The Noah Movie: Storytelling

NoahLet’s begin where the Book does…

5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

Genesis 6:5-7 KJV

Let’s allow the movie to begin where it desires to as well (these are the first words at the top of the movie’s website)…

The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.

 Since its March 28th release (and before, really) I have had the advantage (and in some cases, disadvantage) of reading many passionate reviews… all before I had seen the movie. I was reminded that some of us actually read reviews to decide whether or not we will go to the theater to see a movie. So reviews have their place. As usual, I come to this evaluation process from a bit of a different angle. For the last 20+ yrs. I have been a professional storyteller. You may look at my resume and wonder why a pastor would call himself that, but that’s exactly what we who deliver sermons are doing… we are telling and retelling the stories found in the Scriptures.

If you were/are looking to the Noah movie to retell the story word-for-word as the Scripture does, I am nearly certain that you will walk away as many have… disappointed. However, most of us who attend Christian churches would be equally disappointed if we showed up to a worship service and the sermon for the day was solely the reading of Scripture. We want to know some perspective. How does that text apply to my life? What am I supposed to do or be because of what the Scripture teaches? I think this movie does both masterfully. Here a few of the high points that stood out to me:

  • total ownership of why God was destroying the earth… the wickedness of man… sin
  • acknowledging God as Creator
  • even enumerating the very acts of creation day by day
  • showing Noah as the righteous yet fallen human that he was
  • even the weird stuff (you already have your list) does not diminish the power of the story

So even if you don’t end up liking the movie, let’s be the ones that are known for what we are for instead of what we are against. May this retelling of the story of Noah cause audiences to consider the greatness and grace of our God.

Calling Foul On the World Vision Debacle

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay PackersIn case you missed it, this week World Vision decided then un-decided to amend its hiring policy as it relates to same-sex couples. In my view this now-event highlights the growing polarity that exists within Christianity as well as the majority of the American culture. Frankly I am most often at odds with both extremes of this continuing expanse. Sadly, Christian voices seem to echo the intentional brashness modeled by news agencies such as FOX and MSNBC. Two examples worth reading are those drawn up by Rachel Held Evans (representing the left, if you will) and one drawn up by Trevin Wax of the Gospel Coalition. In my view both sides give in to sensationalism and, at times, plain untruths – whether intentional or unintentional.

So, I call, “Foul!” I wish that the reality was in keeping with the above NFL-tied picture. I wish that these were offsetting penalties. Unfortunately they are not. This kind of infighting only makes Christianity look arrogant and as equally confused as the rest of the culture seems to be.

Not ironically, I have many common friends with each of the above authors. I also wrote to both of them soliciting some clarifications. Neither responded in time to be included in this post.

Here are few scattered thoughts that I think “both sides” could afford to consider in their writing:

  1. arguments based in emotion are typically short-lived
  2. you could be wrong… allow for that in your language
  3. throwing rocks is sophomoric and unfruitful
  4. the gay/lesbian issue is not going away… we have to learn to handle it better
  5. what you say is always trumped by how you say it

Having said all of that, I understand how and why many in the evangelical world spoke out. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the gay issue is likely to become a benchmark issue for people of faith. I say unfortunately because I find the attention given to this issue to be incongruous with the scope of Scripture. While many have made it a touchstone issue, the Scriptures (by proportion to today’s attention), give it little. In fact, some of you are reading right now mainly to determine if I have come down on “the right side of the issue”.

I have MANY gay friends. And, yes, I am proud of that. Because I have worked hard to earn and keep those friendships. Most of my hard work has had to come because of the ignorance and cruelty of many so-called Christians. People that have spoken and acted in hatred toward people who are gay. 100% of my gay friends know my theological position regarding their sexuality. And if you ask any of them – and if we know the same people, feel free to ask – they will tell you that I have and will always show them the love of Jesus as true friends.

The bottom line in this story for me is that I don’t know why Richard Stearns and the board of World Vision thought their initial revised position was a necessary step. I’m not sure that I would have made the same initial decision if it was mine to make. However, I’m equally bothered that they could change course so quickly when pressured. Why would such a weighty decision that was presumably prayed about and considered deeply be abandoned because of the cacophony of the masses? Policymaking should be done slowly on the basis of principle… not constituents.

So the biggest foul for me continues to be the way in which Christians express their varying points of view. If we say we are trying to follow Jesus, the way we express ourselves matters as much or more than having the “right position”.

Weeping With Westboro

Westboro Baptist Church Case to be Heard by Supreme CourtMost of the tears I have shed in the last many years with regard to the Westboro Baptist Church have been because of their actions. However, Romans 12:15 also reminds those of us who follow Jesus that we are to…

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

And so today we weep. As difficult as it may be, we weep at the passing of Fred Phelps. Mr. Phelps, I will not do him the honor of calling him by any other name, was clearly a tormented soul. But he was a soul. One for whom Jesus died… even if he did not have a clue what following Jesus was supposed to entail.

There will be a day when it is appropriate to talk about the legacy of Mr. Phelps. Today is not that day. May he rest in the peace that he so often attempted to refuse to others.

Just Be Nice

be niceI’m writing this post now because of the new tone I am trying to set in my own life. It’s easy for me to be nice to people I agree with. It’s pretty easy for me to be nice to people I like. But insert a person who does not fit as one of the aforementioned, and I am tempted to leave my niceness behind.

Some of the most difficult words of Jesus for me to live out are those found in Luke 6:32-36 that say…

32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Sadly, being nice is not often an identifying characteristic of those of us who say we follow Jesus. Instead, too often we are drawn in to discussions that look and sound more like arguments and mean-spirited debates rather than the compassionate conversation we should be modeling. We call names and demonize individuals and their positions with which we cannot identify.

There must be a better way. We should hold our convictions as charitably as we do firmly. Engage in discourse. Learn how others – especially those we may not agree with – form their convictions. Is there a better way? There is, in fact… just be nice.

The Importance of Black History Month

black-history-monthThe best thing you can do this month may also be the most painful… remember. Since 1976, as a nation, we have officially recognized the month of February as Black History Month. Educate yourself. Feel. Think. Remember.

Read the Facts
Thankfully (and sadly) there is no shortage of information about the atrocities of the black struggle. Just as you study any other time period, read. And read broadly. Read people you know you agree with. Read people you know you disagree with. Read people you don’t know. In this collective reading you will arrive at the facts.

Listen to Stories
Simply reading the facts of the Civil Rights Movement though falls woefully short. It is too easy to challenge numbers or doubt history. When this history and these numbers begin to take shape is when they are attached to real people and their stories. Hollywood gets this. That’s the power of “42″… the Jackie Robinson story and “The Butler”… the story of Cecil Gaines… and other such stories. They help us to see that black history was about black people. People made in the image of God just like you and me. These same individuals were often treated like cattle and worse. Listen.

Talk About It
An important part of education is discussion. As you gather facts and hear the stories of those who lived in that hell, talk about what you are finding. Allow discussion to challenge and deepen your observances. Ask questions of friends of color. They obviously have a different perspective than you on each of the previous two categories.

You will not always be able to understand. Reading, listening, and talking affect each of us differently. But each of us can feel. Each of us can read the facts, listen to the stories, and continue to learn by talking about it. And in so doing we begin to see black history for what it is… awful, embarrassing, and a blight to Christians who stood idly by… and much, much worse. Allow that to change you. Know the difference between sympathy and empathy. Expose your heart.

So this February and hereafter, remember what you’d rather not.

I Hate Valentine’s Day

Valentines DayToday is a day I wish I could use Google Analytics to see the variance in numbers between male and female readers. Speaking in general, I think it is safe to say that a majority of women look forward to Valentine’s Day. And perhaps an equally overwhelming majority of men, do not. My reason(s) for not caring for Valentine’s Day actually stem from the fact that I consider myself somewhat of a romantic. I suppose you’ll have to ask my wife for verification. I don’t want anyone – not even the calendar – telling me how, when, or to what degree I ought to love my wife. There are more specific reasons, too… among them are these:

Love Is (often) Silent
Some of the best ways to say “I love you” do not need words. It’s true that actions speak louder than words. And as it relates to love, I know most women would rather SEE “I love you” than merely HEAR it. This is where the concept of Love Languages (click on the link to find this amazing guide) has been so valuable to me in my personal life and in my counseling.

Love Is Consistent
If most of us (regardless of gender) were honest, I’m pretty sure we’d rather feel loved 365 days than 1. While I will be the first to admit that my average is less than perfect, I try to live this way. Love as a lifestyle instead of love as an assignment.

Love Is Creative
Consistently over the years, the gifts that have meant the most to my wife were those that included me listening and investing time and effort to obtain them. Don’t get me wrong, she digs chocolate and flowers as much as the next person (and I try to purchase both throughout the year). I just find it wooden and plastic that every February 14 people all over the world feel loved and appreciated if they have these kinds of things. You’re worth more than that.

So, ladies, don’t settle for 1 day. Find a guy who is willing to love you better than that. And, guys, the only way this works – us saying we hate Valentine’s Day – is if our women know that we love them much more frequently than one prescribed day on a calendar. Go!

PS: We’re still going out to dinner tonight.

First Aid: Healing Your Heart

first aid

Some recent discussion on my Facebook wall discovered that there are several friends with whom I shared my childhood who have lasting injuries because of insensitive people (or worse).

Anyone who has ever been sick – really sick – will tell you that the most difficult part of the illness was the path to being whole again. Thankfully our bodies typically have a built-in surge that helps with this. Now imagine an injury that is invisible. While it is tough enough to treat something that you can see, treating the invisible seems, at times, impossible.

As I have been pondering and praying about all of the stories that have been retold these last many days I thought of this simply analogy that may help us begin to heal our hearts. It has everything to do with first aid.

There is no (ultimate) healing apart from Jesus. Maybe the saddest part of some of our realities is that these hurts occurred within the walls of a place we trusted to act Christianly. Certainly at times, they did not. But the way of Jesus is the way of forgiveness. You’ve heard it said that bitterness (or for our purposes, unforgiveness) is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. The first part of finding true healing for your heart is forgiving the person or persons who sinned against you. Healing cannot occur until our our hearts are reconciled to (made right with) God. This has to be first.

It is likely that you cannot do this alone. And it’s ok. You were not meant to live life alone. Find someone else to help you get your head and heart around what you’re feeling. I remember the humiliation and embarrassment I felt the first time I went to counseling as an adult. I felt that I should have been able to pull myself together on my own. How wrong I was. Having a trained counselor help me walk through my hurt was the best investment I could have made. Sit with a trained professional who is a person of faith and allow them to speak into your life.

Many of us have learned to forgive and have continued to have fruitful and fulfilling lives. Don’t let that make you feel guilty if you’re not there yet. Be encouraged that healing is available. Just as physical injury requires specific medical attention, so do our spiritual injuries. Be purposeful. Take your time. And remember the right order… first Jesus… then, aid from others.

The Lens of Time

the lens of timeIt has been said that time heals all wounds. Unfortunately that simply is not true. This Monday I made an unscheduled stop at the place where I grew up – in the shadow of the Sears Tower (yes, it will always be the Sears Tower to me). My simple post to Facebook – just three words – read, “So many memories.” What ensued was remarkable in some ways and sad in others. Bethel Baptist Church and Schaumburg Christian School were and are not perfect places. They were however, the places that I made lasting friendships. Friendships that have passed the test of time.

And there’s that word again… time. So if time does not heal all wounds, what is its potential value? I think it better to see time as a lens. As we look through the lens of time we are able to see things more clearly. Function and dysfunction. Good and evil. Joy and pain. Events may not be healed with time, but they can be understood. And, hopefully, made right.

In my professional life I have been blessed to help people. I have seen two common trends: one, people tend to view the pain of others as less than it really is; and two, people tend to see their own pain as greater than it really is. Whichever “side” of that you may fall on, it would greatly help the discussion move forward if you could lean into those two trends a bit.

How exactly does the lens of time work? We may come to different conclusions about things or events, but I think all of us have benefitted more or less in these kinds of ways:

  1. time gives perspective – I remember the first time I returned to my childhood street in Hoffman Estates. I had been gone several years and now had kids of my own. I could not believe how short the street had become and how the slope of the street had diminished. Of course, neither of those things were true. Only my perspective had changed.
  2. time brings maturity – I acknowledge that age and maturity are not synonymous. That said, most of us move through our youthful experiences and understand that things done/said in immaturity are just that. I guess that’s perspective, too.
  3. time allows for forgiveness – Even our judicial system gets this. Whether we always think it fair or not, certain crimes have statutes of limitations. Perhaps so should we.

In saying all of this I am NOT saying that things spoken or done do not matter… they do. I’m just trying to open the door for civil discussion by saying that time should help us see Bethel and SCS as they really were – flawed places that did some things wrong and some things well. May we all see more clearly as we look through the lens of time. PS: I don’t think it means that all of us must see everything the same way.

Learning How to Love

Pure MichiganI am on my way to Bair Lake Bible Camp in Jones, Michigan, where I will be speaking to a group of students this weekend. Many of these are the same students I got to know last year on this same winter retreat. They’re from Crosspointe Christian Church and Hope Community Baptist Church near Detroit. Please pray that I can be clear and that the Holy Spirit can bring understanding. Our focus for the weekend is love. We will seek to reflect upon these four questions:

  1. What does the world’s love look like?
  2. How much did Jesus love His disciples?
  3. How do we love each other when it’s hard?
  4. Will not-yet-believers be attracted to us because of our love?

Whenever I speak for events like this, I ask the leaders to tell me the thing(s) that they feel need some extra attention. Instead of speaking some random, pre-packaged sermons, we are able to talk about things that have already been identified as areas of need. Thanks for praying!

2013 A Great Year for re:THINK

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Life of Pi and Religious Pluralism

kinopoisk.ruOn occasion, and not very often, I am late to the dance. Though I have been very aware of this movie and its acclaim, I only recently saw The Life of Pi for the first time. Part of the backstory is what interested me most. There is a scene in which the main character Pi, a younger person at the time, discusses his beliefs. We have already seen that he is an amalgam of Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam. There is a growing (yet not new) understanding of faith known as religious pluralism. Recently Pope Francis was rumored to have said that, “All religions are true.” A little digging proves this is a false allegation, yet this same sentiment is becoming more prevalent. From my vantage point there are two main streams in these thoughts…

Why We Want Religious Pluralism to Work
An all-paths-lead-to-God theology is desirable because it almost certainly puts all people on equal ground both here and hereafter. We want to believe one of two equally-merited thoughts… one, that all people are generally good and should be treated as such; and two, that if a Deity does exist, his love should outweigh his justice. Further, we want to see spirituality as a series of paths, and that all paths lead to heaven or wholeness or karma or whatever the good place (reality) you may subscribe to.

Why Religious Pluralism Cannot Work
Because I have learned not to, I will not begin with the Bible. Let’s start from an intellectual point of view. Ironically and sadly enough, the term we have borrowed from geography does not work in geography anymore than it does in spirituality. All roads do not lead to Rome. Well, they do… but only if you misspell it “roam”. We know that if we head north on I-75 in Atlanta it will take us through Knoxville, TN on our way through Cincinnati, OH on to Detroit, MI and all the way to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. I know. I took my college roommate there to renew his Canadian visa. It will not, however, take us to Rome, Italy. No intelligent person would say so. Yet far too many believe that this same line of thought is possible in spirituality.

And then there’s the Bible. Christian, if you honestly study the pages of this book you know that it is both lovingly inclusive to all who believe, yet exclusive for those who do not. You don’t have to like this. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to understand it. You can even wish that it was not so. But none of that changes what the Scriptures say. As I have argued elsewhere (and will continue to), this does not give us the freedom to beat not-yet-believing people over the head with it (the Bible). It does force us to – at least – admit that there are some final conclusions about destiny and what happens to us ultimately that are spoken of distinctly in the pages of Scripture.

In closing (and hopefully opening), my prayer for anyone reading this is that you would begin in a place of intellectual honesty. All religions simply cannot be simultaneously true. Few, if any, would allow it. But even with those facts, and from my admittedly Christian viewpoint, loving one another is not optional. Speaking kindly to people (especially when you disagree with them) is not take it or leave it. Finally, the words of Jesus in John 3.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.