58: The Film

That was the genius of this movie. It wasn’t a “look at all these starving children and feel guilty.” It was just seeing reality for what it is and these real people accepted it as such. Both the good and the bad. – Elisa, Founder of Average Advocate

I’ve been searching for the words to describe 58: The Film, but someone else had already said what I wanted to say. The quote above accurately details what made 58: The Film so powerful.

It was interesting to take part in the website, because it was there that I discovered many of the organizations behind the film are groups that my wife and I already partner with in various ways (Compassion International, Living Water, ECHO, etc.) That, in and of itself, was motivating. If these groups can work together, then other Christians should be able to gather together and do this, right?

Out the gate, the response has been muted. There have been no world-wide revivals of Christians living out Isaiah 58. There are still the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed.

And yet, Christ still reigns.

This is a hard truth that I have been dealing with lately. If my goals are not met, does that mean Christ is no longer sovereign? The easy answer is, “that’s silly.” The truth is though, many, like me, want to give up when the response isn’t what we thought it would be.

What if the vision isn’t contagious?

The reality is, sometimes we aren’t communicating well. Other times, people aren’t receptive. But regardless of what hindrances exist, we all must live up to what God has called us to.

A friend tonight told me had “stirred” up the worship pastor in our church. He meant it half-jokingly, but the statement made an impact. Am I stirring people up towards God? Because that’s what I think He’s called me to do.

All of this goes to say, 58: The Film stirred something in me. And I want that stirring spread like a wildfire through everyone I encounter. But even if it doesn’t, I must always remember: “I am neither an optimist, nor a pessimist; Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!”

My dearest Father, Who resides in heaven eternal, may Your name by glorified and made holy through Your people. I beg You to use me as an instrument to make Your will a reality on earth, just as it is in heaven. I thank you for the provision you have blessed me and my family with, and I pray that we will be a blessing to others as a result. Forgive me my insecurities and selfish ambitions, just as I forgive others through the strength and love you have given me. Keep me from temptation Lord. Do not let Satan have his way in my life. For everything: this world, the afterlife, all power, and all glory; they’re all Yours eternally. Amen.

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What is the goal?

I’m taking this discipleship class through Liberty University, and so far greatly disliking it. That comes as a surprise to me because I desire to know more about being a disciple of Jesus and how to teach others to be His disciples as well. Every time I think about Jesus’ new command, that we “love one another,” I am moved more to know this Ruler of God’s Kingdom. Surely, in Him is life.

Part of my discontent is a disagreement of purpose. It can summarized in simple terms: there are those who think disciples are a select few of Jesus’ followers, and I am not one of them. I can’t really distinguish discipleship from knowing Jesus, which in mind means all Christians are called to discipleship. Not just the ones who have time. Not just the ones who are eager. Everyone. I think the Great Commission is clear about that (and there are other places that I think support this, but for brevity sake I’ll just say I write about this more here).

This disagreement leads into the next one: the ultimate goal of life. How do we define the goal of life? I think most Christians define it in one of two ways:

Method A (Conservative Theology)

1. The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time, and matter.
2. This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.

If you read that and say, “that’s not how I think at all,” then you probably fall into the second one:

Method B (Liberal Theology)

1. The goal is to establish God’s kingdom on earth by our own hard work.
2. This goal is demonstrated by Jesus in his public career, starting off the process and showing us how to do it.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the final kingdom-on-earth by working and campaigning for justice, peace, and the alleviation of poverty and distress.

Whether you actively think about these kinds of things, the chances are that one of the two methods of discerning the goal of human life influences how you live day in and day out. Examine how you interact with people, how you use your money, what you think when you see corruption and brokenness in real life. Somewhere in that, what you believe is betrayed in your response.

Both of these ideas have good points, but neither of them are complete. People smarter than I have written about this in great detail (and even provided the presented format above). What I am becoming more and more convinced of is that there is another method of how to live.

What if the goal of this life was to be something greater? Not something heroic, but rather something subservient? What if we could see in the Bible a description of what our role was always supposed to be? And what if that role was made possible again through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? I think, if this other method were true, then how we live is vitally important. And our responsibility to other Christians is not to provide fire insurance or propose an easier path, but rather to teach Christ’s commands, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pick our crosses daily and follow Him.

This isn’t something new. And many churches around this world would say they partake in this very thing.

To this, I have two questions:

1. If this is how churches really act in this present age, what will Jesus say about the manner in which we sow the seeds of His Gospel? Will we be the good and faithful servants? Or will our weaknesses and self-seeking purposes be exposed?

And, 2. what would the world look like if every Christian was truly a disciple of Jesus Christ? Such a world would be a wondrous place indeed.

Lord, I am not of strong character. And yet, You have promised me a hope that does not disappoint, a character that is more like Yours. Mold me into the image of God that I was always intended to be. Season my words with grace, that those words may be holy and belong to You. Teach me your ways, that I may forgive as You have forgiven me, that I may sacrifice as You sacrificed for me, and that I may love as You have loved me. Your mind is far above, and Your heart knows no limits. Bring Your justice to this world, Lord, be it through us, or be it not. And in all things, may we give You glory. Amen.

Loss of freedom?

I’ve spent the last couple of years thinking about prison. I have a cousin who is serving his second stint, and it often breaks my heart. While I don’t mean to exonerate him, I still can’t help but feel as though something is wrong with the way he’s been treated.

I do think those who break the law should be given a consequence, I just also happen to think that the consequence should be relevant. Putting someone in prison is almost never related to the actual crime. But what else is there to do?

Dietrich Bonheoffer, who spent the last years of his life in prison, wrote out some ideas he had during World War II to create a better justice system:

I think a lengthy confinement is demoralizing in every way for most people. I’ve been thinking out an alternative penal system on the principle of making the punishment fit the crime; e.g., for absence without leave, the cancelling of leave; for unauthorized wearing of medals, longer service at the front; for robbing other soldiers, the temporary labelling of a man as a thief; for dealing in the black market, a reduction of rations; and so on.

Bonheoffer’s ideas obviously pertain to wartime. So the question becomes, how do we make this work today? I don’t really know. Some crimes are indeed heinous, some kinds of evil to much to simply “repay.” And what of the death penalty? An eye for an eye? No, I could never endorse that. When I was younger, my self-righteousness couldn’t see why a person shouldn’t be deprived of their life if they had taken the life of someone else. I was having an arrogant rant one night when my pastor at the time said, “everyone deserves God’s grace.” I hadn’t ever thought about it quite like that. Tommy went on to talk about how killing someone is taking away any chance they may have at discovering God’s redemptive power. The idea took some time to sink in, but it is a lesson I have never forgotten.

That of course, only complicates the concept of eliminating prison. How can you make a punishment relevant to murder? I don’t know. Public servitude to the victim’s family? I don’t know if that would work. Going Germanic and instating a wergild, or man price? I don’t think money will really soothe someone’s wounds of loss. And let’s face it, some people have enough money to really take advantage of a system like that.

Ultimately, I don’t know of an adequate alternative.  but I know the system we have now is not sufficient. Bonheoffer goes on to ask,

Why does the Old Testament law never punish anyone by depriving him of his freedom?

I think its a question worth looking at. I’m not saying we should adopt the Old Testament law. Surely though, a system designed to reflect God’s desire for justice has some truth to teach us? And if God didn’t see fit to deprive an individual of their freedom, why should we? Because its the best we can come up with? I just don’t think that’s acceptable.

Sympathy, or Compassion?

I’ve been thinking today a lot about the differences between sympathy and compassion. I’m not sure what started me on this, probably something I read in Job today, but I’ve been wrapping my brain around it for the last several hours and have come to some interesting ideas.

1) The short and simple definition of these two are as follows: sympathy is being affected by the suffering of others, while compassion is willingly partaking in the suffering of others.

2) Sympathy comes very easy. Compassion does not.

3) There are very few movies that illustrate true compassion.

The Four Feathers is one of the few examples, but it gets lost in-between the machismo of war and the reverence of romance. But the plight of Harry is a good picture of compassion: moved by the ill news he receives of his friends, he changes his entire life in order to be there to protect and help them. And in this process, he truly suffers with them in battles that are not his to fight.

The thing is, I do not have compassion. Sometimes, I can muster up enough of it to be of some use, but not very often. Its so much easier to sit back and say, “That is just such a shame. You know what? I’ll do [insert meaningful yet ultimately low key action] so that that’ll help them out. I wouldn’t want them to think no one cares.” This is what I do. All the time. Of course, what should say is this, “That’s awful. Is there anything I can do to help you bear this burden?” I should be willing to sacrifice so much more from my own life in order to help those who are without or who are in need.

This isn’t so much about being a good steward with what God has given me. Its about being an instrument of God’s blessing to everyone else. Its not about some arrogant idea of social justice. Its about genuinely feeling something for the person next door because they need someone to care. Ultimately, its about true and sincere and honest religion. The way it was always meant to be.

Do I have this? If not, am I willing to seek it?

Unfortunately, this happens every week…

"God hates gays. Repent or burn in hell."

…at the University of West Florida. I’ve been meaning to post this image for a while. I took this picture back at UWF’s Pensacola campus a month or two ago. This is how we communicate the love of God to people? Really?

Things like this just bewilder me.

I met a an Agnostic woman there who was crying from the disgust she felt at the display this group put on. All I could do was apologize to her. And that didn’t really feel like it was enough.

Oh wait! There's more!

Who would have thought that after 24 hours I would have more to say about communication? Well, I do. I started asking myself about ways that I communicate poorly, and I started remembering things from the Bible. Imagine that? For starters, Jesus talked about relationships quite a bit. Jesus did this whole bit on what the Law said concerning how we treat each other, and how He calls us to live at a standard even higher than simply obeying the Law.

If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Do I do this? Do I make sure that there is no one on this earth who can hold a legitimate claim against me before I come before the throne of God? Hell no. I don’t even come remotely close to doing that. I justify keeping to myself. I convince myself and others that I’ve done all I can, when that is so rarely the case.

As if that wasn’t enough for me to see my own faults, I saw this little note in the margin of my Bible that pointed me to the letter to the Romans. Paul talked about relationships too, apparently.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Bless those who persecute me? Be of the same mind? Respect what is right in the sight of all men?! Seriously? How on earth am I supposed to do all of that? I can’t even agree with some people on the color of the sky and I have to do all of this?

And there it is again: me. I’m the problem. I hide in my hole and surround myself with activities so that I can avoid admitting to someone I may have been wrong. Why is it so hard to say sorry? Or to even ask why someone is upset? Am I that selfish that I won’t make sure something isn’t my fault?

I am becoming more and more aware that there are habits and perspectives in my life that have to change. And as I stand and stare out, looking at these changes like a small child staring down an elephant, I pray that God will not allow me fall short of the life that He has given me.