Wednesday, March 26, 2014

And now for something completely…Divergent

Yes, I am a sucker for target marketing. As I sat in the movie theater last November waiting for the start of Catching Fire, I saw a trailer for a new movie that would be based on another book trilogy - Divergent. I love great stories and one of my friends at the movie with me indicated that the book had been recommended to her by a friend.

So, within a day or so, I had started reading the book. It didn't take me long to finish all three.

And so there I was Sunday night, on the edge of my seat as I watched the movie. I was not disappointed…not even close.

Divergent is a fascinating story, set in a dystopian society where Chicago had once been. Stories are the stuff life is made of, and this is a doozy. Frankly, the two hours and twenty minutes of the movie flew by. There was not a moment where I was even tempted to look at my watch.



Wikipedia summarizes the premise as follows:

In a post-apocalyptic future in the city of Chicago, survivors have been divided into five factions based on their predispositions:Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the Intelligent. Each year, all sixteen-year-olds take an aptitude test that will tell them for which faction they are best suited. After receiving the results of their test, they must decide whether to remain with their family or transfer to a new faction.

Beatrice (or Tris) Prior, played by Shailene Woodley, is faced with this very choice but finds herself to be very different from her peers. She does not fit into any box…but she must choose anyway.

There are so ,many aspects of this story that I could write about. It's certainly a story about choices and how they define us. It's also a story of human depravity, showing our deep need for grace because we are rotten to the core. You can also see a story about standing up to evil, even when it is part of society's institutions.

I've seen posts/articles on all these aspects.

But the thing that may have jumped out to me more than anything else was how it showed our desperate need for community. How we need a group of people, however small, that we can love, trust,  and depend upon unconditionally.

Tris never felt like she fit completely in her family - but when she was in trouble she sought out her brother. She struggled to succeed in her faction Dauntless, especially early, but she found a small group of friends that gave her strength to continue. And the most heart wrenching scenes of the movie were those where her community was shattered - whether by death, betrayal, or separation.

Ultimately, that's what we are all looking for. It's why we cling to family, make friends, and sometimes even compromise our convictions to be liked or popular. LIfe works a lot better when we get our identity from the One who made us and then find others who have done so as well. I am blessed to have friends and family like that.

Life is not a solo act. It wasn't for Tris, although at times it felt like it. And it isn't for you and me. My prayer is that you will find people who surround you and love you unconditionally. People who will love you enough to always be there for you, and who also love you enough to tell you when you're wrong.

Our world is becoming so individualistic. I don't want to conform to that trend; I want to be…divergent.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The solo vacation

I love God's sense of humor. I mean, of course it's going to be awesome, because he created humor and laughter. But when I see it on display…well, it's like no other.

A couple of weeks ago I made an impromptu decision. I love being spontaneous. So I got online and made plans to take a mini-vacation, a long weekend skiing at a place I had never been - Big Sky, Montana.

I have not skied in several years, but every time I do I love it. Makes me wish I lived closer to places where it snows. So I am enjoying a nice relaxing evening before hitting the slopes tomorrow.

All by myself. And I'm enjoying that part of it.

So what's the funny part? Well, as I boarded the plane from Minneapolis to Bozeman, I saw a man walking down the aisle wearing a Bama cap. Someone from home - cool. That should get me a "roll tide." And it did. But then he and his family took their seats, and he was right next to me.

I've got to confess, I was a little thrown. I was several hours into my solo vacation, and I was enjoying the idea of 3.5 days away from everything and everybody. I love vacations with my nephew and nieces, my sisters, my dad, and my friends. But the idea of a few days to recharge my batteries in the open cold air is good too. At least for me.

And now God had put me right next to someone with clear instructions to engage. 

I enjoyed the conversation, but part of me was thinking, What if God wants me to use this vacation to spend time with this family and be a light to them? That was not what I had in mind, and I know God was not pleased with my attitude.

So here's where God's sense of humor comes in. I was sitting on the plane reading a book when this family came into my life for the day. Here is the specific passage I was reading from How People Change (Keller & Tripp):
These are the very reasons why community is such a big part of God's plan to transform us  into the image of Christ. Living in community pushes us to die to ourselves.
Yeah, pretty much part of a whole chapter about how we are need each other, how we need to live in community, how dangerous it is to be a "lone ranger Christian."

All of which I believe. I love my community, my church, my family, my friends - all of which are helping to conform me to the image of Christ.

But this was my time!

Ummm, no, says God. There's no such thing. We are all in this together, and there's no such thing as a vacation from that. God had to be laughing as he brought this family to these seats…on this flight…during this vacation…while I was reading this passage.

Oh no, Donnie. There is no solo vacation, or solo anything else.

We parted ways after we landed, but they are still with me. They are with me as I eat dinner, hang around the lodge, and will be with me as I ride the lifts tomorrow. I am not here - even here - for myself. I'm here for God and for others.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Prayer (Petra)

You never know what gem you're going to be reminded of when you put your playlist on shuffle. Today, for the first the first time in maybe years I heard the song below on my iPhone. And then I listened again, and a third time. Each time after the first, I was 1) lifting a prayer of thanks and praise, 2) requesting God's care for the people I love, and 3) asking to be used by him to build his Kingdom.

Here it is, along with the lyrics. Pray with me please:



First I want to thank You Lord for being who You are
For coming to the rescue of a man who's drifted far
For calling me to be Your son and calling me to serve
Lord the way You've blessed my life is more than I deserve

Keep the ones I love so dearly
Fill their emptiness while I am gone
And fill the loneliness in me, in me

This is my prayer lifted to You
Knowing You care even more than I do
This is my prayer lifted in Your name
Your will be done I humbly pray

Let me be the evidence of what Your grace can do
To a generation struggling to find themselves in You
May they come to know the love of God
May their eyes be made to see

Give me the opportunity to share the truth that sets them free
And may unity in all things
Be the banner of Your church
And let revival's fire begin to burn, begin to burn

This is my prayer lifted to You
Knowing You care even more than I do
This is my prayer lifted in Your name
Your will be done I humbly pray

As we face the last and final hours, turn a wayward country back to You
And keep us from the evil that devours
Keep us on the path and lead us through
Keep us in Your light until Your kingdom comes and our work is done

This is my prayer lifted to You
Knowing You care so much more than I do
This is my prayer in Jesus' name
Your will be done I humbly pray

This is my prayer, this is my prayer

Friday, March 14, 2014

Really? That was me?

What a strange day. I consider myself pretty flexible, pretty laid back. I strive to be the kind of person who is not easily angered. I know that I'm not capable of that on my own, but most days through the power of the Spirit I'm even-keeled.

Today was not one of those days.

Twice I found myself getting really...really...irritated. Yeah, I'd say even angry. I wish I could say it was over something important. Or righteous anger. Or even just understandable.

Nope. Trivial stuff, stuff that I should just let go. But for some reason, it was easy to get under my skin.

Today was a stark reminder of something that I know - just how dark the human heart is and how much we need mercy and grace. The heart is the cradle of all sorts of negative crud that messes up families, friendships, marriages, and, well, relationships. I'm reminded of in so many places:
  • Jesus said, "What comes out of man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceipt, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness." (Mark 7:20-22)
  • My pastor John Ed Mathison, now retired, used to say that when you bump a person holding a glass of water, guess what spills out. That's right - water. The thing that spills out of us when we're "bumped" (like I was today) is what's already inside.
  • Paul wrote in Romans 7:15, "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I want to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, I do."
  • And similar to Paul, the character Merle Dixon on The Walking Dead, reflecting on a life of regret, anger, and self-centered decisions, said, "I don't know the reasons for the things that I do. Never did. I'm a d--- mystery to me." (Episode 3.15, 2013, "This Sorrowful Life")

The fact is, if I'm going to avoid days like today, I'm going to need help. I'm a mystery to me too. I can't do it alone, because there's too much natural rottenness. As Paul wrote later in Romans 7 (verses 24-25), "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord."

That's my only hope. But I am so thankful that... It. Is. Enough.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kevin Bacon explains the 80s

This was just too good not to post. The world has changed so much since the days of Footloose.

Without further comment, ladies and gentlemen…..Kevin Bacon:

Monday, March 10, 2014


What would you do if someone you loved suddenly came back from the dead? 32 years later? Without having aged at all?

That is the premise of ABC's new drama Resurrection, which debuted last night. Eight-year-old Jacob Langston, who had drowned 32 years and was apparently dead and buried, suddenly shows up at his parents' doorstep after having woken up in China with no memory of anything since his death.

Talk about a shock!

The doctor (Jacob's cousin) finds that his heart really is beating.
Jacob's return stirs up all kinds of emotions, as you can imagine. His mother is beside herself with joy at the miracle. His father seems to be conflicted, not knowing whether to believe it. His best friend, now a minister, is questioning what it means for his faith and what he teaches at church. And the local sheriff, whose wife drowned trying to save Jacob, is very interested in the mystery.

A pretty intriguing plot, and I must say I enjoyed watching the pilot.

I saw today that the premiere drew very strong ratings, with 13.3 million viewers and the highest 18-49 rating for a mid-season series premiere in about two years. Obviously, the idea of the dead coming back to life is something that grabs our attention.

This is the great hope of Easter: Not that there is some vague afterlife where we float around on clouds, but that because Jesus rose bodily from the grave, he has paved the way for us to follow him in resurrection.

That is why he told his friend Martha, just before raising her brother Lazarus from the dead, "I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in me will live, even though they die." (John 11:25)

It is noteworthy that the resurrection of Lazarus that shortly followed was much like the characters of the new show - complete and physical, yet temporary. Lazarus was fully alive, but he would die again. Not like the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of the future - complete, physical, and eternal.

Death is a horrible thing. It is the ultimate enemy, and it can rob us of our happiness at a moment's notice. When we see a show where death loses its grip, that's something we want to see. I know it's why I tuned in last night. And why I'll watch again.

Death has lost its grip. It lost its grip, its sting, its victory at the tomb of Jesus.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to Go! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

What a thing to celebrate...I can't wait for April 20, when the Christian calendar will call us all to rejoice in the.... Resurrection.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Making a name

April 7, 1947. That was the day that Henry Ford died. Ford was a pioneer who was responsible for the development of mass production, and of course was the founder of the Ford Motor Company. He died 67 years ago. And today, the last of his grandchildren followed him to the grave.

LIfe is short, and then we die. It's easy to think that the way to active a measure of immorality is to make a name for ourselves. Maybe our legacy will outlive us in such a way that it will give life significance. If we have children, we can pass our name along to them and our influence will live long after.

But, as the death of William Clay Ford today illustrates, they will be gone one day too. And then what will be come of our name.

Advertising agencies understand the futility of building up one's own name.* Look at the ad above. You know the product, and if you're like me, you love it. Coca-Cola. But do you know the name of the ad agency that developed the ad. I doubt it. And neither do I. Because their job isn't to promote their own name. It's to promote the name of the client. In this case, Coke.

And this is why John the Baptist answered the way he did in John 3:22-30. Those who followed John were starting to get jealous of the success that Jesus was having in his ministry. They went to John and told him that Jesus was attracting more followers. At the heart of John's response was this simple statement about Jesus: "He must become greater; I must become less."

And that is the essence of life. If I spend my time trying to build a name for myself, it will be an exercise in futility. Oh, I may make some temporary headway. I may become famous or at least highly respected.

Don't get me wrong. Your name is a very valuable thing, probably the most personal thing you possess. I have spent a career trying to build up a name as an actuary. I have spent a life building a name as a loving uncle and family member. And I have certainly tried to have a name synonymous with integrity.

But that 's all about me. And it can all come crashing down in an instant, fair or not, as it did for Joseph in Pharoah's court (see Genesis 39). And if not, it will eventually fade from the earth's memory.

But what if I'm about building another name. What if I say with John, "He must increase; I must decrease." What if I'm like the ad agencies where my interest is building not my name, but the name of Jesus. That's something with eternal significance, something that can give life meaning.

I love the approach of my pastor Tim Thompson, who starts his day with this prayer: Let there be more of Jesus, and less of me. If we could all do that, life would be a whole lot better….for all of us.

* The idea for this post was totally borrowed from Rev. Tim Thompson's Sunday message this morning at Frazer Church.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent…only a foreshadowing

So today was Ash Wednesday. On the Christian calendar it is the start of the season known as Lent. During this 40 days leading up to Easter, many followers of Jesus fast to remind them of the Lord's sacrifice and to help them look forward to the celebration of the greatest event in history. Some people have give up bizarre things, as a recent study of Lent tweets revealed.  I have a few reasons myself for why I participate.

But for me, Lent is just a shadow. It is a shadow of the light that burst forth when the crucified Jesus rose from the grave, announcing his kingdom, giving us the hope that we would one day follow, and giving us the power to live like we were intended.

The main even will be celebrated next month. And I intend to celebrate…big time!

If we observe Lent, we need to party on Easter. If we give negative things up for Lent, we should take up good things for Easter. And on that note, let me close with an extended quote from N.T. Wright*. He captures it beautifully:
In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again - well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative. Of course you have to weed out the garden from time to time; sometimes the ground ivy may need serious digging before you can get it out. That's Lent for you. But you don't want simply to turn the garden back into a neat bed of blank earth. Easter is the time to sow new seeds and to plant a few cuttings. If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate)that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving…It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that's what Easter is all about.

* - N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 257.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Stealing the glory

I have not seen the new movie Son of God that was released last Friday night. I certainly plan to, because its subject is the focus of my life and anything about him is going to draw my attention. But I have read plenty already. Enough to know that Satan was left out of the story. Not because of some conspiracy by which Hollywood is trying to undermine sound doctrine. no, it's because in the original footage, as aired in the miniseries The Bible, Satan looked like this:

Look familiar? Well, for those of you who don't know, the day after the gospel episode of the miniseries aired, all the talk was about the actor who played Satan…and how much he looked like President Obama.

Many accused the producers of choosing the actor deliberately, to make some non-so-subtle political statement about the President. Many others thought this was ridiculous and oversensitive. But it was all the talk. All the talk.

So, in a massive high-budget production that the makers wanted to point to Jesus, to lift him up as the Savior of the world, everything else about the story got upstaged by Satan. All because he resembled a polarizing public figure.

No wonder they didn't want him to appear in the movie - it would be foolish to make the same mistake twice. This time, they thought, let's make sure the focus is on the Son of God and not the Evil One. Anything that takes away from the glory of the Son, well, it needs to go.

I couldn't follow this story without being overcome with a sense of how the situation mirrors real life. Anytime Jesus is proclaimed, anytime the good news of liberation and salvation is proclaimed, you can be sure that the forces of evil are not happy. So they lurk, ready to pounce on the first opportunity to steal the thunder. Satan always wants to upstage Jesus if we let him.

He can't win, he won't win. But maybe, just maybe, if he can dazzle us with lights and distractions, we'll miss the truth. He is there, wanting to steal the glory. There, like Billy Flynn in Chicago, ready to give us the old razzle dazzle.

After all, how can we hear the truth above the roar?

So yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. I can do without Satan being included…or any other detail for that matter. Anything that threatens to steal his spotlight needs to be left behind. As long as it's about Jesus.

Because it's all - all - about Jesus.