Just be. . .

I’ve been thinking lately about the nature of our relationship with God, and I’ve been fascinated by the way our theology should inform how we relate to God. The free-grace theists (Arminians, Open Theists, Pentecostals, etc.) have a theology that should lead them to treat the relationship with God as something of a dance or a two-way relationship. God makes a move and then we respond. The determinists (Calvinists, Puritans, Dutch Reformed, etc.) have a theology that should lead them to treat the relationship with God as purely one-sided. God does all the work; he makes a move towards us and then causes us to respond to him by putting the thought into our minds and the desire into our hearts long before we were ever conceived.

Ironically though, one of the things I’ve noticed in both free-grace theists and determinists is that their praxis is inconsistent with their theology. I’ve noticed it in my own life, and while it was much more pronounced when I was a determinist, it still shows up now that I’m a free-grace theist. It’s the constant grind to work on my relationship with God and to view him as wholly “other.” In other words, I’m here doing all this work to make sure that my relationship with God is solid (or perhaps more accurately, that it feels solid), and God is out there somewhere saying, “I told you how to please me. I wrote it in that book you carry around with you. Now, quit screwing around and make me happy.”

So I slave away. I abstain from this activity, I stay away from those people, I refrain from drinking that drink.

But what if our relationship with God is more dynamic than that? What if he’s not out there somewhere issuing commands? What if he’s right here, holding my hand, whispering in my ear, writing me letters? What if he’s telling me to stop worrying about the relationship so much and just enjoy the fact that I’m in one with him?

What if all this concern I have about damaging my relationship with God is just me stressing out about nothing? Somehow I get the feeling that if I were to start pulling away from God, he would start pulling me closer to him. If I begin to drift, he’ll do his part to let me know that I’m drifting and, if it’s in my power to go back to him, he’ll provide me a way to return. If it’s not, he’ll step in and pull me back anyway.

Not that I won’t play my part in the relationship, but not for the sake of the relationship but simply because I want to get to know God more, I want to hear his voice, experience his presence, enjoy his laughter.

But I need to stop working so hard. I need to just be.

What do I believe?. . .

I think I’ve come to a fairly stable landing on my theological journey. That’s not to say I won’t change, evolve, or grow at some point soon, but what this means is that I’ve come to a point where I feel comfortable making a statement about my beliefs on certain major theological topics. So for those of you who are curious about what I currently believe, here’s a list.

  • Concerning Soteriological Constructs: I haven’t completely landed yet. A few years ago I held to monergism and the five points of TULIP as accepted by most Calvinists. Currently I hold to some form of synergism, but whether classical Arminian or Open Theist, I’m not sure yet. I’m traveling somewhere in between, but I think I’m heading towards Open Theism.

    Thomas Oden, Roger Olson and Greg Boyd are my current influences here.

  • Concerning Presentism: Maybe? I’ll probably land wherever my aforementioned journey lands.
  • Concerning Denomination Affiliation: I grew up in an “Independent Baptist” Fundamentalist church and attended a fundamentalist university. After a brief exploration in Buddhism, I joined the non-denominational bandwagon for a while. During those years, I went from working for an “Andy Stanley” style non-denominational church for one year to working for a “Mark Driscoll” Acts-29-affiliated church for four years (to give you an idea of where I might’ve identified in those years). My years working for that A29-affiliated church drove me into—and eventually out of—my adherence to Calvinism. I currently exist within Hillsong NYC, so I probably affiliate with a very “progressive” Pentecostalism. If I were ever to plant my own church, I might lean towards building a progressive Anglican church.
  • Concerning Scripture: I believe the Bible is authoritative simply because God asserts his authority through it. It possesses no authority itself apart from God.

    N. T. Wright’s books Surprised by Scripture and Scripture and the Authority of God are my primary influences. I also turn to Peter Enns on this topic.

  • Concerning Origins: I hold to a form of Evolutionary Creationism.

    Francis Collins, Deb and Loren Haarsma, and N. T. Wright are my influences here.

  • Concerning Hell: I’m still not sure where I land on this. I used to hold to eternal conscious torment, particularly in the aftermath of the “Love Wins” controversy (and upon reading Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell), but I feel very uncomfortable with that belief now. I probably lean towards a “conditional purgatorial” theory of some kind.

    C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright, and Rob Bell are currently informing me on this topic.

  • Concerning Dispensational vs. Covenant Theology: Neither. I probably hold to a sort of “Christian fulfillment” theory. The resource I’m currently turning to is N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. 
  • Concerning Eschatology: I hold to a sort of “reconciliation” philosophy. God is reconciling this world to himself; he’s not planning on “rapturing” the Church away and then throwing the world into the trash bin. N. T. Wright is my primary influence here. Though Tim LaHaye definitely played a part. 😉
  • Concerning Atonement Theory: I don’t hold to any singular one, though at one point I held exclusively to Penal Substitution Theory. I’ve heard it said that “Denying Penal Substitutionary Atonement is akin to denying the Gospel.” Clearly I think that statement is categorically false.My current theory takes most of its cues from the Christus Victor Theory, but there are other theories I like to cherry pick themes and ideas from. I believe that no singular theory is completely true, but no singular theory is completely false either. They all contribute something to understanding the atonement.

    Greg Boyd and my blogging friend Ryan Miller have heavily influenced me in this category.

  • Concerning Other Hot-Button Topics (aka “Gospel Issues” for John Piper): I’m egalitarian. I’ve seen too many gifted women in my life to limit their leadership to just teaching kids and teaching women. Some of the most powerful sermons I’ve heard in my lifetime were from women. Regarding homosexuality, I’ll simply say this: why does that topic receive more fire from Christians than greed, oppression, murder, slander, and violence?

So there you have it. That’s what I currently believe. As it has over the past several years, it will likely undergo some change over time. But like I said at the start of this post, I’m quite comfortable with posting this as a sort of “Statement of Faith” for my blog. Those of you who are non-Calvinist theology nerds will likely see that I’ve gone very far from my supralapsarian days. Those of you who are Calvinist theology nerds will likely call me a heretic. 😉

Austin Fischer posted today on the importance of beauty in theology. I think discussing that topic might be a worthy follow-up post to this one, so I might write about that in an upcoming post. But until then, stay savvy, friends!

Top Ten Posts. . .

Since my thirtieth birthday is coming up in three days, I thought I’d celebrate by compiling a top-ten list of the most visited posts from restoredtograce.com over the years.

Hope you enjoy some Monday morning memories!

1. Some thoughts on Noah. . . – April 4, 2014. I’m honestly a bit surprised this one was the most visited all time on the blog. It’s a newer post and hasn’t had the time to pick up the readership of some of my older posts. That said, I’m really glad this one is at the top.

2. To my future bride (whoever you may be). . . – June 25, 2009. This one is still going strong after almost five-and-a-half years, though it has been dethroned as number one by my Noah post.

3. Rob Bell vs. John Piper. . . – March 2, 2011. This one was a little interesting to go back to because it reveals a little bit of my past reformed leanings. I even wrote, “I would affirm the truths set forth by [Mark] Driscoll, [John] Piper, and [Justin] Taylor.” Oh how much I’ve changed in just three years.

4. Rob Bell’s Love Wins. . . – March 21, 2011. Here’s another one I would probably write very differently now. Thanks to my rather in-depth study of the New Testament guided by N. T. Wright’s writings, my tune on this topic has changed quite a bit. Still, it’s fun to see where I once stood theologically.

5. Fear in love. . . – September 1, 2009. Ouch. I think 2013 me could’ve learned a thing or two from 2009 me.

6. Shorts and flip flops at church. . . – June 28, 2008. I wrote this one about a year after returning to Christ and less than a year after leaving fundamentalism. Even back then I was stirring up controversy!

7. An odd story. . . – December 10, 2013. I’m simultaneously sad and encouraged that this one has been read as often as it has. It’s an unfortunate truth about my alma mater (and other Bible colleges and universities like it), but I believe these truths need to come to light. That’s why I’m grateful that G.R.A.C.E. is about to publish their report about the abuse that has been taking place at the school.

8. Non-Christian missionaries. . . – September 26, 2011. Missional methodology and praxis are things that have fascinated me over the years. I still struggle to reconcile my own church-going habits with my beliefs about how we’re supposed to approach and engage the non-church culture. I’m thankful for my friend Mike from Christian Associates who has mentored and taught me as I explore this facet of theology.

9. What does true love look like?. . . – March 17, 2009. This one was a bit startling to read. It’s encouraging to find posts from my pre-reformed days. My thoughts made so much more sense back then.

10. Always. . . – March 21, 2010. When I re-read this post, I felt like someone else had written it, and I was resonating with their heart. This is still one of my favorite posts. I pray that you can relate to this one too.

Who am I? . . .

For years, he crafted an identity. His parents’ deaths gave him the identity of orphan. Hunger gave him the identity of thief by necessity. Repeated escape attempts from prison hardened him, and he earned the identity of criminal. Nearly twenty years as a prisoner transformed him into a desperate and broken man.

Then a chance encounter with grace introduced a new story, and following the guilt and shame he experienced after spitting in the face of the gift he’d been given, he began to work on a new identity.

No longer the thief, no longer the criminal, no longer the escaped convict known as Jean Valjean, he took on a new name. Monsieur Madeleine, he called himself. A new name, a new life, and a new city to call home.

But it wouldn’t be long before his previous life caught up with him. His former jailor, now an inspector with the police, sees something familiar in M. Madeleine and decides to investigate further.

When it seemed inevitable that he would be exposed for the thief and criminal he once was, a man bearing his face emerges as an escape from the ghosts of his past.

He soon faces the question of his own identity. Is he the criminal of so many years ago? Is he M. Madeleine, the benevolent mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer? Or is he someone completely different?

At some point in life we face the same questions Jean Valjean faced. Am I [insert sin here]? Or am I [insert accomplishments here]? Or is there something else that defines me?

Valjean’s conundrum in Les Misérables represents the problem that the world imposes upon each of us: what you do defines who you are. At work, you arrive at your position based on how much effort you put into your job. On your career path, you often receive your title based on the degree or certification program you completed before entering the workforce.

If you constantly make mistakes, you’re a failure. If you fight a losing battle with sexual immorality, you’re filthy and lustful. If you give in to your vices over and over again, you’re an addict.

How you live dictates who you are.

But for God, the complete opposite is true. Scripture tells us that who we are dictates how we live.

We are daughters and sons of God (Romans 8:14-15), so we can be joyful and grateful.

We are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), so we share the incredible news that our King has come.

We are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3), so we can live freely because we have nothing to fear.

Suddenly we don’t have the pressure of living for something. Instead we can live from something—joy, peace, freedom.

Suddenly finding our identity is as simple as looking at our King.

Just know that even though it’s simple, it’s far from easy. This world is screaming other identities at us so loud that it can drown out the voice of the King. But if you listen, not for another deafening scream, but for a whisper, a “still, small voice,” if you will, you’ll hear him.

“You’re mine. Your identity is in me. You are my child, and I love you.”

Just trust. . .

I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of “God’s will for my life,” and what makes me a bit sad is when I see people around me (and often, I confess, myself) agonizing over what God’s will is in one circumstance or another, particularly with regards to decisions that we make in life.

Should I pursue a relationship with this girl or that one? Should I take this job offer or the other one? Should I stay in this town or relocate somewhere else?

I suppose one could take comfort in believing that God has it all mapped out and planned anyway, so we can just trust that whatever decision we make will be the one God decided for us ahead of time. Frankly, that belief leads me down the path towards determinism and eventually fatalism (If I make a destructive decision, was that God’s will for me? How can God be loving, or even good, if he determined that I would make a self-destructive choice?), but if that brings you comfort, hold tightly to that.

But if you’re like me, and you don’t believe that about God, how can you feel safe making decisions? How will you know what God’s will is for you? There’s an old adage I heard often when I was in school: “If you follow God’s daily will for your life, he’ll reveal to you his long-term will.” It’s a nice sentiment, but is it always true? What if I’m doing justice, embracing faithful love, and walking humbly with my God everyday, but when I face that life-altering decision, I still don’t know the answer?

Here’s where I find comfort. God asks us to trust him. He loves us, and he has our best interests at heart. The more we get to know him, the more we’ll discover what he desires for us. It may never be specific, but here’s the cool thing. No matter what we choose, God is there.

Maybe that’s what it means to believe. Maybe it’s knowing that God has given us the freedom to use our minds and hearts to make good decisions, and that in whatever decision we make, God is there. So trust him.

Pull the trigger and trust him.

Because we could easily think ourselves into paralysis, killing our effectiveness.

So when you come to that fork in the road (I know, I’m tossing in unexpected metaphors that weren’t alluded to at the beginning of this post, but I’m just thinking on the fly here), go left or go right. Don’t just stand there and wonder which one is God’s will.

Because God’s will is that you trust him whether you go left or right. He’ll be there if you turn left, and he’ll be there if you turn right.

Trust the Lord and do good;
live in the land, and farm faithfulness.
Enjoy the Lord,
and he will give what your heart asks.
Commit your way to the Lord!
Trust him! He will act
and will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
your justice like high noon.

Some thoughts on Noah. . .

PHqmdhBN3MUetx_1_mIt’s one of the season’s (if not the year’s) biggest blockbusters, and I took a few hours out of my busy schedule to sit down with this film. (I have to admit that as my friend Ken and I were walking into the theater, I came pretty close to changing my mind and standing in line for the midnight opening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but for the sake of conversation, I stuck with Noah.)

This blog post was originally going to be a review of the film, but given the controversy surrounding the movie, I decided to do some research and instead write more of a commentary on the film. I may write a full review at some point, but for now here’s my quickie review: Russell Crowe did a good job being Russell Crowe. He’s his usual emotionless self in this movie, but thankfully the cast around him was incredible. Of particular interest are Jennifer Connelly as Naameh, Noah’s wife, and Emma Watson as Ila, Noah’s daughter-in-law. Theirs were some of the most disarming and jaw-dropping performances I’ve ever seen. We’ve all known Connelly is a talented actress, but she stood out in a big way this time. The surprise to me was Watson’s performance. I’m a Harry Potter fan, and I found it a bit difficult at first to divorce her from Hermione Granger, but it didn’t take long for her to show off just how good an actress she is. Even without the mind-blowing special effects, this film would be worth it simply for those two performances.

Okay, now that my review is over, let’s dive into the meat of this post.

There are several streams of thought regarding this movie. One is the traditional evangelical approach which falls just short of boycotting this film for no reason other than that they “heard” the movie is very “unbiblical.” My problem with this approach is multifaceted. First, I’m never a fan of boycotting. It sends a terrible message, and in many cases it gives off an air of ignorance. Second, I think it would be wise to gain firsthand knowledge of the material you’re attacking before making your assault. You may find yourself laying down friendly fire if you don’t. Third, I think we should ask ourselves, “How well do I actually know the biblical account of ‘Noah and the Flood’?” After watching the movie, I found myself returning to the Scriptures to do some fact-checking, and I was quite surprised at what I found (and didn’t find) in the text.

Another stream of thought coming from some of the “liberal” camps essentially views this movie as a kind of midrash aggada—a form of rabbinical storytelling that involves interpreting Scripture passages by “filling in the blanks,” as it were—from the director Darren Aronofsky (who, by the way, is not an atheist as many believed that he claimed to be) given his Jewish heritage. Aronofsky is a master storyteller who is just as much a preacher as he is a filmmaker. Just look at some of his previous films like Pi and Requiem for a Dream.

The third stream of thought that I see emerging is that Aronofsky’s Noah is not based on the story found in the Judaic Torah or the Christian Pentateuch. Rather, this stream of thought sees the Gnostic Noah account being displayed in this film. Theologian Brian Mattson wrote, “This was a thoroughly pagan retelling of the Noah story direct from Kabbalist and Gnostic sources.” There are a number of Christians who read his posts and found his interpretation compelling, especially given his knowledge of the subject matter. He claims that because Aronofsky’s Noah is a Gnostic retelling, the movie flips the roles of God and Satan, and, using the snakeskin shed by the Serpent in Eden as a vehicle for this characterization, claims that the “Creator” is really the evil deity in Gnosticism and that the Serpent is really God in disguise (that was a paraphrase of Mattson’s conclusion on the matter, but it’s essentially what he’s getting at). The problem with his argumentation is that while Kabbalah and Gnostics agree in a number of ways, there are some crucial inconsistencies that render his interpretation invalid.

The argument makes sense on some level when you think about it. Aronofsky’s first full-length feature, Pi, betrayed a fascination with Kabbalah. But while he may have drawn from Kabbalah’s understanding of the story of Noah, it’s pretty clear that his primary source material was the ancient Judaic retelling of the story (the one accepted by most Christians). Also, Aronofsky doesn’t appear to exhibit much interest in Gnosticism or even the Gnostics.

To be sure, there are likely many key elements of Kabbalist tradition found throughout the film (references to Zohar, Adam and Eve’s luminescence, humanity’s division into the evil descendants of Cain and the righteous descendants of Seth, fallen angels who can be redeemed, etc.), but these elements aren’t exclusively Kabbalistic. In fact, (with the exception of the Zohar reference) these supposedly “exclusively Kabbalist” elements are found in Judeo-Christian history as well.

But let me try to address some of the more basic concerns Christians might have with the movie, apart from any Gnostic or Kabbalist references.

First, the character of Noah. In this movie, Noah is depicted as a deeply conflicted man. As the story progresses, he becomes even more extreme and zealous to the point of betraying his own family. I was at first uncomfortable with this, but when I went back to the story as found in the Bible, I found no descriptions of Noah’s personality at all. The Bible describes him as a righteous man, but “righteous” in this context doesn’t mean “good.” It simply means that he practiced justice and mercy. This description leaves much to the imagination, and seems to have been placed there simply to set Noah apart from the morally corrupt around him. The Noah character found in this movie is completely human—flawed, broken, and stubborn. He clings to what he believes God’s message is, even when confronted with evidence that he might have misinterpreted God’s will. Sound familiar? Russell Crowe’s Noah reminded me a little bit of myself in some very disturbing ways (minus the notable lack of emotional expression).

Second, the Watchers. Some have said they’re loosely based on the Nephilim found in Genesis 6:1-4. Unfortunately, that doesn’t go very far in explaining these bizarre creatures. What’s more likely is that Aronofsky took from the Book of Enoch (an ancient Jewish text that was considered part of the canon of Scripture by some early church fathers like Clement, Irenaeus, and Tertullian), which goes into greater detail about the Watchers. According to the Book of Enoch, the Watchers were angels that had been sent to earth to look after humanity after Adam’s fall, but after being around humans for a while, they began to have sexual relations with human women. The result of these unions were the Nephilim.

Aronofsky mercifully leaves out the details about fallen angels having sex with humans, but he portrays these angels as having the ability to return to righteousness and glory. Some Christians would take issue with that, as nowhere in Scripture does it say that fallen angels can be redeemed. But even within Christianity, a debate raged on regarding the permanence of these angels’ fall from God’s mercy. St. Gregory of Nyssa (one of the earliest promoters of the doctrine of a triune God) expressed a belief that even Satan himself would repent and be reconciled to God!

I think it’s worth noting here that Aronofsky appears to be less interested in mainline and evangelical interpretations of Genesis than he is in ancient-Hebrew and first-through-third-century Christian interpretations. There are a lot of things about this movie that seem strange, but upon further investigation, actually make sense in that historical context. More recent historical discoveries and theological musings refute many of these ideas, but in the rich, diverse histories of Judaism and Christianity, the ideas Aronofsky purports may be odd (and in some cases, just plain wrong), but they aren’t foreign to these religions’ histories.

(I don’t know where Aronofsky got the idea to depict the Watchers as rock giants, but I couldn’t help but think of the Gorignak from Galaxy Quest whenever the Watchers were on screen.)

Third, Adam and Eve’s luminescence. I hesitate to even mention this one because it seems trite that Christians would be bothered by it, but someone in another blog used it as fodder for for his argument that this movie is “unbiblical,” so I decided to bring it up. It’s an argument easily refuted by reminding ourselves that luminescence is a theme that’s seen throughout Scripture, from Moses’ encounters with God (he’s described as radiating in Exodus 34) to Christ’s transfiguration in Matthew 17. Jesus even says in Matthew 13 that “the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom.” Given that information, it’s not such a stretch to think that Adam and Eve radiated light prior to eating the fruit.

Fourth, environmentalism as the primary theme of the movie. Much has been said about how this movie depicts the Creator as wanting to destroy mankind because of how they mistreat creation. While that’s an element of why the Creator sends the flood, it’s pretty clear in the film that mankind’s wickedness overall, not just their poor stewardship of the earth, is the reason the flood is on its way. In a scene where Noah is walking among the descendants of Cain, people are trading girls for food, killing for fun, and exhibit nothing but an overt willingness to satiate their own basest desires.

Additionally, Noah’s own error involves environmentalism. He misinterprets God’s message thinking that humanity has no place in the world. In fact, when he recounts the story of creation to his family, he leaves out (or minimizes, I can’t remember which) the fact that humanity was created in God’s image. [SPOILERS AHEAD. Highlight the text to reveal.] Tubal-Cain, on the other hand, when he tells Ham the story of creation, makes a point to emphasize the fact that humanity was made in God’s image. He concludes that that means humans should dominate the earth and possess the right to exploit all of its resources with no regard to good stewardship. But at the end of the movie, when Noah comes to terms with his mistakes, he retells the creation story. This time he doesn’t leave out the point about being made in God’s image, but unlike Tubal-Cain’s rendition of the story, Noah concludes that as image-bearers we don’t have a right so much as a responsibility to properly care for the earth. Admittedly, environmentalism is a fairly heavy-handed theme throughout the movie, particularly at the end, but it doesn’t go so far as to run contrary to what Scripture teaches us about stewardship. My primary concern here is that the film fails to acknowledge humanity as the pinnacle of God’s creation. It appears that the best notion isn’t Noah’s idea that the earth is better off without humanity, nor is it Tubal-Cain’s belief that creation exists to serve man. Instead, the film presents a sort of peaceful coexistence between humans and the earth as being the best option. It’s almost as if the film were trying to portray God as a Master Gardener with humans as his gardening tools rather than God as a Father with the earth as a gift to his children. Both ideas are better options than the movie’s two “bad” options, but only the latter works as a theme seen in Scripture.

Fifth, the snakeskin. I’ll admit, I was pretty confused by the snakeskin metaphor in the film. Movie blogger Ryan Holt shed some light (pun not intended) on the snakeskin motif in his post about the movie:

When the film gives us glimpses of the Garden of Eden, the snake originally glows like Adam and Eve, only to shed its luminous skin and become a dark black. The visual metaphor seems clear; the serpent abandons the glory of creation to become a creature of evil, and humanity soon follows after it. So the snakeskin reminds Noah and his family of the Eden that was lost, a testament to creation’s original perfection.

Similarly, in his review of the movie in the National Catholic Register (a review that I highly recommend, by the way), Steven D. Greydanus wrote the following:

The serpent is connected with one of the film’s odder bits: a snakeskin, shed in Eden by the serpent, preserved as a family heirloom by the righteous line of Seth and passed down to Noah by his father. Doesn’t the snakeskin represent evil? Not necessarily. The serpent was created good and then shed that goodness to become the tempter. The skin it wore when God created it is not a token of evil, but of original goodness — and thus a true relic of paradise and a token that evil is always a corruption of goodness, never a thing unto itself.

* * * * * *

If you’re looking for “biblical accuracy,” you don’t have to look very far. Aronofsky claimed that Noah is the “least biblical biblical film ever made,” but I think that really depends on your understanding of the term biblical. Aronofsky made that statement in response to scores the film received after different versions of the film were presented to test audiences. I’m not sure where the following story came from, but I heard a rumor that a predominantly Christian test audience had asked for the removal of the scene wherein Noah was depicted as a drunkard because they believed the Bible didn’t portray Noah in such a way. I hope that’s not a true story, but if it is, it only goes to show how biblically illiterate many Christians are.

I understand people’s hesitance in seeing this movie. It’s puzzling in a number of ways. It forces you to think and question your preconceived notions about the beginning of Genesis. But it’s probably the most “biblically accurate biblical movie” I’ve ever seen. Yes, it takes some liberties, but all movies do. You may not believe this, but I’ll say it anyway, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah contains fewer extra-biblical artistic liberties than Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (did you know that Gibson’s primary source material wasn’t the writings of the four Evangelists, but those of Anne Catherine Emmerich?).

A few weeks ago I overheard a conservative talk radio show wherein the host exhibited anger over the fact that Noah would replace the Bible (referencing the adage, “[A movie] is the only Bible some people will ever read”). I heartily disagree with him. Does anyone recall the sudden boost in readership of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings when those movies hit theaters? While I don’t think we’re going to see massive sales of the movie edition of the book of Genesis, this movie will likely prompt its viewers to read the account of the flood in Scripture (which is a mere four chapters in the Bible), and that’s not such a bad thing.

The movie is full of incredible special effects and great action sequences, has some of the best acting from Connelly and Watson that I’ve ever seen, is well written and directed, and is incredibly exciting to watch. I think Noah is the perfect film to introduce people to the Bible.

* * * * * *

Please be aware that while I would recommend that people check this movie out, it’s not for kids. The tone is very dark, the sin that causes the Creator to send the flood is presented pretty graphically, and there are themes throughout that could be difficult for children to grasp. It pushes the limits of its PG-13 rating.

Falling. . .

Ice-Skating-StopFor those of you who don’t know me, I love ice skating. It’s one of those things that helps me clear my mind, gets my blood pumping, and provides an escape from the tumult of life.

I don’t really remember a time when I couldn’t skate fairly proficiently; I learned to skate when I was really young, and continued skating all through middle school and high school. When I go skating, I like to watch people of varying proficiencies, and I notice something: not everyone has what it takes to become a competent ice skater. It’s not that I doubt people’s ability to grasp the necessary skills for skating, it’s that there’s one thing good ice skaters know almost instinctively that others don’t: everyone falls.

Two things manifest when someone learning to skate stumbles on this truth. The first is that they overcome their fear of falling. Fear of falling stems from a fear of being embarrassed and from a fear of the pain, but when you realize that everyone falls, you realize that no one’s laughing at you for falling and that most people aren’t severely injured when they fall.

The second is that they begin to give themselves grace for each fall. Each fall is an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t. Whenever I’m teaching someone how to skate, I almost always tell them to not be afraid to fall. It will happen, and the sooner a skater learns that it’s okay to fall, the faster they’ll progress. And as they get better, they fall less and less.

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to meet Megan Fate Marshman and hear her speak at a conference. During one of her talks she had everyone in the room turn to their neighbor and say, “I’m so glad. . . you’re as messed up as I am.” We all fall. Some fall less than others, but seem unable to progress in life. I think that’s because they haven’t learned that falling is okay; everyone falls. Some seem to fall pretty often, but they’re learning, and eventually they’ll fall less often.

Some have seemingly stopped falling altogether and they’re helping pick others up when they fall. We’ll all get there someday, but I really believe that in order to get there, we have to get over our fear of falling and understand that everyone falls. That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to fall; falling is indeed painful, and if we don’t get to the point where we stop falling every time we try to move, we’ll end up a bruise-covered mess. But falling is a necessary part of learning.

I’ve found myself falling on the ice again. I’m working towards learning to play hockey, and in order to do that I need to pick up a few more skills on my skates. As I try to learn these new skills I’m again on my butt pretty often. But that’s part of learning.

I pray that we can all give ourselves some grace as we walk through life making mistakes and by extension give each other grace as well. That’s what community in Jesus should be about.

An odd story. . .

During my junior year of college (if memory serves) I was leading an evening song time with some friends from my “literary society” (though it bore little resemblance to the fraternities of ordinary colleges, but that’s a story best left for another time) along with friends from our society’s “sister society” (again, bearing little—if any—resemblance to sororities found at other universities).

I believe I need to set the stage a bit here since most—if not all—of you have almost no understanding of the culture found in my alma mater. For starters, there are extremely strict rules governing music styles. I won’t go into detail on that because this story will help you understand.

Another thing to note is that there was a demerit system at the university. A student was given one semester to abstain from getting 150 demerits. If he/she received 150 demerits before the end of the semester, he/she would be expelled. There were also certain milestones a student could reach with different rewards along the way. For example, when a student reached 75 demerits he/she received the distinct privilege of no longer being permitted to speak with members of the opposite sex. Upon reaching 100 demerits, the student was honored with confinement to campus (in addition to no talking to the other sex). No off-campus trips after 100 demerits.

The final thing you need to know is that in order for guys and girls to hang out together, they had to be chaperoned. All the time. So, in order for our group to get together and have this worship song time, we needed to have a chaperone. Yes, college students need a chaperone.

I was given the responsibility of selecting the music and Bible selections for the evening, and since it was getting close to Valentine’s Day I chose Scripture passages and hymns that had something to do with love. One song that I chose was Michael W. Smith’s “Above All.” (Please refrain from the Michael W. Smith questions. I was a very different person back then.)

A few days after the event I was called into the dean’s office. Now, every meeting with the dean starts off with something to the effect of, “Do you know why you were called in here?” I learned through experience to always answer with a “no.” It’s better than accidentally giving away more information than they actually know.

He told me that he had received information that I had led a group of fellow students in singing a song that was “unacceptable for Christians because the author of the song also writes songs that contain a ‘rock-and-roll rhythm’.” He continued with a lot of information I don’t remember, and then asked, “Were you aware of this fact about the song’s author?” Before I could answer, he gave me an out. “If you were aware, I’m afraid that offense carries 100 demerits because you knowingly led other students in sin. If you were not aware, the offense carries only 50 demerits because you didn’t willfully help other students sin.”

So what did I do? I lied. Right to the dean’s face. I told him I had no idea that the song’s author was a “rock-and-roll” musician. I already had over 50 demerits; another 100 and I would be expelled.

Did I have a choice? Yeah. I certainly could have told him the truth. Part of me wishes I had. I would have been freed from that place with my conscience intact. Instead, I didn’t want to experience the embarrassment and shame of being kicked out of college, so I lied, and I continued to subject myself to an environment where I would continue to compromise my conscience.

My story is insignificant. It pales in comparison to the stories of sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse that have recently come to light at my alma mater. I don’t want to pretend that the things that happened to me at that university (which eventually grew to be far worse than this story) were anywhere near as heinous as the acts that were committed against others. But I wanted to share that the fear-mongering existed at even the smallest scale.

Why bother with me? My offense was inconsequential at most. I would offer that the administration needed to maintain control. As soon as they lose control of the minutest detail, they will have lost control of the entire university. Little did they realize just how much the students were getting away with right under their noses. But they were too busy fighting pointless battles like mine to notice the bigger problems plaguing the university.

“Welcome to Fundy U. Where we force you to conform to our image and compromise your morals in doing so.”

When I have no control. . .

I was raised to look at life very concretely. It was always black and white.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. And now I’m sitting smack dab in the middle of a gray area, unsure of whether to go to the left or to the right. To close my heart or to hold it open. To hope that this chapter of my life isn’t over yet or to turn the page and see if God is beginning to write a new chapter.

I have no discernible reason to close the door on this opportunity, and I have every reason to believe that God is not yet finished writing this chapter. Save the one reason that is forcing me to relinquish control. Everything was black and white until now.

I close my eyes and wish that it were all a dream. I wish that I’d never walked through that door. I wish that I’d never sent that invitation. I wish that I’d never made that phone call. I wish that I’d never driven to that coffee shop.

Or do I?

If I hadn’t, I’d never have smiled with that smile, or breathed in that aroma, or tasted that flavor, or watched that movie, or cooked that meal.

The beauty is that none of it was for naught. For all of this has taught me that I have absolutely no control over my life. Every trial I face teaches me that when I have no control over my life, I am better off. For herein rests sole authorship of my life—Jesus, my King. And every pain I endure drives me closer to his heart.

So that I may look more and more like him.

I pray that I will no longer have control.

Pornography, abilities, rights, and dental floss. . .

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
~ Dr. Ian Malcolm

I came across an article today on the havoc that pornography wreaks on a relationship. One of the commenters said this: “What I ask you is what is so bad about porn, I really do not see porn as a sin, in itself is releasing sexual tensions. (sic) Only the benighted would think that it’s a sin against ones (sic) wife. The subject is weak, and saying that it’s lust is callow.”

Disregarding the irony of the commenter referring to the desuetude of pornography as childish, I want to focus on what struck me about his attitude. A fixation on one’s capabilities reveals a self-centeredness characteristic of toddlers and young children. It’s hardly becoming of a grown man; the child exclaims, “Look what I can do!” while the adult asks, “Given what I can do, what then should I do?”

The role of the man in his relationship with his significant other (whether wife, fiancée, or girlfriend) is to pursue and sacrifice, not to satisfy his own needs. In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that the husband is to love his wife in the same way that Christ loved the church, sacrificing himself for her. That’s our role model, guys. That’s how we’re to relate to the most important woman in our lives.

I don’t really want to turn this into a post about maintaining control over one’s libido, though that’s certainly an aspect of this. What I want to consider is the general idea of self control. Being able to do/say/eat/own something doesn’t necessitate doing/saying/eating/owning that thing. In America, we live in a culture where we like to assert our rights. It’s my right to drink whatever size of beverage I want. It’s my right to own whatever kind of gun I want. I realize this is taking a turn towards politics, so I’ll stop citing examples now. I’m not going to comment on whether those rights should exist in the first place or not, but there are consequences for asserting our rights. Drinking as large a soda as you can get your hands on will lead to health complications down the road. Owning as powerful a gun as possible will lead to increased suspicion from local authorities.

In the film Jurassic Park, the scientists that John Hammond hired discovered a way to bring extinct animals back to life. As is common in a Michael Crichton story, the characters didn’t think through the consequences of their actions, and the island descends into chaos.

Every action has a consequence. Everything I do affects some area of my life and, by simple association, also affects the lives of those closest to me. The Bible speaks often of maintaining a certain standard of living, not so that we can earn favor with God because through Christ we already have that, but so that we can live at peace with those around us. Paul wrote to the church in Rome some basic instructions for an ethical lifestyle for Christians. In that section of his letter, the message is that we are to give up our needs and desires for the sake of those around us.

During a recent staff meeting, my pastor gave a lesson on the value of discipline. In every other aspect of life, the benefit of growth is additive. For example, the more I read about something, the more knowledge I gain on the subject matter. But when we learn discipline, growth’s benefit is exponential. So, if I discipline myself to floss daily, not only do I no longer have food stuck between my teeth, but my gums grow stronger and healthier, my breath is much more attractive, and I extend my longevity.

I’m seeing this happen in my own life as well. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably discovered that I’m a romantic. But I have a friend with whom I have to keep this character trait in check. You see, I’m the guy that would write letters on parchment paper with a fountain pen and seal them shut with an old-fashioned wax seal, or show up on her doorstep with flowers and a poem. But that isn’t helpful to her at all. Yes, it’s terribly difficult for me to hold that guy back. She’s astoundingly beautiful to me. But I learn to discipline myself—to refrain from singing of her beauty from the rooftops, from whisking her away on a horse-drawn carriage, from writing sonnets about her lilting gracefulness—not just for her well-being, but also in order to learn discipline.

What are the benefits of this discipline? For starters, I begin to understand her need for trust-building. I begin to discover what it means to be patient, not only in this one area of my life, but in many other areas as well.

But it also means that I lay my own wants and desires down and care primarily for what she needs. I give up my natural urges for the sake of meeting her where she’s at and looking after what she requires.

Even though I’m perfectly capable of being the type of guy who writes eloquent love letters and creatively devises romantic evenings, I may not have license to be that type of guy. Because ultimately, every action I take has some kind of effect on another person, likely the one I care for the most. Whatever action I take, I take because I should seek to benefit another, not simply because I can.

Paul put it this way: “In humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
~ John Donne