Culture

Election Day 2016!

Dear God,

Election Day! It’s finally here and I am thankful that nothing about this mess comes as a surprise to you. None of it rattles or scares you. None of it changes you. You are God, you are sovereign. You will not fall off your throne or wave a flag of defeat. You will remain the same YOU—the same GOD—you have always been.

And you, even now, are working all things together for good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28). Even now, you are using people who hate and persecute you to accomplish those very purposes—here and across the globe.

And tomorrow, you will welcome us back to you, just as you always have. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8).

May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen!

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Step Out in Faith

It’s not easy being a girl.

I know what you men are thinking…that this post isn’t for you. But don’t let my opening statement scare you away. This message is especially and specifically for you. But it bears sharing a bit of background, as in, it’s not easy being a girl. You’ve heard and even perpetuated the stereotypes, you’ve encountered the Bridezillas and the other crazies. To be honest, there aren’t that many areas on which I personally identify or connect with the traditional “female” experience. But there are a few—and there is one that especially stands out to me.

FAITH.

I know what you guys are thinking—women don’t have the corner on faith. And you’re right. As with any generalization, there are exceptions. But those exceptions belie the rule. Case in point: the cross. Think back, where were the disciples? Nowhere to be found. They were off hiding in the bushes somewhere. Who remained? The women. Now, I don’t know if they were 50 feet from the cross, but I can tell you how I picture the scene at Calvary. I see the Marys, all three of them, kneeling beneath the cross, worshiping Jesus in spite of what seemed a hopeless defeat. They’d been at His feet before, hanging on every word of His teaching…anointing His feet with the finest of perfumes and even their own precious tears. But this time, it was different. This time, it was He who was anointing THEM, with His own precious blood. And they believed Him and His promises. Still.

Need more proof? How about the tomb? Where were the disciples then? Running around like chickens with their heads cut off, that’s where. Why? Because they had finally met with a set of circumstances that defied their sense of reason, circumstances that they couldn’t understand or explain, or FIX. You can relate, can’t you? In a society where you’re expected to be self-sufficient, strong, successful. In a world where you’re expected to perform and provide, and to be right. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. You’re tired—exhausted. You’re weighed down with burdens that God never meant for you to carry. What He wants from you is FAITH. And I feel God telling me to tell you today, Step out in faith. Step out in faith. Don’t step out in the calculated risk that YOU can accept and manage. Don’t step out in your own resources—your wealth, your intellect, your spatial reasoning skills. Don’t step out only in what makes perfect logical sense. When you rely on these worldly “wisdoms” and competencies, you are stifling your God. You’re making Him small, weak, impotent—not in reality, but in your MIND, and your HEART.

Consider David, when he faced Goliath. Did he step out in his own strength, or experience, or prowess? No, in his own words, he stepped out “in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45). God never said to be strong and courageous in your own abilities. In Joshua 1:9, we see that God commands us to be strong and courageous, and to not be afraid or discouraged, “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Don’t stifle the Holy Spirit inside you. Don’t put false limits on a God who is limitless. Have faith. Deepen your faith. And then STEP OUT IN FAITH!

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God, I pray that you would raise up not just one generation of faithful men, but an army. I pray that these godly men would allow themselves to trust you, and to not rely on their own strength and understanding. Instead, let them pursue you BOLDLY, recognizing that you are a BIG God, and that you have in store for them BIG, GOD-SIZED dreams and possibilities. Give them courage to rest in you, and to step out in faith for your glory and your kingdom. A thousand times, Amen. In your matchless and limitless power, let it be so today.

 

Vantage Point

Romans 12:15-16a

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another…”

The other night, I re-watched the movie, “Vantage Point.” The movie portrays a terrorist attack, but from about nine different points of view. There’s a Secret Service member, a local police officer, a spectator, members of the media, and even a couple of terrorists. What’s interesting is that we, as the audience, had no real idea what was going on until the end—after all of the vantage points had been pieced together. Granted, by the end of the film, there were still a couple of questions remaining, but for the most part, the plot was resolved.

I think this film actually provides a relevant comparison for some of the major discussions and events going on in our country and our world today. I think we are experiencing a lot of uncertainty, confusion, separation, division, self-righteousness, anger, resentment, disparity—and the list goes on.

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But I believe that much of it stems from (or is at least aggravated by) our limited vantage points, our myopic perspectives, and our self-righteous agendas. We have refused to acknowledge and empathize with the positions and perspectives of others around us, in particular those who are not like us. We have elevated our own needs, desires, and comforts above those of others. We have denied or ignored disparities and injustices. And Romans (among other passages in the Bible) makes it clear that this should not be.

Instead, we should rejoice with those who rejoice AND mourn with those who mourn. A huge step in that direction is for us to actively and intentionally adopt—even momentarily—the perspectives and the vantage points of those with whom we are at odds. It may be that we would find ourselves in greater awareness, understanding, and even agreement with one another. This might well allow us to feel greater empathy, express greater compassion, and extend greater assistance to our fellow human beings. In short, we would be that much closer to living in the harmony that Paul calls us to in Romans. What do you say? Shall we give it a try?

 

Hooked

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For the past year, I have been privileged to lead a Sunday school class for our church’s older members, the Harvesters (so named for the biblical concept of first sowing, and later reaping a harvest). A few months ago, I taught based on an example of what we like to refer to as “God in culture,” and I chose the television series Once Upon a Time. In the first place, I have grown to love the show, and in the second, it seems to me to have many parallels to or reflections of biblical principles and ideas. In that lesson, I brought up the term simulacra, which has been studied extensively in sociological circles. It is essentially the idea that in modern culture, we have created many mediums that convey some level of likeness to or similarity with reality, and yet those cultural objects have in some way lost their reference points, and become an alternate reality of sorts. It’s a complicated idea, to be sure. But in my own life and experience, it is very easy to relate. Let me explain.

When I watch a movie or a television show, I often become swept up in the plot line, in the characters, and so forth. I may watch a movie or a TV episode and ruminate over it for days, or even weeks afterward. They almost become real—like some kind of digital velveteen rabbit. They truly affect me, at a fundamental level. And yet, they don’t really reflect anything. They’re fictional, made up, fantasies. Fun ones, but artificial nonetheless. You’ve likely experienced this same phenomenon, after watching a series finale perhaps. I mean, come on, Netflix has coined the term “showhole” to describe this feeling of loss. So maybe you can understand where I’m coming from, and if so, you may appreciate a glimpse into this past week’s Sunday school lesson, wherein I again went back to God in culture, to simulacra, and to Once Upon a Time

…Well, my simulacra is acting up again, which means it’s time for an update on Once Upon a Time. And of course, our main focus is still on the “Hook and Emma” arc—where Captain Hook and Emma Swan (the heroine of the story) are trying their darndest to successfully pursue a romantic relationship—but life and magic keep getting in the way. When last we left them, Emma had tried to save Hook from a fatal wound using dark magic—thereby imbuing him with dark magic. She kept this a secret from him for a while, but when he learned the truth, he felt betrayed and decided to embrace his dark side. In the end, though, he made the right choice—to die a hero and rid the world of dark magic forever. But that sent him to the underworld, which is basically like a kind of purgatory where people go if they’ve died with “unfinished business.”

And as it turns out, one of the story’s villains had tricked Hook, and channeled all of the dark magic to himself, making Hook’s death an apparent waste. So, in the winter finale, Emma and her friends and family resolved to go to the underworld and rescue Hook—and that’s where they’ve been all spring. While looking for a way to get Hook out of the underworld, the team of heroes manages to help many of its residents recognize and resolve their unfinished business, allowing them to move on from there. A few end up in the River of Lost Souls, which is most closely equivalent to hell. But most of them follow a bridge toward a light—presumably heaven, but that’s never stated explicitly.

Well, long story short, it turns out there’s no way for Hook to return to the living world. Emma is crushed, of course, but Hook comforts her and encourages her to let go and go back to Storybrooke. She goes, but only with his promise that he will move on from the underworld, and not allow her to be his unfinished business. So we can expect that one day, they might be together again, in the afterlife. I think that may provide a greater level of resolution for Emma than it does for me. You see, for me—in the real world—Hook is a fictional character who will never be again. He’s just—GONE.

I can’t help but wonder if this feeling of emptiness is akin to the feeling that people experience in the face of loss when they don’t have the hope of heaven, or a belief in God. It seems so, based on 1 Thessalonians 4:13, which states, “Brothers, we do not what you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” But it is, no doubt, exponentially worse for those who mourn the loss of a real live person, and one whom they have loved. As often happens, my compassion for these souls—those who’ve left and those left behind—is renewed and deepened, as I attempt to empathize with such an unbearable position. Won’t you join me in saying a prayer for the unbelieving among us—that they would find the hope that comes only through a saving relationship with our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Amen!