Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Gospel Coalition: Art and the Cross

This is a video that I ran across called "Bad Art and the Tortured Beauty of the Cross". Thought provoking and well done, well worth the ten minutes it takes to watch. It is also a good site to follow for book reviews, news and thoughts on the world today from many of the church's most interesting minds. 

I have added a second video that further discusses the arts and the "Christian" bubble. 

Bad Art and the Tortured Beauty of the Cross from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Art, Conscience, and Theological McCarthyism from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lessons from the king

The pinnacle of Disney animation, “The Lion King”, is back in theaters in 3D. Watching the film again for the first time in years brings back many memories. Watching the film as an adult lends itself to seeing the many messages that come at you fast and furious in the slim running time of less than an hour and a half. The movie has so many things to say about so many important issues that it may leave you in a bit of a philosophical mood for a while (this is if you are actively paying attention to the movie and not just swept up in nostalgia).  
One of the biggest and most interesting ideas to jump out of the film is the idea of being defined by your past. We all have a past. Sometimes that past is hard to forget or feels as if it will forever dominate your destiny. Simba feels that he is responsible for the death of his father and because of that is not worthy to be king. The viewer of the film knows what Simba does not: He was not responsible for the death of his father, but his evil uncle was. Yet this mistake, this scar in his past marks is heart and becomes his identity deep down. He is a failure, he has not lived up to expectations, and it is his actions that have led to the death of the king. 
Simba does the only thing he thinks he can he runs. The past hangs over his head like a rain cloud that never leaves. He takes on a false identity and survives, but he is not truly alive. He ekes out a living away from his responsibilities and true self. He buys into the lie that bad things happen, mistakes cannot be overcome and that the only way to move forward is to just live for the moment – the belief that the only way to make it is to have no worries. The best way to have no worries is to live a mediocre and sheltered life with no risk. Colossians 2 warns us against buying into empty philosophies of the world that seem to give meaning and comfort, but in the end are meaningless and lack the all-encompassing answer that we are truly searching for.   
What changes him? He comes face to face with his responsibility and is called to be his true self. See, there is a true identity that is buried deep inside him. He is not defined by his past or one mistake but the sum of who he is and most importantly, he is defined beyond himself by his connection and relationship with is father. This is the same idea that the Apostle Paul shares with the Christians in Corinth;
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 
Our identity, like Simba’s, is no longer based on merely ourselves but on who we are in Christ. We are reconciled to him and given a new identity in him through his work and not something we have done. 
There is that key scene in the film where Simba looks at his reflection in the water and at first, sees only himself. Then Rafiki touches the water and mask comes off. The reflection is that of Mufasa, Simba’s father. What a beautiful picture of the way that God see us in light of Jesus’ work on the cross. He does not see us and the sin that separates us, he sees us through Jesus as the true person we have been created to be. 
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Even in this, like Simba, we have a choice: do we run from the past or learn from it? In the revelation of our new identity, we have a choice to make. Do we accept it and see our past in light of the work of God, or do we continue in the same way of viewing ourselves? Do we continue to run from the past or learn from it and move forward? In the light of the Gospel, out past and mistakes that we make are made new, they are part of God’s redemptive work. No longer are they the definition of who we are because we have been made new. Now this does not mean that there are not consequences to past actions or that the pain from them may not still be there, but it does mean that they are not meaningless. The Gospel can give them purpose and teach us and help change us. 
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
This leads us to the last point: We are saved and redeemed and given new identities in Christ not just to save us from hell or make our lives better, but because there are things that God has made us to do. 
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. 
At the end of the film, Simba goes back home and defends his homeland, he takes back his kingdom from the evil that has set itself up in his absence. With his identity intact and deep knowledge of who he is, he does the great work that he was prepared for. What work have you been prepared for and what his holding you back from doing it?

For more on this I highly recommend reading "Gospel" by J.D. Greear. It is an excellent book on the transformative work of the Gospel in our lives and living in the new identity in Christ that we have.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Digital Frontier

The digital frontier brings to our fingertips many resources and I want to highlight one of my favorites: podcasts. I now have access to many good preachers and teachers from across the U.S. and even the world. I wanted to share with you some of my favorites and encourage you to make them a part of your spiritual growth each week. Each of these podcasts are ones that I listen to and that God has been using to further my relationship with him. 

The first podcast I recommend is from The Village Church here in Dallas. Matt Chandler is a gifted speaker. He has a great ability to say things straight and really drive home the point that we live for God's glory. I really like Matt's preaching and the practicality that he brings to every sermon. Each one gives me something to think about for a long time or leaves me feeling like I know my Savior better. 

The second podcast is from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Timothy Keller has been called a modern day C.S. Lewis. His ability to take difficult subjects and walk you through them reminds me of my best seminary professors and yet it never feels like you are in class. His breadth of knowledge in theology and literature pepper his sermons and give you much to think about and a lot that you want to read when he is done. His recent sermon "The Wounded Spirit" has been very influential in my walk with God; it has helped me understand the transformative work of the Gospel even more. I highly recommend this podcast as a good starting place.

  This podcast is done by Pastor James Harleman of Mars Hill in Seattle. Each of the podcasts is from their Film and Theology series. The church gathers to watch a popular movie and then James discusses it from a spiritual standpoint and in context of the larger meta-narrative of the world. It is enriching to listen through any of these after watching a film and see where it connects with Scriptural principles and the greatest story of all. A great one to start with is the podcast on "Star Trek" from 2009.

J.D. Greear is the newest pastor that I have started listening to, but he has already had a huge impact on my life. He has been going through a series this summer called "Home Wreckers" about the things that ruin our relationships. These messages have all taught me so much. They have also left me needing to get on my knees and confess before the Lord. I pray you listen to them. They really are worth your time. 

The last one I'll mention is Mark Driscoll. He makes things simple and easy to understand without dumbing the message down. He is passionate about the Lord and cares deeply, wanting all to know the glory and grace of the Gospel. Listening to him every week has taught me a lot and has challenged me to take seriously the call to study Scripture thoroughly (he has been on a series in Luke for two years at his about thorough).

I hope that these will be as helpful to you as they have been to me. In this digital age we have access to so much to help us grow in the Lord and then pass it on to others. May he richly bless you as you grow in him and spread his Gospel to the world. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bigger Story

I watched “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” tonight. I resonated with it because I have felt like the main character for most of my life - feeling so much pressure to live up to the expectations of others. Like Craig, I have been crippled in many ways by my own warped sense of where I should be based on comparative thinking. This leads to inward and depressive thoughts and a crushing weight that you cannot seem to lift. You lack the ability to see the good that is around you and are left with tunnel vision, focusing only on what you can’t seem to get right.

The solution in the movie is good, but it is only part of the answer. Focusing on other people and helping them is a start, but it does not completely take the weight away. The only thing capable of that is the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit and the light of the Gospel. God makes us into new creations the moment we believe and trust in him for salvation. This work renews what was broken and restores the soul. We are now no longer bound to the disappointing and destructive cycle but to goodness eternal. We live in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it is in that power that we can overcome the darkness that lays waste to our souls. Oh, we will struggle and evil will sometimes masquerade as who we are, but that will be the lie. We are God’s and as such are seen through the lens of Jesus’ sacrifice. If you are a believer then you live in the perfect love of God that casts out all fear. 

So the first answer to be found, if one wants to get out of the mire, is a new identity not based on your own works, but on someone perfect: Jesus. It is then that we can truly be free - free of ourselves and free to help others. In none of this am I responsible for healing or recreating, but it is God who does that work. It is for his glory then, because I can claim none of the credit but I can rejoice in the outcome. And that is good news. 

The second answer is to be known and know. Be known my someone - not just 99% but 100% known. It is in being known that helps ground us and keep the devil from being able to dig in and grab hold of us. If one is known and knows others intimately, then there is freedom because nothing is hidden; the focus shifts and we are part of a larger story. The light of the Gospel and being known by others keeps us from being wrapped up only in ourselves and helps us see our true reason for being here, which is to know God and enjoy him forever. It is then, when we lose ourselves and see that the main character in our stories is not us but God, we can begin to experience freedom.