Thursday, March 8, 2012

Prayer and Praise

So after applying for over 150 jobs my wife finally got a new job working at United Way. It has regular hours, higher pay, benefits, and she will be able to attend church every Sunday for the first time since we have been married. It also has a positive work environment - something that was seriously lacking at Lowe's where she had been working. This is a huge deal for us and we are both extremely excited and grateful for this.

On the flip side, though, her car died last week on her second to last day at Lowe's. We took it to the mechanic and found out that it needs a new engine which will cost us more than the car is worth. So we are going down to one car.

I can see God's mighty hand in these two coinciding. If Karen's car had died one week prior to her leaving Lowe's, we could have easily lost out on a week's worth of pay as we would not have been able to function on one car. But as it is, her new workplace is right on the way to my own and we can manage fairly easily now. We also have some money coming in soon, so we can use that in conjunction with what we can sell our cars for to get us a newer, better running car. This should save us money in the long run as we won't have to pay insurance for two cars and we won't have to fill up two cars with gas every week. The downside is that we aren't as independent as we were expecting to be with two cars.

Anywhoo, all of this serves to remind me of three things: (1) That prayer works. (2) that God's providence is good and (3) that we could still use prayer for guidance.

Running (When The Sun Rises)

When the sun rises
Up over the
Mountains
And the birds start
Singing
Their wondrous
Songs
Then will I tell you
All the secrets
That you are afraid of
Then will I
Open
Your
Eyes

But first I
Need you to
Stop
Running
From
God

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Flower Of My Joy

She is the flower you see by the field
With a torn petal and a broken heart
Beaten, bruised, bent, touched by hands that
She should not know in ways that
She should not have experienced
And when I tell her that she is beautiful
She does not believe me. After all, why should she
When all she has been told by her tormentors
Is the opposite?
But even tough she is beaten and bruised
She is still a flower - the very essence of beauty
Created by God the Mother in Her very own image

She is a flower; still connected to the stem
Still radiant with color, still beautiful even with her scars
The very image of grace with each line telling a story
Each cut painting a picture of pain and healing, of sorrow and joy
And even though she has been torn, even though she has been bruised
Even though she has been tormented and abused
She is still beautiful and lovely

She is a flower; beaten, bruised, bent, torn
But she still stands tall
And she still is strong

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Why Horror Movies Matter To Me As A Christian

I am a huge fan of horror movies. I love vampires, zombies, slasher villians, twisted evil scientists, big monsters, etc. I am even wearing a Friday the 13th T-Shirt as I write this.

However, I have noticed a trend in Christian culture to avoid the horror genre all together. I distinctly remember my mother forcing me to approach one of my teachers in order to get out of reading Frankenstein for a school project. I've also heard a number of Christians say that horror movies are evil or that people who enjoy the genre are dumb or stupid. This greatly saddens me as I am a firm believer that horror movies matter - not just to non-Christians, but to Christians as well.

The fact is that good horror flicks are more than scares and gore; GOOD horror movies transcend all of that and make the viewer think about life and about what really matters. And when you boil these movies down to their core themes and messages, you will find the heart lies in the Christian ideals of charity, love, sacrifice, repentance, integrity, living for something beyond yourself, etc. Here are some examples:

In the 1922 German expressionist film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror the main character's wife, Ellen (a woman pure in heart), willingly sacrifices herself in order to destroy a demonic vampire who would prey upon her entire city while at the same time would plague the city with thousands of diseased rats.

In the 1931 rendition of Frankenstein the main character becomes consumed with the notion of becoming like God. However he is nearly destroyed by his creation and is only able to overcome his sin when he takes responsibility for it and repents.

1941's The Wolfman featured Lon Chaney Jr's character fighting the monster within. He struggles with himself to try to overcome his dark and seditious nature. Ultimately, however, his soul has given into that side and must be destroyed for the good of others. It is a powerful analogy for the destruction that can occur when someone lives completely for self with disregard for other people.

The 1968 zombie film Night of the Living Dead was a landmark for two reasons: 1. It was the first modern zombie movie and 2. It was one of the first major films to feature a black man in the lead in a time of civil rights unrest (Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated the same year as this film's release). In Night all the characters have to learn to put aside petty hates and work together in order to survive. They are unable to do so and all end up perishing. Other films in the series do feature people who are willing to stand up for what is right and even put their own lives on the line in order to save others - either from zombies or from other people.

In the original Halloween film series, the character Laurie Strode consistently is trying to save others while also attempting to stop her brother from not only killing her - but also those around her. In the first film she sends the children in her care to a safe house in order to face her brother alone. In the last film of this series, she sacrifices herself in order to protect her son. Another character in the series, Dr. Loomis, repeatedly puts his own life on the line to help others without thought of himself.

A Nightmare on Elm Street features a girl who is willing to stand alone and fight for what is right and true despite being told by "the experts" that she is crazy. The Last Exorcism has a preacher jilted by doubt and cynicism willing to repent in the end when he sees the truth that God, Satan, demons, etc are all real. Emboldened by his newfound faith, he courageously confronts a demon. The list goes on....

In the end, I find that horror movies are important because they can be extremely thought-provoking while also proving to be extremely entertaining. Of course there is also trash in the genre (Hostel, The Human Centipede, etc), but if one approaches the genre with wisdom it is a great place to find powerful truths.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Relationship Vs. Rule-Following

"The true Christian life, true spirituality, is not merely a negative not-doing of any small list of things. Even if the list began as a very excellent list of things to beware of in that particular historic setting, we still must emphasize that the Christian life, or true spirituality, is more than refraining from a certain external list of taboos in a mechanical way."
-Francis A. Schaeffer

I know a girl who, if given the choice, will wear only skirts and dresses. She will also not cut her hair short. Her reason for these things is that she is pentecostal and that failure to comply with these things is sin. I want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her while emphasizing that she has missed the point - that following God is not a following a long list of arbitrary rules, but building a relationship with Him. The sad thing is that she is not alone; I know many people who would disagree with that statement. These people get hung up on the rules for living listed in the Bible and miss the message of the Bible itself - that God wants a relationship with us.

We humans are relational beings; we cannot emotionally survive alone. There is good reason for this: God created us this way. God made us to commune, not just with each other, but with Him as well. I agree with John Piper fully in that "the chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever" - and in order to enjoy God forever, we must have a relationship with Him that lasts forever. This does not mean that we do not follow the rules and standards set forth by God, but that we do those things out of love for Him because of that relationship. Here is an earthly example: As a husband, I follow certain rules. I don't sleep around with other women, I don't go out drinking until 4:00 AM and come home drunk, I take care of my wife when she is sick, I don't leave my dirty underwear hanging from the bathroom mirror, etc. I do not follow these rules because I have to (although I do have to if I want to stay married), but because of my relationship with my wife. My following the rules is a result of my love, otherwise all I am doing is following rules for the sake of following rules and I have no real relationship with her. And if I there is no real relationship, my marriage is a sham. The same is true for us and God: the relationship comes first.

Recently I had a revelation. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us how God will separate people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats, and it hit me that the sheep and the goats both come from the shepherd's field. If God is the Good Shepherd (which according to John 10, He is), then all the church buildings, Bible studies, etc are His field. And if all the sheep and the goats are already in the Shepherd's field, that means they are all the people in the churches, Bible studies, etc. But what is the difference between the goats and the sheep? Why are they going to be divided in the end? Both bleat, both eat the same grass from the same field, both can grow horns, both even look a bit alike, but they are different. The difference, according to John 10, is that the sheep know the Shepherd and the Shepherd knows them; they have a relationship. The goats are just following rules.

Going back to the girl I know who won't cut her hair or wear pants of any sort, I have to concede that the Bible does instruct women to not dress like men and vice versa. I also have to concede that the Bible also says that a woman's hair is her glory. But to take those verses to an extreme and make them into rules about wearing only skirts and not cutting hair is to miss the point: God wants us - both men and women - to be ourselves as He created us to be: as men and women who are made in His image and who have a relationship with Him.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On Death and Living a Good Story

On Wednesday afternoon Shari - one of our first shift residential workers - clocked out from work after a full day of working with the kids in her cottage, realized she couldn't drive, then collapsed. Coworkers performed CPR until the ambulance arrived, but in the end nothing could be done; she died that evening from a heart attack.

First and foremost, please pray for all who were close to her. They are hurting and are in need of the promise in Matthew 5:4 to be fulfilled in their lives: that the mourning are blessed because they shall be comforted.

I did not know Shari that well, but I do know a few things about her: She was a a truly joyful person, she was a strong woman, and she lived a good story. You see, Shari was one of those people who truly believed in what she did, and she gave herself over to the kids and coworkers around her. Anyone who met her was impacted by her almost instantly, and was equally impacted by her passing. Her life was one of service to others, and as such her life was one of great worth.

----

There is a saying that when someone dies, that it is like a hand being pulled out of the sea. Shari's life proved that saying to be complete and utter bullshit. When you live a good story, your passing is more like the sea being removed from the land - with you, your still-dripping hand, and the earth underneath wondering what the hell just happened. So yes: we should mourn Shari's passing - but more so than anything we should learn from her life of service to others, for it is in that service that her life found its meaning.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On Protesters And False Raptures

Yesterday I went downtown to Fanaticon 2 and had a great time. This was my first Con and I have to say it was quite an incredible experience to be surrounded by all sorts of nerds and misfits. All the people dressed up as superheros and characters from all things nerdy - wow... made me feel like I'm not nerdy enough almost :-P

Anywhoo, after going out for some ice cream we saw some protesters standing outside of the place where Fanaticon was being held. But they weren't protesting the Con; they were protesting Christians. One of them was holding up a cardboard sign implying that all Christians are good for is feeding them to lions. Others poked fun at the guy who said the rapture was going to happen, but the hatred towards Christians in general was pretty clear regardless of who was holding what sign.

Personally, I was pretty offended. Part of it was personal as I myself am a Christian and I'm not too fond of being told that I'm only good for being lion food or that I'm like that guy in California, but part of it was beyond that. I was offended for Jesus Christ himself for the same reasons. But more than anything, I was saddened by the whole thing. I wanted to reach out to these people, buy them all some beer, and have a talk with them - find out why they hated Christians so much and possibly try to apologize for my brothers who have hurt and offended them so much to cause such hatred. I wanted to show them that not all of us are full of hatred and bigotry. I wanted to build a bridge.

----

I just read that last sentence four or five times and realized that is exactly where my heart is. I already knew this, but I just hadn't vocalized it so perfectly. I want to be a bridge-builder to those who've had theirs burned. Lord help me find my way in this....