Christianity · Faith · Film · Movie Review · Movies · The Gospel

Interstellar – Review

Interstellar_ALT_Artowrk-2Interstellar is the latest film from visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan. In a movie landscape that is populated by superheroes and remakes, Nolan reminds us of the power and beauty that cinema can have. Experimental and challenging, Interstellar is beyond, light years beyond anything seen in years. Nolan has made a movie for movie lovers. Inventive, beautiful and something that pushes the boundaries in thought and the craft.

The Gospel According to Science or Man

If Interstellar is anything it is a love letter to science and to the indefatigable spirit of humanity. Science is the faith that will save us. When faced with the unknown man must apply the scientific method to deduce the truth. This plays out throughout the entire movie as Cooper is sent off with the crew of the Endurance to find out which of the previously surveyed planets is best suited for human colonization. NASA and the crew talk about the “them” that have placed the wormhole in our solar system which has enabled humanity to travel to another galaxy in search of a new home. It is never discussed if this was a supernatural event, but is assumed to be alien in origin. In the end, it is not aliens but advanced humanity that has learned the secrets of space and time like Time Lords, who have created the wormhole. Humanity needs no outside savior, it is ourselves that will save us through science and the exploration of the universe.

Cooper is the humanistic Jesus, who saves humanity through his “death” and “resurrection” and then finally goes to prepare a place for us in a new Eden with “Eve”. It is the humanistic gospel which just happens to mirror what Scripture tells us. Yet in scripture it is man who is incapable of saving himself, who needs someone to reach into our time and space, show us the way to a “new heaven and a new earth”. Even when trying to tell the ultimate in man’s abilities Nolan cannot find a better structure than the Gospel of Jesus and that is saying something.

Conclusion 

Once in a while, a movie comes along that challenges and changes the way we look at the art of film; Interstellar is doing that. With its inventive use of sound design, music and dialogue as well as the shear magnitude of the visual feast, especially in IMAX, Interstellar will leave it’s mark in the movie industry as well as the viewer. You just may never look up at the stars the same way again.

Interstellar_trailer

Beauty · Books · Christianity · Doctor Who · Faith · Manhood · Star Trek · The Bible · The Gospel · Uncategorized

Owl Post 8-4-14

Owl Post 2-17-12

 

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Bringing New Toys to Someone Else’s Sandbox

Point_of_Divergence_coverFor those of you who may still be wondering: Yes, the rumors are true. I do indeed write Star Trek novels.

Why? Well, sure, they pay me, but I also do it because it’s just so gosh-darned fun. I’ve been a nerd for Star Trek for as long as I can remember, having grown up in the 1970s and 80s watching reruns of the original series every weekday afternoon. Catching the gazillionth rerun of Captain Kirk fighting Klingons or whatever was the sole exception to my mother’s “homework and chores before TV” rule. To this day, I’m sure she thinks that hour could’ve been better utilized cutting the grass or cleaning our backyard pool.

Bibliotheca: What’s the Point of Making the Bible More Beautiful?

34fb575c62d581abe2984a3a70341386_largeWhen I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a study Bible for a present. It was packed with supplements: book introductions, historical information, a version of Strong’s Concordance, and best of all, hundreds of notes that sought to explain the Bible’s more challenging passages. All of it was intended to make the Bible more accessible.

How I Discovered the Secret Ingredient to Being a Good Man by Watching Doctor Who

rory-cast-a-good-man-570x320I have had a long and fairly wonderful relationship with science fiction and fantasy. The first movie that my mother took me to was Transformers, all the way back in 1986. I was only eight months old, at the time, so my memories of the event are, well, hazy at best. She assures me that we had a great time, though—the two of us and the one lonely old African-American man sharing the theater with us—and up until the age of twelve I thought that God looked like a giant, blue helmet and sounded like Optimus Prime… but that’s probably a story best told at another time. The first movie that I actually remember going to see, consciously, was also science-fiction. It was Star Trek V, granted, but I think I can probably be forgiven for thinking it was awesome. I was, after all, only three years old.

Bring Back the Holy Kiss

ab30fceebf2b93eb_14974775_468e147941“Nobody ever touches me,” a friend recently lamented. I could sympathize. In my 20s, I was in the same situation—unmarried and living far from my parents. As a teacher in a public junior high school even my job was strictly touch-free. Faculty were routinely warned against so much as placing a hand on a student’s shoulder, and once an anonymous co-worker filed a sexual harassment complaint against a single male teacher who sometimes stopped to talk to me on his free period. With no spouse and no nearby relatives, I returned untouched every evening to a quiet room and a stack of papers, often spending several days in a row without so much as a handshake of human contact.

Just One of the Guys?

irJenny Lewis’s latest album, The Voyager, dropped this week, but the video for the single “Just One of the Guys” was already making internet waves due to the inclusion–in drag, no less–of actresses Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway, and Brie Larson. I walked away from my four minutes at the screen feeling that Lewis had tapped into something pivotal and subversive about how we see gender.

7 Different Ways to Read a Book

bo6Reading is kind of like repairing a bicycle. Kind of. For too long now my bike has been semi-operational. It has one brake that just doesn’t want to behave and all my attempts to fix it have failed. Why? Well it turns out that I haven’t been using the right tool. To get the bike working I need to use the right tool. And when it comes to reading, well, you’ve got to use the right tool—you’ve got to know what kind of reading to do. Here are seven different kinds of reading.

 

 

 

Books · Christianity · Faith · Graduation · Guardians of the Galaxy · Marriage · Movie Trailers · The Gospel · Tim Challies · Tolkien

Owl Post 5-19-14

Owl Post 2-17-12

 

My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage, New Birth, and the Gospel

ring-tattoos-13Today is the day of my wedding.  And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.

If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike.  My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.

When Gifts Lose Their Luster

giftThere are times I grow weary of good things. Things I love. Things I would not want to live without. Things that have the ability to make my heart beat a little bit faster and keep my mind racing when I ought to be asleep. They are good things, but somehow, through time or familiarity or neglect or something else, they begin to feel not so good. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it seems to be yet another cost of being a sinful person in a sinful world. Even the best things feel like bad things at times.

Advice to High School Graduates: ‘You Are Not Special’

graduation-hats1On a spring day in 2012, Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough, Jr., stepped onto the school’s football field, then covered in a sea of seniors dressed in identical caps and gowns. Clad in a blazer and striped tie, McCullough made his way to the podium, donned his reading glasses, and began his commencement speech. Nothing about the event seemed out of the ordinary. McCullough, after all, was participating in a ritual that happens hundreds of thousands of times across the United States each year. He had given graduation speeches before.

But compared to the countless other remarks given by comedians, journalists, and politicians that year, McCullough’s speech stood out for its blunt, four-word message: “You are not special.”

Kirsten Powers: Liberals’ Dark Ages

darkagesWelcome to the Dark Ages, Part II. We have slipped into an age of un-enlightenment where you fall in line behind the mob or face the consequences.

How ironic that the persecutors this time around are the so-called intellectuals. They claim to be liberal while behaving as anything but. The touchstone of liberalism is tolerance of differing ideas. Yet this mob exists to enforce conformity of thought and to delegitimize any dissent from its sanctioned worldview. Intolerance is its calling card.

Waving His Wand at ‘Beowulf’

packshotThere’s more to J. R. R. Tolkien than wizards and hobbits. The author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” was also an Oxford University professor specializing in languages like Old Norse and Old English.

“Beowulf” was an early love, and a kind of Rosetta Stone to his creative work. His study of the poem, which he called “this greatest of the surviving works of ancient English poetic art,” informed his thinking about myth and language.

Christianity · Faith · Freedom · The Gospel

Relationship Not Religion

Les Miserables trailer - 1If this world was made by a triune God, relationships of love are what life is really all about. – Timothy Keller

Why, why is relationship so important and specifically this relationship between God and ourselves ? Without God, without belief that Christ has done what I could not, without an understanding that I am broken and lost and made for relationship with God and there was nothing that I could do to repair this relationship, there can be no relationship. And it is this relationship that brings what is dead, alive again. So, “the Word became flesh”, Jesus was born to die, to live the life that I could not, die the death that I deserved and defeat death through his resurrection and be given the keys to hell itself. See relationships are alway based on something, shared interests or benefits received or some kind of transaction. Our relationship with God rests solely on the work of Christ, on my behalf, doing what I could not and bringing me back into his family. So many times though, this gets lost. The pure, unadulterated Gospel, the Good News, gets lost. Tullian Tchividjian says it this way in his book One Way Love, 

“Unfortunately, this is the way that so many Christians live: searching high and low for something we already have, trying to earn something we’ve already been given, forgetting that everything we need, we already possess in Christ. Or perhaps it’s not that we forget, perhaps it’s that we prefer having ‘elf on the shelf’ keeping track of our every move. It makes us feel safer. We would rather work under duress than live under freedom. Yet this is precisely why we need to hear, each and every week, the basic good news that because of Jesus’s finished work, we already have all of the justification, approval, significance, security, freedom, validation, love, righteousness, and rescue for which we desperately long – and look for in a thousand things that are infinitely smaller than Jesus.”

lesmis_0159This is what we have to share with the world, this is the Good News we have. Don’t forget, it’s not about doing good things, it’s about resting in the grace of what God has done for us though Christ and living that out and sharing that with others. Paul lays it out simply in Ephesians 2:1-10 when he says,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

What we have to offer others is a relationship not a religion. That relationship is based on the blessed union of Christ’s work covering our sin. It is the most radical, earth-shattering relationship anyone can experience and it starts with, “We love because he first loved us” not the other way around. It starts and ends with what he’s done, because there will never be a time we outgrow the need for Christ’s work on a cross.

Film · Movie Review · Movies · The Gospel · The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now – Review

spectacular-now-final-posterSutter Keely is the life of every party and with the hottest girl in school at his side he is a king. In a perpetual haze of alcohol, his life is lived in the now. Numb to pain or love, Sutter is oblivious to anything but the hedonistic pleasures of this world. That is, until a misunderstanding leaves him single and being woken up in an unfamiliar front yard by a girl he doesn’t even know. Life will never be the same again. What follows is the best movie of the summer. The Spectacular Now  is a masterpiece with more heart and honesty than the entire summer’s movies combined.

L-O-V-E: 

Sutter has grown up in a broken home, with a father who is gone, yet he defends and a mother he is sure is hiding something. His older sister is already married and even though she loves him, she is not really an influence in his life. For Sutter, life is best lived in hiding from his feelings and everyone else. Living in the “now” allows him to focus on others, never really able to feel what he is feeling, giving him the appearance of being okay but inside crying out for love . He has no guidance on how to be a man because there is no one there to show him. His father is not around and his teacher as well as his boss, even though they care do not reach out and take up this young man’s training. In fact, most of the adults in this film are so wrapped up in their own worlds that they have little or no effect on the children they are meant to be raising. It is a sad commentary on the self-obsessed culture that the world has so readily embraced. With no one there to model for these teens manhood and womanhood they are left to figure out life on their own.

Sutter has a good heart, one that wants to love others and take care of them, but his own emotional wounds leave him inadequate to the task. He ends up feeling like cancer to people’s lives, worthless and broken. He has spent a lifetime, looking for love, longing for it, yet never having true love modeled for him he cannot understand it.

Amiee Finecky is the girl that wakes Sutter up in the yard. She is not anyone popular in school and yet there is something about her that draws him in. Sutter has the ability to see the things people need. He can encourage them in just the right way, make them feel like they can do anything. So against his better judgement he finds himself trying to help Amiee out. What he does not realize is that it will be her that revolutionizes his life.

the-spectacular-now-shailene-woodley-miles-teller-21-laps-entertainment-a24There is a powerful scene in the movie that’s the turning point in the film. Sutter, who is always slightly, if not fully intoxicated, has finally met his dad for the first time since he left. He finds a broken man who is incapable of truly loving anyone else but himself. Sutter and Amiee, on their way home and most certainly inebriated, almost run into another car head on. The first thing that Amiee does is turn to Sutter and ask him, “Are you ok?”. Sutter cannot believe his ears. He is faced, for the first time in his life with unconditional and sacrificial love and it freaks him out. True love has invaded his life and he has no infrastructure to support what Amiee is giving him. It is a beautiful picture of the gospel in action. Amiee loves Sutter. He has not earned it, she just gives herself and her love as a gift. It is this gift that begins to transform the way Sutter sees himself. It is not a perfect gospel picture but the power of redemptive love is fully on display and will leave you moved long after the film is over.

Conclusion:

This is a powerful film. The performances by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley will leave you in tears as you feel every single emotion of the characters. This is the kind of movie that makes you thankful for the art of cinema. I cannot recommend this film more.

 

Christianity · Faith · Jesus · Matt Chandler · The Gospel

Preeminent Importance

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

Let us not shift our gaze and attention away from the gospel of Christ which is the hope of our salvation and the only rock with which to build our lives upon.

“The universe shudders in horror that we have this infinitely valuable, infinitely deep, infinitely rich, infinitely wise, infinitely loving God, and instead of pursuing him with steadfast passion and enthralled fury — instead of loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; instead of attributing to him glory and honor and praise and power and wisdom and strength — we just try to take his toys and run. It is still idolatry to want God for his benefits but not for himself.” Matt Chandler – The Explicit Gospel

So let us make Christ preeminent in our lives, he already is preeminent in the universe. We love him because he first loved us. Thank you God for the kindness and mercy you have shown in making your Son the firstborn of all creation and sending him to give us new life through his death on the cross. Let us give our hearts to you fully, not for the stuff of this world, but for relationship with you. You are the only good and wise God. Amen

Christianity · Faith · The Gospel

The Call and the Gift

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

(Ephesians 1:3-23 ESV)

Book Reviews · Books · Christianity · Government · mbird.com · Parenthood · Politics · Science · The Election

Owl Post 10-5-12

Romney Soars, Obama Fumbles:

DENVER — The Romney camp began flooding into the post-debate spin room before the candidates had given their closing arguments. They couldn’t wait to start the gloating. “Governor Romney was the clear winner,” crowed his strategist Eric Fehrnstrom. “If this were a boxing match, it would have been called by the referee.” And: “Someone should check the heels on President Obama’s shoes. They’re probably pretty worn down, because he just spent 90 minutes back on them.”

At Least 5 Things Scripture Teaches Us About Governments:

Government is one of the facts of life in this world. All of human history has shown that we need to be governed. Not surprisingly, the Bible speaks to government. Here are five things the Bible teaches us.

Everything Is Not OK (on Parenthood)… the Bad Thing Is Already Happening:

Have you been watching the new season of Parenthood? This show continues to deliver the goods, which mostly come in the form of true-to-life suffering, chaos, loss, and grace, love, and peace amidst it all—very much in line with the Mockingbird conference last week in Charlottesville.

The most recent episode’s title says so much: “Everything Is Not OK.” It refers to the startling news that Kristina Braverman has received (I used to find Kristina’s character fairly annoying, but she has been endearing herself to me lately, mostly due to her present suffering), namely, that she has breast cancer. In this episode, her husband Adam Braverman’s relentless positivity is met with the reality of Kristina’s situation. The irony is his positivity only serves to make her feel worse, and thus she no longer wants to talk to him.

HOW TO CULTIVATE FRESH FAITH IN THE GOSPEL:

There are times old, memorized Bible promises just don’t help me trust Jesus. I recite them in the face of temptation, but nothing. No power, no belief, no victory. Is this because Jesus isn’t trustworthy? After all, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20). Why aren’t they “amen-ed” in my heart in the face of temptation of despair? Is there something wrong with my Bible? Or maybe Jesus only occasionally makes good on his promises? That, of course, contradicts God’s Word, and we must always interpret the Bible in light of the rest of the Bible.

Defending the Free Market – Book Review:

Robert Sirico, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. Washington, DC: Regnery, 2012. 256 pp. $17.33.

Already this presidential race has provoked countless controversies. The party conventions exposed a diverse range of value systems, worldviews, and religious convictions regarding marriage, sexuality, sanctity of human life, and human dignity. Various factions clamor to define the future of our nation. And the ongoing jobs crisis perhaps makes economic debates more germane and inescapable than ever.

Christianity · Faith · Faithfulness · The Gospel

Steadfast in the Face of Rejection – Psalm 78

Oh, how the Lord is steadfast while we complain that he is not doing enough. Search and see oh human where the Lord is working, you many have missed because of your complaining.

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot his works
and the wonders that he had shown them.
In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all the night with a fiery light.
He split rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
Yet they sinned still more against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
He struck the rock so that water gushed out
and streams overflowed.
Can he also give bread
or provide meat for his people?”
Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath;
a fire was kindled against Jacob;
his anger rose against Israel,
because they did not believe in God
and did not trust his saving power.
Yet he commanded the skies above
and opened the doors of heaven,
and he rained down on them manna to eat
and gave them the grain of heaven.
Man ate of the bread of the angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
he rained meat on them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
all around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
the anger of God rose against them,
and he killed the strongest of them
and laid low the young men of Israel.
In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe.
So he made their days vanish like a breath,
and their years in terror.
When he killed them, they sought him;
they repented and sought God earnestly.
They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer.
But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.
Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again.
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness
and grieved him in the desert!
They tested God again and again
and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
They did not remember his power
or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,
when he performed his signs in Egypt
and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.
He turned their rivers to blood,
so that they could not drink of their streams.
He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them,
and frogs, which destroyed them.
He gave their crops to the destroying locust
and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamores with frost.
He gave over their cattle to the hail
and their flocks to thunderbolts.
He let loose on them his burning anger,
wrath, indignation, and distress,
a company of destroying angels.
He made a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death,
but gave their lives over to the plague.
He struck down every firstborn in Egypt,
the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.
Then he led out his people like sheep
and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid,
but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And he brought them to his holy land,
to the mountain which his right hand had won.
He drove out nations before them;
he apportioned them for a possession
and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God
and did not keep his testimonies,
but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers;
they twisted like a deceitful bow.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places;
they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
When God heard, he was full of wrath,
and he utterly rejected Israel.
He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh,
the tent where he dwelt among mankind,
and delivered his power to captivity,
his glory to the hand of the foe.
He gave his people over to the sword
and vented his wrath on his heritage.
Fire devoured their young men,
and their young women had no marriage song.
Their priests fell by the sword,
and their widows made no lamentation.
Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
like a strong man shouting because of wine.
And he put his adversaries to rout;
he put them to everlasting shame.
He rejected the tent of Joseph;
he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves.
He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,
like the earth, which he has founded forever.
He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand.
(Psalm 78 ESV)

Books · C.S. Lewis · Christianity · J.D. Greear · Jesus+Nothing=Everything · Marilynne Robinson · Matt Chandler · Star Wars · Stories · The Gospel · Timothy Keller · Tullian Tchividjian

Story Through Stories

To tell a story many times we reference other stories so that the common and well-known story will help others relate to what we are saying. Stories have a way of telling us something about ourselves and teaching us truths in a way that pure factual dictation never could. So, as I thought about telling my story I found that it was inextricably linked to stories that have meant a lot to me. From a very early age I was captured by the power of story and its ability to affect me deeply and as I look over my life I can see how God has been using these stories to teach me something about myself that I could not seem to learn any other way. He allowed them to come into my life and build a foundation that would make his gospel make more sense to me.

You might laugh, but the overarching story that resonates in my life is Titanic. I am not talking about Kate and Leo on the front of a ship shouting at the wind, I am talking about the tragedy of an ocean liner that was supposed to be unsinkable and yet sunk anyway. My life is a lot like this, I had everything going for me, I was raised in a Christian home, became a believer at the age of 5, I was sheltered from the world through home-schooling (insert any jokes here about awkwardness you want) and I never struggled with drugs or alcohol. Yet in all of this seeming goodness, I was lost; I did not know how to grow in my faith (I believe that God saved me at this age, the gift to believe was given to me by the Holy Spirit and even though there were times as I grew up, where I wanted to leave the faith, I never could. In the end nothing else could explain or makes sense of the world for me, I believe that this was the Holy Spirit’s protecting me), I never was tutored or mentored in the gospel. For me, being a Christian amounted to moralistic Deism; God was there and he saved me, but after that I needed to perform to keep and earn his love. This is what Sunday-school learning and church teaching seemed to be telling me.

On my 8th birthday, a life-changing event occurred; my friends and I watched all three Original Trilogy Star Wars movies in one night. Yes the geek in me was born very early. What is interesting is that to this point I was in love with non-fiction stories, Titanic, The Alamo, WWII and many others were my main source of enjoyment, but Star Wars changed all of that. With its epic, galactic story about good and evil, I was hooked. The spiritual elements of the story influenced me as well. Now, I am not saying that I was won over to eastern philosophy, but the fact that there was a spiritual side to the story left an indelible mark on me. As look back now I can see how God was showing me that story can teach powerful truths; in fact, most of Scripture is the story of humanity told through the lives of individuals and nations and each of them speak mightily into the shared experience of all of us. Stories make things personal and God desperately wants us to know that the gospel is about our being personally connected with him.

Star Wars had a direct impact on my picking up The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was longing for more grand and heroic stories. Picking up this book changed my life, I became an avid reader of fiction from that point on and it is still my favorite book. The mark that this story left on me was the way in which Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund. He has done nothing to earn this “salvation”, Aslan’s love for Edmund causes Edmond to turn from evil and love Aslan back. This dimly reflected the gospel for me, and it laid the foundation for what was to come.

There is a big gap for me in my story education. I moved into my teenage years and drifted further from the faith. Oh I was trying hard, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. Familial issues of trying to earn love had poisoned my understanding of God. I was lost trying to prove myself worthy and devastated by the falls. The disillusionment grew to the point of me becoming two people, one for the church crowd and the other for world. I pretended to be the good little church boy, all the while diving into the pit of lust and the desperate need to be loved accepted and known. I looked to women and sex to fill this desire and when it didn’t depression set. I was driven to the point of suicide. I did not want to live anymore because nothing in the world could seem to fill the void. Realizing I needed help I looked back to God and medication(prescription anti-depressants). A friend gave me a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel and for the first time an author spoke my language. He spoke of brokenness and failure and the reality of never feeling good enough for God. Manning showed me that God did love me, even when I was a complete screw-up. My understanding of the pure gospel was refined at this point but not fully.

I was still dealing heavily the idols that I had set up in my life. I truly worshiped the idea of relationships and romantic love, I believed as so many movies and stories tell us that I would not be complete until I had “the one”. There was also still this idea of pleasing God and making him love me more. I believed there was no better way to do this than go into ministry. So I set out to make these things happen. I got married, not long after my own parents had divorced and a couple of years later left Dallas for seminary in Minnesota. I had everything that I believed that I wanted. All of my idols were on the shelf and gleaming in the light of newly being fulfilled. Then it all fell apart. What I was worshiping could not sustain me or truly give me what I need. So I began desperately searching for something better to replace the obviously deficient idols. I tried to find the better woman and the more fulfilling career, but searching for things left me empty. A friend gave me the book The Sparrow and I immediately identified with it. It is the story of a priest and his friends who go on a mission to another planet to discover the source of the music SETI has picked up. It brings up the question, what do you do when you follow the calling you believe God has given you and then everything goes horribly wrong? How do you cope? What becomes of your faith? Was it God you were following or an idol? The story left me with the hope that I was not alone; others had asked these questions and it was ok for me to do so. I just didn’t know how God would answer.

I moved home after seminary with a masters and a divorce. Much of me had been crushed and yet I was still fighting for my idols. I know, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, but I continued to plug away. Working at Barnes & Noble I was surrounded by books full of stories. I came across a book that peaked my interest it was called Christian Atheist. The book opened my eyes to the way that I was living. I said that I believed in God but that belief did not have much impact on my daily life. I was still working to be a more moral person, not necessarily someone who was moving into deeper relationship with Christ. The gospel was being opened to me in a way that I had not heard before.

Home and Prodigal God both furthered my gospel education. Home is all about the black sheep in a family and his question of whether or not he is destined to always be the screw-up or if he can come home again. This drove straight to one of my most painful wounds; how could God love me and accept me after all that I had done and was there any hope of change?

Tim Keller helped me see the prodigal son parable in a whole new way. I had been hurt by the self-righteous “older brother” types in the church many times They had driven deep arrows into my heart, underscoring my feelings of inadequacy before God and the impossibility of ever truly making God happy with me. I was never going to live up to God’s standards and many “older brothers” had made sure I knew it. Yet Keller shows how this parable is about the sons, not just the son. Each one of these boys has left the father and gone their own way, one tries to live life his way and the other tries to earn salvation in his power; each missing the free gift that is being offer to them.

Gospel, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, The Explicit Gospel are the culmination of my story so far. God had primed me through the subtle spirituality of Star Wars, the sacrifice of Aslan, the love God has for ragamuffins, the truth that God cares even for the sparrow, the futility of saying I believe in God yet not having that belief impact my life and the hope for a black sheep to run back into the arms of grace. Its grace stupid; God grace. It’s not about what I can do because in and of myself I can do nothing (and I have tried so hard), I can never live up, all that moralism is filthy rags to God and leads ultimately to self-righteousness (which is utterly useless) or depression or and early death. Each of these books opened up the gospel for me in a way I could finally understand and hear. Each one had laid a foundation that allowed it to click and make sense more fully and deeply when the Holy Spirit opened my heart to the explicit, crazy/love of the gospel.

There is nothing that I can do to make God love any more or any less. It is through Christ and his work that I am made new and whole (Romans 5:1-11). This is the last story that has had a major impact lately, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this story Eustace, a very self-righteous and disagreeable lad is turned into a dragon because of his greed. He literally becomes the embodiment of his self-righteousness and it is ugly. He tries desperately to undo it, to scrape off the skin he now lives in, but to no avail, he cannot dig deep enough. It is only when Aslan comes and “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” God showed me that it is though Jesus and his work only that I am made new

Christ has not just saved me from something but to something, freedom. Freedom to be the fullest and best version of me, the version he created me to be not the perversion that I had been trying to create (Galatians 5:1-6). I am called to abide in Christ, to be rooted in him and his love and his love are his commands. You see, I thought of commands as something that hindered me from doing something  I wanted or would be fun. I never fully trusted that God would give me what I wanted. I held so tightly and I trusted only myself to provide for the deepest longings of my heart. Again and again I tried to get what I want, all the time trying to earn God’s love through “moral living”, yet my pursuit of idols led to immoral living and therefore never living up to the standard that I believed God had for me. Jesus lays it out in John 15. He calls me to abide in his love and obey his commands; and as I look closely, his love and his commands are one in the same. For loves sake he has given me the way to navigate life that will lead to ultimate joy, fulfillment, peace and identity if I let go of myself and my desire to chase after the cheap thrills of fast-food dreams and one-night let downs. That doesn’t sound like someone who wants to hinder my life and existence but someone who truly wants my best. This is why David can say that he delights in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night; he’s not some kind of sadist, he realizes that God’s commands are his love they are love itself. His love will be our joy and fulfillment if we will abide in and follow his love, since he knows what it best for us; being the creator of the universe and all.

So God is calling me to rest in his gospel and to dive deeper into his love by abiding in a way of life that will bring me closer into relationship with him, those he brings into my life and the world at large. I will never move beyond the gospel, but as Jewel the unicorn says in The Last Battle, “Come further up, come further in!”