! At the end of it all, he’s handed my captive back his shield of skepticism and helped arm him again with our spiritual weapons, and my captive is stronger for it. He just might make a good soldier for our cause someday.

The two humans share a laugh, and my captive rises and clasps his friend on the shoulder. “Thanks, Joe, I appreciate you being there for me. I got to get back to the tables.”

“No problem, man, anytime.” Joe flicks his cigarette on the floor and stomps it. “I’ll follow you in. Gotta keep making the big bucks, right?”

“Haha, that’s right. One day at a time.” My captive holds the door open, and the two of them file in.

I pause at the door, collecting myself. Proud, very proud. My superior meets me there. It may sound weird to you humans that we have emotions too, but he is all but smiling as he says, “Good work, Lucius.”

“Thanks. I did well?”

“Yes, it went as well as planned.”

“So what’s next?”

“Same thing as always—keeping the captive. Don’t lose him.”

“After today? I don’t think I ever will.”

My superior nods. “Just keep him away from Christians who actually know how to use their weapons.”

I grin maliciously. “Sounds like a plan!”

~~~~~~


The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hungry for a great Christian movie? Go see "I Can Only Imagine"


For so long, Christian films have been playing catch up with Hollywood. They've been like the chubby little sibling running after an older sibling—stumbling and bumbling, clearly unable to keep pace, but yelling "Wait up!" the whole time. It's been hard to watch . . . even annoying at times as some films (*cough* Pureflix *cough*) give credit to the "Cheesy Christian film" stereotype.

But no more!

The important thing was time. Time for aspiring Christian filmmakers to mature and take each little stepping stone. Time for budgets to expand and real actors to take notice. Time to hone stories to artfully engage and captivate by "telling instead of showing." It took time to trim out the cheese.

Amazingly, I can now say that much like how the age gap between two siblings becomes unrecognizable over time, Christian movies are right there with Hollywood in terms of quality. This is abundantly true of I Can Only Imagine, the real-life story of Christian music artist Bart Millard. The film artfully weaves Bart's personal life with his professional start in the music industry. It shows how Bart's young life of abuse by his father shaped his insecurities and made chasing a dream so hard, yet so vitally important, in his life. It shows how crushing it was when those in Nashville told him "you don't have it", and how Bart all but gave up on his dream of singing for the Lord.

But then, at this turning point of disappointment and broken dreams, I Can Only Imagine chronicles a real-life miracle. It shows the transformation of a monster to a man of God, and the impact that can have on a broken son's life. It shows the healing God can bring not only to broken dreams, but to broken relationships!

I cannot praise this film enough. I went into I Can Only Imagine with modest expectations. After all, how ho hum of a concept, putting the life story of a contemporary Christian music artist to film. However, in reality it blew me away! It quickly became one of, if not my favorite, films. It will make your heart swell and your tears flow at the amazing work of God. "When you take something broken and make something out of it, what is that called? There's a word for it," Bart's dad muses.

"Redemption," Bart replies, and that is exactly the testimony displayed through this film in powerful, powerful ways.

You will be drawn by the "realness" of the characters, and in fact, the story hits every benchmark of good storytelling to a "T". It is very engaging, the quickest hour and a half I have spent in a long time. The filmmaking is also fantastic and very high quality.

Eventually, younger siblings have a tendency to overtake their elders in skill and performance, and I can see that day coming thanks to the work of the directors of this film,  the Erwin brothers. Noticeable actors like Dennis Quaid (I Can Only Imagine) and Jon Voight (Woodlawn) have signed onto the films the Erwins are producing, and I pray even more of Hollywood can't help but take note. I can see a day where not only is a role in a Christian film sought after, but envied--and more than that, that the Christian faith is envied thanks to great films like I Can Only Imagine.

It's taken awhile for this chubby little toddler of the Christian film industry to hit stride production-wise with Hollywood, just like it took David time to find smooth stones to take Goliath down with. But now those "smooth stones" are in hand, and David is winding up. Proof in point, I Can Only Imagine beat Disney's A Wrinkle in Time at the box office this weekend. It's a marvel that can only be seen in person, at the theater, and that is where I encourage you to go. Witness I Can Only Imagine for yourself,  and be blessed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

In the Way




We've all been told we're "in the way" before. Whether standing in the hall, perusing a shopping isle, or stuck in traffic, we've all experienced a polite "excuse me", a less friendly exclamation of annoyance, or a blaring horn that's let us know definitively: "You are in the way."

That phrase has really struck me recently, but for a different reason thanks to John 14:6: Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me." I've realized I am in the Way. In the truest sense of the term, I am always in the Way, because of my relationship with Jesus.

The awesome thing is, you are too if you've accepted Jesus as Lord. You've rejected the broad way of the world that leads to destruction and embarked down the narrow way that is life in Jesus. You've followed our Lord's advice to, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Mathew 7:13-14)

How does walking on this new, narrow path work itself out practically in real life? It is interesting in that it's not as if our new path as Christians is in a whole new world (we are not transported to Narnia like the Pevensies, unfortunately), but here in the nitty gritty of the same world where we once explored the wide path. We are in the world; we are just no longer of it. And to make matters more confusing, in this world there are crossroads where the wide and narrow ways intersect.

Yep, let that sink in.

These crossroads are explained in Jeremiah 6:16:

This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient path, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'

It's natural for all of us to ask where each potential path leads when we come to a crossroad, both physically and spiritually.. I praise God that if you're a Christian, you've asked where the good way is, you've walked in that ancient path, and you've found rest for your soul. Moreover, it's our job as Christians to answer those questions being asked at the crossroad. We should be the ones saying, "Here, over here!! This is the path that leads to life!" Unfortunately, clearly there are many who will reply adamantly, "We will not walk in it!"

As Christians, what should our relationship be with these "We Will Not's"? Here is where the explanation becomes a tongue twister. You see, if we are in the Way, than we will be in the way of those people who have rejected the good way. As Proverbs 24:11-12 says:

Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Surely we did not know this,” Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?

It is our calling as Christians to stand in the gap at the crossroad, to link arms and try and stop those stumbling toward the road sign marked "Broad Way", because we know a more accurate sign would read "Destination: Destruction." That's why Christ is a stumbling block to those who won't believe (1 Peter 2:6-8), and that's why it is our responsibility to preach this stumbling block (1 Corinthians 1:23). It's not that we are somehow clinically sadistic, but that we want to save the lost around us from a path that dead ends--and by dead end, I mean a literal dead end. "There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death." (Proverbs 14:12) 

A practical example of this "Standing in the gap" is our public stand at a physical crossroads in front of Planned Parenthood, where we pray to end abortion. We are a terrible stumbling block and "in the way" of a lot of people who don't want even a reminder of the ancient path or the good way, but if we save but one life spiritually or physically, it will be well worth the cries of anger and rage from the "We Will Not's." Even if we don't ever save a life, it is still our calling to try!  And may we all be faithful to that calling.

Lastly, we are also called to bring back those who wander from the narrow path: 

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

Even those who start down the narrow path can wander back to the world, and that's why it is so important that we make disciples, and not just converts. To be a Christian is to be in the Way, and to be in the Way is to be in the way of those who would wander straight into hell. So, that leaves me with one question. 

Will you be in the Way with me?