Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Apr
20

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We all face a problem. It is the biggest problem in the world. It is bigger than our national debt. It is more grandiose than the problem of finding water where we are running out. It is more difficult than finding a small black box on a vast ocean floor three miles below the surface. It is a problem that affects all of us. Rich and poor. Black and white. American and Russian. It does not matter. This problem does not discriminate. We all face it. It is the problem of death.

The problem has been summed up well by Kasey Chambers in a country song.

We’re all gonna die someday lord
We’re all gonna die someday
Mama’s on pills daddy’s over the hill
But we’re all gonna die someday

Mrs. Chambers may have been hoping for a laugh with those lyrics, but what she says is true. We are all going to die someday. That is an inescapable fact. It doesn’t matter whether you are an atheist, a Buddhist, or a Christian. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in science or if you don’t believe in science. The fact that we are all going to die is not denied by anyone. This is the great problem we face. This has been a problem for humanity ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. With that first sin, death entered into the world and things have not been the same ever since. War, violence, disease, old age, disasters, all these things and many more lead to death. This is not what God intended, but this is what the world has become. We live in a fallen world and the greatest evidence of this is death.

Sin and death is not what God desired for his creation, and because God is loving and merciful he was not content to just sit back and watch humanity destroy itself. So God did the most amazing thing. He took on flesh and came to earth. God was born.  He lived among poor people in a remote part of the Roman Empire. God experienced everything we experience in life. He understands poverty, pain, rejection, and death because he has been poor. He has felt pain. He has been rejected, and he was put to death. God did not die in a hospital bed while taking pain killers. He was crucified on a cross, one of the cruelest forms of punishment known to man. Why did he do it? He did it for you and me. He did it because of love. This was the greatest act of love the world has ever seen. God did not just die for his friends and family. He died for everyone. He died for the people who were spitting upon him as he walked to Golgotha. He died for Pilate, Caiaphas, and everyone in the crowd who yelled, “Crucify him.” God forgave these people from the cross and he gave his life for them. There is no greater love than this.

What took place at the cross was a tragedy. God was crucified. It was the greatest act of injustice ever. In the ancient world the cross was a symbol of torture. Some respectable citizens refused to even speak about crucifixion. It was not polite conversation. The cross was ugly and vulgar. It was a reminder of death. Death is often cruel and unwelcoming. Death was humanity’s greatest problem 2,000 years ago and it remains that way today. We have not advanced so much as a society that we are able to solve this problem, and we never will. As Jesus was being tortured and as he was dying on the cross he cries out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Some have pointed to this verse as evidence that God abandoned his Son on the cross, but I do not believe this to be true. You cannot divide God, and Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Why does Jesus utter these words then? These words come from the first verse of Psalm 22. This is a psalm of lament. Jesus turns to Scripture as he laments what is taking place. God did not abandoned him even though it might have felt that way. When we are hurt, when we are in the middle of grief or despair, it often feels like we are all alone. It feels like God has abandoned us, but we know that is not true. We know that this is only a feeling and that God is near. In these times of sorrow and pain we often cry out just as Jesus did from the cross.

As we hear these words of lament from the cross it is important that we go back and read the entire psalm. The psalm begins with deep lament, but then it moves to petition and hope. The psalmist asks God to intervene and to save. We find statements like these:

“Lift my soul from the sword”

“Save me from the lion’s mouth”

“You do not hide from the sorrowful; when they cry out for salvation, you listen.”

And then at the very end of the psalm we find amazing words of hope.  The psalmist writes,

“Those who live at the earth’s end will remember and turn back to their Creator.”

“You will be remembered in every generation.”

At the cross, it seems death has won. Romans and Jews knew as much about death as we do. They understood that when a person died, they were dead. People do not come back from the dead. Jesus died on a cross and was buried in a tomb. We talk a lot about Friday and the events of the cross. We also talk a lot about Sunday and the hope we find there, but we don’t often talk about Saturday. On Saturday, Jesus was in the grave. Everyone who knew Jesus was mourning because they knew he was dead. On Saturday, Jesus is alone in the tomb. On Saturday, it seems death has won.

On Friday, God was crucified, and on Saturday, he was alone in the tomb. There seems to be little hope here. No one is expecting a dead man to come back to life. These are dark days. These are days of lament. These are days of sorrow and grief. It is no surprise that Jesus turns to a psalm of lament on the cross. His followers who were faithful Jews probably also turned to the lament psalms in their grief. This is what the people of God did. This was a way of expressing their sorrow and asking God for help. Psalm 22 begins with these words,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

Those are strong words. Some Christians do not like saying them or reading them, and yet this how people feel at times. They feel abandoned and alone. Imagine being a peasant in Israel who is being oppressed by Rome. You are longing for a better life. You are longing for God’s promises to come true. You hear word of a man who performs mighty deeds. Some are saying he is the Messiah. You hear him speak, and you put your hope and trust in Jesus of Nazareth. You follow him and eagerly await the coming kingdom of God, but now this man whom you thought was the Messiah, a man you hoped would bring about real change, has been crucified by the Romans. All hope is gone, so you turn to the psalms of lament and you grieve.

Psalms of lament help us find the words we long for when we are too stricken with sorrow to come up with our own words.  These psalms express grief for us, but that is not all they express. Notice what the psalmist says next.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

The psalmist turns to God not just to express his frustration, but also because he trusts God. He knows how God has acted in the past and he trusts that God will do it again. Psalms of lament often describe a movement from grief to trust.

So Jesus recites a psalm of lament from the cross. He chooses a psalm that describes the rejection and pain that he was feeling, but that is not all it describes. Psalm 22 is a psalm filled with echoes of hope. It describes a time of lament, but it reminds the reader that lament is not the last word. Kasey Chambers sang, “We’re all going to die someday” but I prefer the lyrics of another poet. One of my favorite albums of all time is Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen. That album contains the song “Atlantic City.”  In that song Springsteen sings,

Well now, everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.

The first line begins much like the Kasey Chambers’ song. We are all going to die and that is a fact. No one escapes death. But Springsteen does not stop there. He goes on to remind us of one of the most important truths we find in Scripture. Everything that dies will someday come back. The apostle Peter puts it this way.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Pet. 1:3)

Our hope is in the resurrection! Death does not have the last word. The psalmist in Psalm 22 pleads with God and asks him to intervene. At first glance it looks as if God is not going to intervene. Jesus dies and is buried. It looks as if Pilate’s conviction and sentence is carried out, and it is, but God does something amazing. God, the righteous Judge, intervenes. Pilate does not have the last word. Caiaphas does not have the last word. Satan does not have the last word. God has the last word, and God overturns the verdict. Pilate says death. God says life, and so on the third day Jesus is raised from the grave.

What is interesting about Psalm 22 is what comes at the end. It begins with lament and despair, but it ends in these broad statements of faith and hope.  There is such a broad gap between the beginning and the end that some commentators believe it’s not part of the same psalm, but they miss the point. When this psalm is put into the context of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus it makes absolute sense. The death and burial of Jesus were two of the darkest days on this planet, but they were followed by the brightest and most hopeful day humanity has ever known. The resurrection is God’s answer to the problem of death. For Christians, the problem of death is no longer a problem. Jesus has overcome death and we now have a living hope. The resurrection is a game changer. It changes how we look at the cross. It changes how we look at death. It changes how we live our lives.  Death no longer has its grip on us.

Psalm 22 ends with statements like these:

“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.”

“Future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn.”

The resurrection is not just good news. It is great news! It is news that we will want to share with everyone. It is news that doesn’t just capture a community or town, it captures the entire world. It doesn’t just go out and stop. It goes out and it keeps on going.  One generation shares it with another. It keeps getting passed down and handed off. It is such a great message that a person cannot keep it to themselves. It must be shared. It must go out. God has come and he has conquered death. Hallelujah! He has overcome the evil one. Glory be to God! What was a problem for humanity for thousands of years no longer has to be. We have a Savior who died for us, but he did not stay dead. His tomb is empty. This is our hope.

There are still many things in this world to lament and grieve over. We still hurt. We still feel pain. We still deal with tragedy and disease, but now we view these things through a different lens. Because Jesus came to earth and endured the tragedy of the cross, he now understands whatever we are going through. When we hurt and grieve he steps into our suffering and he walks beside us. He is a friend who is always near. Jesus not only helps with our pain and suffering, but he brings us hope. Out of lament comes hope. Out of death comes resurrection. God is in the business of redeeming and restoring.  God is in the business of bringing life to that which is dead, and in this we hope.

Holy Father, we come into your presence and we say “Thank you.” Thank you for loving us enough to come to earth. Thank you for loving us enough to die on the cross. Thank you for loving us enough to provide an answer to the problem of death. The resurrection is our hope.  May we look to you when we are suffering and know that you are the giver of life. You are the one who makes all things new. Father we live in a world that is broken and longing for something more. May we not keep the message of resurrection to ourselves, but may we share it with as many people as possible. May the message of resurrection go forth to all the nations and may it be proclaimed to coming generations. Father our hope is in you, your Holy Spirit whom you sent to comfort us, and your Son Jesus who died for us and was raised from the grave. We pray this in his name. Amen.

Apr
10

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In Ephesians 5:25-27 Paul writes about the love Jesus has for the church. He loves the church so much that he gave his life for the church (Eph. 5:25). The church is the bride of Christ. The church is something we should love and cherish. What does this mean? What does it mean to love the church? Loving the church is more than just an idea. It is something practical and concrete. Love is not something we give off the top. Love is a sacrifice (Eph. 5:25). Love costs us something (Luke 10:25-37). We don’t just love the idea of church. We love the church. The church is not a building. The church is literally the people. When we say we love the church, we mean that we love people. To love the church is to love the people who make up the church. Here are a few things we can do to love the church.

Speak well of the church – We should always speak well of the body of Christ. We should not speak ill of the church. We do not slander what we love. To speak well of the body of Christ is to speak well of individuals who make up the church. We should never gossip or say bad things about our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should encourage our fellow Christians with our words.

Work on your relationship with the church – If we really want to love the church, then we must work on developing a relationship with the people who make up the church. This means we must sacrifice our time in order to develop relationships and get to know each other. This often begins with scheduled meeting times. Make an effort to attend all the worship services and any special gatherings when the church might meet. These are great opportunities to come together and encourage one another. We should also work on developing relationships outside these meeting times. Invite people over for dinner. Ask someone to have coffee with you. Get together and work on strengthening friendships. Our love for one another grows as we spend time together and develop meaningful relationships.

Make sacrifices for the church – Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for the church by laying down his life for her, but we can make sacrifices also. We can volunteer to teach a Bible class, cook meals for the sick, or visit others. There are people in the church who need certain things. They may need their yard mowed, or they may just need someone to talk to. Do something for someone else. Put the interests of others before your own (Philippians 2:4-8). Loving the church means loving people and making sacrifices on their behalf.

May we imitate Jesus in all things, including his love for the church. May we always remember that loving the church means loving people.

Apr
08

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Fear is debilitating. Fear holds us back and keeps us from the work of God. Fear squashes faith. Throughout Scripture God continually tells his people, “Do not fear.” God understands what fear can do to human beings and he wants his people to live by faith rather than fear. One of our greatest fears is of the unknown. We are afraid of what we don’t understand and cannot explain. If we cannot make sense of something, then we either attack it or give it an explanation, even if that explanation happens to be wrong. We fear the unknown and so we either try and destroy it or explain it away. We avoid living with what we cannot understand or explain and this is detrimental to the Christian faith. Christianity asks us to embrace mystery and engage the unknown. When fear wins out we do neither, but if we live by faith then we will find ourselves blessed by the mysteries of God and willing to engage what we do not understand.

Living with Mystery

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16)

Some things that God reveals to us are as clear as day, but others are mysterious and not easily understood. God is full of infinite wisdom and we barely scratch the surface of this wisdom with our finite minds. The ways of God are far above us. It is an honorable pursuit to seek to know all there is to know about God, but knowing everything is impossible. All we can know is what has been revealed to us through Scripture and creation and some of that is mysterious. It is important for Christians to embrace this mystery, but we are often afraid because mystery is the great unknown.

Instead of embracing Christian mystery, we often seek to explain it. This is the reason we have so many theories regarding deep Biblical truths like the trinity or the atonement. We cannot easily understand one God in three persons. We cannot easily understand God crucified and everything there is to know about the death of Jesus. These are holy mysteries. These are things we confess and believe, but we never fully understand. This does not mean we should give up trying. It is a noble thing to spend a lifetime meditating upon the deeper things of God, but at the end of the day we must confess our inabilities to know all there is to know.

In seeking to explain the mysteries of God, churches have created theories and formulas that have caused division. Our fear of the unknown causes us to explain what God has not explained. When we fail to embrace the mysteries of God, we go beyond Scripture and we create doctrines where there were no doctrines. Mystery makes us uncomfortable. We want to know. We want to explain. We don’t want to step into the mystery of God and live there. This is unfortunate because embracing mystery is where we should be. Embracing mystery means we accept our limits and put our trust in God. Embracing mystery means we humble ourselves and learn to rely on God.

Engaging the Unknown

There is another type of unknown which Christians fear. This unknown should not be embraced, but it should be engaged and sought to be understood. This unknown could be any number of things. It could be an idea, person, religion, or piece of art. Instead of thoughtfully engaging things we do not understand, Christians often choose to attack. Frequently we view the unknown as a threat to our Christian faith. Instead of trying to understand a religion that may share certain values with Christianity, we demonize it and refuse to acknowledge anything good that may come from it. Instead of trying to get to know the stranger down the street who is covered with tattoos and piercings, we simply view them as a lost cause. This happens all the time. It happened recently with the film Noah. There are legitimate issues with the film, but many Christians attacked it as “atheistic propaganda” or “Gnostic heresy” without thoughtfully engaging the film itself. Some of these Christians had not even seen the film and others were confused by what they saw. Why do we do this? It is because we fear the unknown and we would rather destroy it rather than engage it.

Understanding and engaging the unknown does not mean we accept it. We should not accept false religions, but if we are truly seeking to save the lost then we will seek to engage rather than attack. We should be seeking to open doors, not close them. Understanding and engaging is difficult. It means we are probably going to be challenged. It means we are going to learn things we didn’t know before. It means we may begin to view the world a little differently because of what we discover. Seeking to understand and engage is an act of faith. We enter into the great unknown with God on our side. As we enter into the great unknown we are seeking truth, and we are open to sharing truth with others. We want to listen and share. Listening comes first and this is difficult for many of us. We want to share but not listen. We must remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:12.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

We must always treat others the way we would like to be treated. If we want someone to listen to us, then we must first listen to them. If we want someone to understand our point of view, then we must first seek to understand their point of view. If we are serious about God’s mission of saving the lost, then we will seek to engage the unknown. Our faith in God should trump our fear in what we do not know and understand.

Apr
06

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We probably do not consider it much but we need good art.  We need poetry and song.  We need beautiful things that move us and motivate us.  We need lyrics that speak to our hearts.  God understands this and so he gives us exactly what we need.  We find poetry and song scattered throughout the Bible, but most famously we find them in the book of Psalms.

Scripture is full of all kinds of things that we need.  It is important that we do not neglect certain parts of it.  The psalms are sometimes neglected because they are so different from other things we read in the Bible.  We love stories.  We love to hear about David battling Goliath and Jesus walking on water.  We know what to do with commands.  We memorize the ten commandments.  We teach them to our children.  We understand Paul’s moral instructions and we seek to apply them to our lives, but what about poetry.  Most of us have a hard time grasping poetry written in English, how are we supposed to understand Hebrew poetry that is 3,000 years old?  It can be a little challenging, but it is something we need.

There is something beautiful about this ancient art.  It speaks to us.  It reveals things about ourselves and about God.  It gives us words to use when we do not have any.  Have you ever wondered why there are so many lament psalms?  It is because lament and mourning is something we do.  It is human to grieve and the Bible helps us do this by giving us the right words.  These are words God wants us to have.  These are words of healing and hope.  These are the words God wants us to turn to and use when our life falls apart.

Another thing the psalms do is bring beauty to what we often consider ordinary. Consider the first two verses of Psalm 19.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.

The psalmist could have simply said you can find God in creation and stopped there, but instead he uses poetry.

The heavens declare God’s glory.

The sky above proclaims the work of the Lord.

The day speak to us.

The night is full of knowledge.

The day speaks and the night is knowledgeable?  Really?  Yes, they do but we are often too busy to notice.  When we slow down and look around us we see the glory of God and his handiwork.  We see God in a beautiful sunset.  We hear him in the stillness of a fresh spring day.  We see his work in the intricacies of the design within creation.  The evidence for God is everywhere if we will simply open our eyes and look around.

We find the beauty of God in creation and we find the beauty of God in poems and songs.  Do not neglect the reading of the psalms.  Do not miss out on these beautiful words God has given us.  Do not speed through them.  Poetry was not meant to be read that way.  Read them slowly.  Meditate on what God has to say.  Soak up the beauty of these words and place them in your heart because someday you might need them.

Apr
03

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Noah has created a flood of controversy. Some Christians have called it insulting, blasphemous, and unbiblical. Others have praised it for its faithfulness to Scripture, artistic value, and focus on justice and mercy. After reading reviews and comments from both sides one has to wonder whether or not they were watching the same film. How can Christians who read the same Bible, profess belief in the same doctrines, and some who even attend the same church have such different views about this film? I would like to explore this question and offer some ways forward. The last thing Christians need is for a Hollywood movie to divide us and stand in the way of the stronger bond that we share in Jesus.

What is truth?

Some Christians see Noah as a rejection of truth, while others see it as a very truthful film. It sounds like these two camps are opposed to each other, but I do not believe they are. I think the problem is that we are talking about different truths. One side sees Noah as a rejection of historical truth. What they see is a film that departs from the Biblical text in several different ways and in their minds this is a compromise of the Biblical truth one finds in Scripture. They are right. Noah does go beyond Scripture and makes certain changes to the story we find in our Bibles. The other side understands that Noah is not going to follow the Bible exactly. They do not go into the film expecting to receive historical truth from it, but instead they are looking for other truths. Rather than looking for historical truth, they are looking for things like Biblical themes (justice and mercy) and whether or not it remains true to the spirit of the text. Each side highly respects truth, but they are looking for different truths.

I fall on one side of this divide. I do not believe we should be looking for historical truth or accuracy in a medium like film. No film is able to accurately capture historical truth, but it is able to point to other truths. Comparing a movie to a historical account is like comparing a painting to a photograph. The photographer takes a picture which shows a two dimensional exact representation of whatever is being photographed. The painter on the other hand cannot do what a photographer can do. Instead the painter takes certain liberties. He or she can make colors brighter or reimagine a part of the photograph that is out of focus. Film and written history are two different mediums that convey truth in different ways. I believe film can point us to historical truths, but it is not itself historical truth. When we see a film that is based on a true account, we should not take the film as being historically accurate, but we should be encouraged to go and read the historical account ourselves. Interestingly, Noah has done exactly that. It has caused people to turn to Scripture (See The Data Is In: Noah Is Driving People To The Bible). People going into a film seeking to be historically informed I believe will always be disappointed, or will blindly accept a historical truth which is not completely accurate.

This does not mean we should abandon film. I think films teach us different truths. They often teach us about ourselves and the world we live in. Films pull on our heart strings. They sometimes ask us to see the world from a different point of view. They explore ideas and concepts that are often hard to get across in other mediums. Although Noah went beyond the text and altered certain historical truths that we find in the Bible, it also helped people better understand the Biblical truths of justice and mercy. It took sin very seriously and explored its affect on creation and humanity. People who were not looking for historical truth, saw these other Biblical truths and were quite pleased with the film.

I Can Only Imagine

Every film based on the Bible uses imagination. Some use it more than others, but they all use it. This should not be too surprising since this also happens in sermons, Sunday school, and other places where the Bible is used. The most detailed part of the flood story is the measurement of the ark (Gen. 6:15), and yet the images in Sunday school material nearly always get this wrong. The artists who imagine it often ignore these measurements and it ends up looking like a boat, rather than an ark (The film Noah actually gets this part of the story right). We imagine other things as well. We imagine the backgrounds and contexts of certain psalms even though we are never told in Scripture what the background and context are (Psalm 51). We imagine what Jesus, Moses, David, and other Biblical figures were like. We often imagine what heaven will be like. We sing songs almost every Sunday that imagine this, and some of them are not based on Scripture at all (Mansion Over the Hilltop).

I do not believe we should be concerned about imagination, as long as it does not compromise the spirit and intent of Scripture. One of the best scenes in Son of God was a scene at the end of the film where Peter and the disciples partook of the Lord’s Supper on the day Jesus was raised from the dead. This account is not found anywhere in Scripture, but it doesn’t go against Scripture and we can imagine something like this happening. Although we do not need to be overly concerned about imagination, we do need to recognize the vast difference between imagination and Scripture. Scripture is God’s holy word. Our faith is founded on God and what we read in Scripture, and not on what we imagine.

Films are based on imagination even more so than Sunday school pictures or sermon illustrations. Films based on the Bible must imagine what someone like Jesus or Noah looked like. They must imagine how they talked and the tone that was used in speaking certain famous passages from Scripture. Films also imagine what happens in the gaps we find in Scripture. We are not told everything about the life of Jesus and Scripture acknowledges this (John 20:30). We are even told less about the life of Noah. The makers of the Noah film imagined a lot and I believe many people had more problems with the imaginations of the filmmakers than with anything else. I admit that some of it was pretty far fetched, but should we become upset and angry with someone because they imagined things differently than we did? I don’t think this is a place where we should take our stand.

The Power of Images

We live in a culture that is rapidly changing. More and more people are receiving information through a screen, rather than the written word. Images are powerful and they are becoming more powerful with each passing day. Although imagination takes place every Sunday in pulpits and Sunday school classes across this country, there is something about it taking place in the form of an image that resonates more with people. It is one thing to imagine in a Bible class who the Nephilim were (Gen. 6:4), but it is a completely different thing to portray that imagination on the big screen. They are both imagination but they take on different forms.

There has been a long history of images in Christianity. The most famous of these being the icon controversy which took place in the 8th century. James K. A. Smith puts forth an interesting theory in his excellent essay “Faith in the Flesh in American Beauty: Christian Reflections on Film.” He traces our view of images all the way back to Platonism and because of this he believes we are always somewhat leery of them. I have found it interesting that in some negative comments on Noah people have equated images and film with the written word. They have attacked the film for not accurately conveying the details of the Biblical account to an audience who may never read the Bible. Although I hope films like Noah point people to God and Scripture, I am somewhat taken aback by this argument. I do not believe we should ever expect film or images to take the place of Scripture, or to do what Scripture does. Film can point us to Scripture. It can elaborate and expound on truths we find in Scripture, but it is not Scripture. We should not hold out extraordinary expectations for film, but accept it for what it is.

How Should We Respond to Noah

Recommend Not Condemn – Instead of condemning people for seeing this film or encouraging everyone you know to see it, we should probably just recommend. I enjoyed the film and wrote about it on this blog, but I will not endorse it from the pulpit or write about it in the church bulletin. I recognize that it is not a film for everyone. If you happened to not like the film, then tell people why. Don’t accuse people of sinning or not being Christian for seeing this film.

Be Respectful and Open – If someone finds truth in this film, especially if they are not a Christian, then be open to that and begin a conversation. Listen to people who may have a different take on the film. Be open to what they have to say and share with them your ideas about the film. These conversations often lead to Scripture and what the Bible actually says.

Don’t Take it Too Seriously – At the end of the day remember that this is a Hollywood movie. It is not something that should divide Christians. People are going to have different opinions of it just as they have different opinions of other films produced by Hollywood. I am personally glad that a film like this was made by a Hollywood studio, but I am not going to allow this film to stand between me and any of my fellow Christians.

Mar
31

noah

Ever since Noah was released last Friday there has been a flood of blog posts related to the film. Some posts have accused the film of being an anti-Christian environmental diatribe, while others have praised it as a great work of art. I was hesitant to weigh into the vast ocean of works already written on this subject. There have been some thoughtful and engaging reviews, blog posts, and articles written that I will share at the end of this post. Before I do that I will share a few of my thoughts and try to clear up a few misconceptions that are floating around the internet.

A Few Misonceptions

I was literally sick to my stomach as I read some reviews that attacked Darren Aronofsky, the director of the film, for being an atheist. The truth is that Aronofsky is not an atheist. He describes himself as a believer, although I am not sure he would identify with Christianity or Judaism. He also knows the Bible very well and sought to make a movie that was faithful to the text. Aronofsky probably understands the Bible differently than many Christians, but he was never trying to contradict it or make fun of it. When asked about the Biblical story of Noah and making a film based on this text he said,

It’s just important that you don’t contradict any of it and that you study each word, and study each sentence, and try to use and extract as much juice out of that to be inspired to turn it into a vision that represents the spirit of it all. That’s the goal.

Although the name of God is not mentioned in the film, God is referenced throughout. This was not an attempt to try and remove God from the film. If anything it is more accurate than using the name of God which was not given until the book of Exodus. Most often God is referred to as the Creator which is a Biblically accurate description of God. Some have complained because God does not openly reveal himself to humanity. God speaks to Noah, but only through dreams. We must remember that God reveals himself in different ways. God openly spoke to patriarchs and prophets. God reveals himself through his holy word and through creation. In between the Old and New Testament there were 400 silent years where God did not speak at all. There tend to be dry spells where God does not speak to people in the Bible when they are rebellious towards him. I did not have a problem with God not revealing himself openly towards humanity when most of humanity was rebellious and not willing to listen. It was clear in the film that they knew who God was, but they just didn’t care.

Some have accused Noah of being environmentalist propaganda. It is true that Noah focuses on creation and humanity’s responsibility toward it, but this is Biblical. God cares for his creation and he wants us to care for it also. In Romans 8:18-25 Paul talks about creation yearning to be set free from its bondage to decay. In this passage creation is spoken of first and humans are spoken of second (vs. 23). This shows that there is a distinction between humanity and creation and Paul is not lumping humanity into creation. God cares about creation. Creation has been affected by sin (Gen 3:17-18). Creation yearns to be set free. God cared so much about creation that he established laws that required the Israelites to give the land rest (Lev. 25:1-7). Aronofsky sees this as part of the Genesis story and he incorporates it into the film. In a recent interview he said the following,

For me, there’s a big discussion about dominion and stewardship. There’s this contradiction [between the two], some would say, in the Bible, but it doesn’t have to be a contradiction. It can work together. The thing is, we have clearly taken dominion over the planet. We’ve fulfilled that. But have we been good stewards?

I believe Aronofsky’s question is reasonable. God has made us stewards of creation. We should ask ourselves, “Have we been good stewards?” Instead of criticizing Aronofsky, we should applaud him for drawing our attention back to an important Biblical principle (stewardship).

My Thoughts on the Film

Film and the written word are two different mediums. A 100 percent accurate depiction of the Biblical story would be impossible. There are certain things we do not know. There are stories, like the story of Noah, that are brief and do not provide many details. We do not always know the tone of the statements we find in Scripture. Was the person sad or happy when they said what they said? Each film that is made based on the Bible has more in common with a commentary than a translation. We should not expect any film based on Scripture to be completely accurate, just as we do not expect historical dramas to be completely accurate. Film is not Scripture, and we should not expect it to be. Hopefully, films that are based on the Bible will encourage people to open their Bibles and read the stories themselves. Aronofsky understands this. He was asked if he was making a documentary type film and he replied,

It’s impossible to understand what these times are because there are four chapters in the Bible. It’s just important that you don’t contradict any of it and that you study each word, and study each sentence, and try to use and extract as much juice out of that to be inspired to turn it into a vision that represents the spirit of it all. That’s the goal.

Now we can argue whether or not Aronofsky did contradict anything in the text, but his goal was to try to be faithful to “the spirit of it all.” As I watched the film I was amazed by how faithful it was at times. I do not think it varied much more from the text than most popular films depicting Jesus, considering that there is not much text surrounding the story of Noah and the flood. I think most people have more of a problem with where Aronofsky fills in the gaps and perhaps with some of his interpretations. We bring our own ideas to the text and when someone like Aronofsky contradicts these ideas we get upset, even though our ideas might be just as foreign to Scripture as Aronofsky’s.

One of the big complaints I have heard about is with his interpretation of the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Gen. 6:4)

The truth is no one knows how to interpret this verse. I do not think it refers to rock monsters, but I am not going to knock Aronofsky for trying.

There are many more things I could say about the film, but the most important thing about it are the two main themes that Aronofsky focuses on and that is justice and mercy. Does Aronofsky take some liberties that are not in the text? Yes he does. Do I fault him for this? No, because he does this to focus on the themes of justice and mercy. He does not do it to make people mad or poke fun at Christians. He is very interested in the Bible and this story in particular. He is interested in how God and Noah grieved over humanity and its destruction (Gen. 6:6). The story of Noah and the flood is not a children’s story, and Aronofsky’s version may be more accurate than some versions of the story that get told in Sunday school. It is the story of the destruction of the human race. It is the story of sin. This is a sad and tragic story and we rarely take time to consider this aspect of it, but thankfully Aronofsky has. He wants us to understand the tragedy of sin. He wants us to wrestle with the guilt and sorrow Noah must have felt. He wants us to contemplate justice and mercy and how a perfect and holy God balances the two. In a recent interview he said,

If you are too just with a child you destroy them with strictness. If you’re too merciful you can spoil them. Finding that balance is what makes you a good parent. So that was an interesting character arc for us to see.

Although Noah is not a perfect film, it is a good film and we need more films like it. I don’t know of any other film that takes sin as seriously as this film. I don’t know of any other film where the film is an entire meditation on justice and mercy. Noah might get a few of the details wrong, but it asks us to focus and dwell on Biblical principles and we should be thankful for this. It is a film that asks us to think deeply about important themes within Scripture and I don’t know of many films that do this as well as Noah.

Further Reading

The ‘Terror’ of Noah: How Darren Aronofsky Interprets the Bible - All the quotes from Darren Aronofsky were taken from his recent interview in The Atlantic.

Noah’s Co-Writer Explains the Film’s Controversial Theology – Some great insight into the film from the person who helped write the script.

Will Evangelicals Miss the Boat on Paramount’s Noah - Jonathan Merritt does a great job of addressing some of the controversy surrounding the film.

Noah – Alissa Wilkinson has written one of the best reviews of the film.

Noah the Movie, Part II - You don’t have to like the movie to give it a good review. John Mark Hicks did not care for the film, but he does a great job of engaging the film and understanding what it was trying to do.

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah - Another good review.

Mar
27

karlbarthpipe

O Lord, our God! Thou knowest who we are: human beings with a good or bad conscience, some content and others discontent, some secure and others insecure, convinced Christians and nominal Christians, believers, half-believers, and unbelievers.

Thou also knowest whence we have come: from the bonds of family and friendship or from great loneliness, from peaceful prosperity or from manifold adversities and troubles, from happy, tense or broken homes, from the core of the Christian community or from its fringe.

Here we are gathered now in thy presence: in all our diversity equally unrighteous before thee and each other, equally subject to death, equally lost without thy mercy, yet also equally sharing the promise and the gift of thy grace offered to all in thy dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mar
22

church-steeple

The rally call of the restoration movement was to be Christians only. Preachers and others called people to give up labels that caused division and just be Christians. Sadly, we have gotten away from this restoration principle and we have both accepted and given labels that are not found in Scripture. The labels that now divide us are liberal and conservative.

Some Christians embrace these labels proudly. They take pride in calling themselves a liberal or conservative Christian. I have even heard Christians say, “I would not attend that congregation because it is not conservative/liberal.” We divide ourselves with these labels and yet they are not found anywhere in Scripture. We are never called to be a conservative Christian or a liberal Christian. We are called to be simply Christians.

Not only do we embrace these label ourselves, but we use them to label others. We reserve whatever label we do not choose for ourselves to identify others whom we disagree with. Some congregations get labeled conservative or liberal and they are forever marked. Certain Christians will then avoid these congregations without ever getting to know them. Often Christians do not even know why these congregations were labeled in the first place. We have judged these congregations without ever getting to know the people who make them up or the fruits of their labors.

Embracing the labels liberal or conservative bind us to a philosophy or mindset, rather than to Jesus. Instead of asking ourselves “What would Jesus do?” we become more concerned with maintaining our conservative or liberal image. Most people would deny this, but whenever we take pride in a label we go to great lengths in making sure the reputation we have built is not tarnished. Our liberal/conservative philosophy is in competition with Jesus. If we are not careful we will end up serving two masters.

Labels are divisive. We could think of all kinds of ways to label each other. There is conservative/liberal, mean/nice, generous/stingy, traditional/contemporary, etc. Labels invite us to see ourselves in the right, while demonizing the other side. This keeps us from seeing our own faults, and seeing the good in others who are different from us. Labels blind us to the truth.

What are we to do?

Do Not Label Yourself - Refuse to be labeled. If people ask whether you are conservative or liberal respond by telling them you are a Christian and nothing more. The world wants to label us, but the only label we should take pride in is the name of Christ.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Galatians 6:14

Do Not Label Others - Refuse to label others. Do not label another individual or congregation as liberal or conservative. Do not accept those labels when other people tell you that a congregation or a person is this or that. Get to know people. Find out where they stand for yourself. I have discovered in my lifetime that many labels are untrue.

Make Jesus Your Goal - Being a conservative or liberal is not our goal. Our goal is Jesus. We are being molded and shaped into his image and we should seek not to venture to the left or the right. The image of Christ is our standard and nothing more.

“Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” Proverbs 4:27

Mar
08

SonofGod

On Saturday a group of about twenty people from our congregation gave up our afternoon to go and watch a movie about Jesus. We had a great time. Our group was composed of people from all ages. We had children, teens, adults, and seniors all go. We met at the church and then carpooled to the theater. Afterward we discussed the film and some of us went out to eat. It was a fantastic day.

Over the past couple of days several people have asked me to review this film. I do not review every film I see, and I had no intentions of weighing in on this one. It has been a somewhat polarizing film. Critics have trashed it and Christians have embraced it. I happen to belong to both of these camps and I have somewhat mixed feelings about the film. Instead of offering a traditional review, I am simply going to offer some thoughts about the film. I will tell you what I liked and didn’t like. I am going to give away some details, but hopefully none of these will be spoilers since I trust everyone has already read the book.

Here are some issues I had with the film

  • Instead of drawing from one gospel narrative the film combines things from all four gospels and they are not in any kind of order. I understand that the filmmakers were not trying to tell just one gospel story, but that they were trying to portray the life of Jesus. I get that, but I think it would have made a better film if they told the life of Jesus by sticking with one gospel account.
  • I was not crazy about how Jesus was portrayed. He looked like your typical cookie cutter Jesus and every word was spoken in a soft tone with a smile. At one point in the film he is smiling and speaking to a child and the words he is speaking are a judgment upon the temple. It seemed as though the filmmakers went overboard in trying to portray Jesus in a positive light.
  • I think filmmakers sometimes wrestle with how to portray Jesus who is fully man and fully God. I think this portrayal of Jesus was lacking in humanity. He looked human, but his dialogue was not always natural and it felt like he was speaking above people instead of connecting on their level. This wasn’t the case in every scene, but I felt this happened quite often.
  • The scene before Pilate where Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world” seemed to miss the point. I believe Jesus is saying to Pilate that his kingdom is not like a worldly kingdom. It is not the same kind of kingdom. Even though the kingdom is not like a worldly kingdom it still exists on this earth. The scene in the film seemed to suggest that the kingdom was other worldly.
  • Some scenes were great in portraying the customs of that day and others were not. Two scenes that stuck out were when Jesus was teaching his followers to pray the Lord’s Prayer and they all folded their hands and bowed their heads. This is a modern way of praying. The other scene was the Last Supper where they are sitting at a table instead of reclining as was the custom in that day.
  • Not many of the characters are developed very well. We never really get to know many of the disciples or even Mary the mother of Jesus.

Here are some things I thought the film got right.

  • The emphasis on the Lord’s Supper was outstanding. The Last Supper is portrayed well, but the scene after the resurrection where Peter decides to observe the Lord’s Supper is amazing. This scene is not found in any of the gospels, but neither does it go against Scripture. It is a beautifully imagined scene and worth the price of admission.
  • The portrayal of the Romans and the focus on how political Jesus’ message would have been was done well. Too often in films on the life of Jesus the Romans do not make an appearance until Pilate. That was not the case in this film. It did a great job of portraying the tension that would have been felt during that time.
  • Another imaginative scene was combining the story of the Pharisee and tax collector from Luke 17 with the calling of Matthew. This was a powerful scene that was very moving.
  • I love how the film begins and ends with John the last living apostle.
  • It was great to get a picture of what the temple may have looked like. The film did a good job of offering the viewer some overhead shots of the temple and Jerusalem.
  • Although the specifics of Passover were not dealt with, the viewer was able to see what a big deal Passover would have been during that time.

Creating a film is an imaginative process. It is imaginative if you are doing a film based on the life of Noah and you are working with only four chapters of Scripture, and it is imaginative if you are doing a film on the life of Jesus and you are working with four books of the Bible. The written word and film are two very different mediums. Filmmakers who choose to use Scripture as their subject matter must be given some leeway. We have strong opinions about Scripture and we will like some of their decisions and dislike others. We must be willing to show a little grace and appreciate the fact that these filmmakers are trying to bring the story of God to the big screen for millions of people to see.

Will you like Son of God? That is a difficult question. If you are a critic and you are merely judging the screenplay, acting, and direction, then you may go away disappointed. If you are a Christian, who is excited to see this story you love so much brought to the big screen, then you will probably enjoy it. It is not the best film I have ever scene. It is not even the best Jesus film I have ever scene, but I had a great time going to watch this movie with some fellow Christians. I enjoyed our fellowship. I enjoyed discussing the film with them afterwards, and I enjoyed the film itself. My advice is to simply go see Son of God and don’t get bogged down with all the details. Don’t focus on all the technical details. If there is something they get wrong, then acknowledge it and let it go. Go see Son of God and fall in love again with the most amazing story that has ever been told.

Mar
06

judi-dench-philomena

Philomena is a film that has flown under most people’s radars. Surprisingly, it was nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, but it was probably the least known film out of all the nominees. This is sad because Philomena is a well made film that Christians should take note of. It is a story of faith, but it is certainly not your average Christian movie. It is the project of Steve Coogan, a British comedian and atheist, who does a fantastic job of bringing this true story to the big screen.

Philomena tells the story of a woman who was sent to live in an orphanage. As a teenager living in the orphanage Philomena (Judi Dench) becomes pregnant. She is chastised for her wrongdoing and forced to work to pay the nuns back. She is allowed to see her child for only one hour a day and one day her child is taken from the orphanage without her knowing. Fifty years later she tells her story to Martin Sexsmith (Steve Coogan), a journalist, who helps track down her son. Sexsmith helps Philomena and discovers that her story is a very common one.

I hate to say it but many Christian films that are made today are shallow and lack depth. I wish this were not the case, but it is true. Philomena is not that kind of story. It is a story of amazing faith in the midst of some very tragic events. No one is perfect in the film. All the characters wrestle with something in their life. Martin Sexsmith wrestles with unbelief. The nuns where Philomena was raised wrestle with a rigid and legalistic understanding of Christianity. Philomena (Judi Dench) wrestles with guilt. Philomena is the one person who has a legitimate reason to doubt or complain and yet she is the most faithful of anyone in the film.

Philomena is a film Christians should pay attention to for several reasons. It is a story of faith in the midst of tragedy. It is a story of what happens when people are made to feel guilty for their sins and are never allowed to experience the full forgiveness of God. It is a story of how grace and forgiveness ultimately triumph. Most importantly it is a story of why unbelievers are both turned off and turned on by religion. There are characters within the film that portray two very distinct faces of religion. Most of the nuns in the abbey are rigid and legalistic. This legalistic approach to the faith causes them to do things which are unethical and wrong to the rest of the world. At one point in the film their actions are described as “evil” by those outside the church. On the other side is Philomena, a person who has been wronged and treated terribly by the church, but who still believes. Her faith makes no sense to unbelievers, but they are intrigued by it. Philomena displays grace and offers a forgiveness that both confuses and amazes at the same time. The real life Martin Sexsmith was mesmerized by Philomena, and Steve Coogan was so enamored with this story that he wrote the screenplay and produced this film. These two well-known unbelievers were drawn in by Philomena, a simple woman of faith. For this reason alone we should pay attention to this film.

Philomena is a well made film. It is one of those rare films where everything just comes together. The acting, direction, and story are all superb. There are films that are technically good made every year, but films with as much depth as Philomena are sometimes hard to find. It is rare to find an atheist devote themselves to a film about faith. This should tell you something about Philomena. This is a special story and special film. Don’t overlook this small independent film. It may look little but this film will give you something to chew on for a long time to come.

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