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A movie review for “Noah” (not really)

ImageThere has been so much controversy about the new movie “Noah” that I had to see it. It’s an unbiblical telling of a Bible story which brings up the obvious question, “Why bother telling the story of you are going to stray so far from the original?”. But then, how well do we really know the originals? I’ve always wanted to do a Bible study were we could rehash the traditional children’s stories from the Bible but see them through our sometimes enlightened, sometimes jaded adult eyes. I’d love to sift through the stories of Noah, David and Goliath and Daniel and the Lion’s Den and find out what I missed the first time around.

I once asked the ladies in the Bible study that I was leading, what they would like to work on as we finished the book that we had been reading through. An elderly woman in the group suggested reading “Esther” from the Old Testament. She thought it was so romantic when we are told that the king loved Esther so much that he offered her whatever she asked for. It had been a long time since I had read Esther. I didn’t remember too many details but it sounded appropriate for our little group. As I started to do some preparatory research, I came across something fascinating. Many commentaries on the Bible compare the books of Ruth and Esther. The book of Ruth appears early in the Old Testament, before that time in history when Israel was ruled by kings. It is a beautiful, romantic narrative which compares a human love story to God’s love for humankind. It has been called the “Gospel of Romance”. Esther, on the other hand, is not a romantic story at all. It takes place after the time of kings when the glory days of the nation of ancient Israel have come to an end. This book is a story of two displaced Hebrews, living in a foreign country under a despotic king. There is palace intrigue, evil plans, an overambitious king and those who get caught in the middle of it all. God uses this story as a backdrop to show us His providence in the world. Even when we choose not to acknowledge God, He is sovereign and things will still go His way. An interesting thought for our earthbound minds and prideful hearts. He is truly in control whether we bow to Him or not.

My group spent twelve weeks studying Ruth and Esther. At our final meeting, I asked them what they had learned. The woman who had originally suggested the study, simply smiled. She was thinking of that part where the king offered Esther whatever she wants because he loves her so much. My friend just kept saying, “Isn’t it romantic?”. And the way she remembered it, it was romantic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t accurate. The king was never really in love, he was in lust for the young and beautiful Esther.

Esther has been called the “Gospel of Providence”. God’s good news to us that His plans, which include our well being, will prosper despite our efforts. The king was a lecherous, easily manipulated, power hungry man, Esther an obedient young woman and God would use them both for His purposes.

My friend was unable to get beyond a childhood telling of Esther’s story. Because of that, she was missing so much richness that was tucked away in those ten chapters. It makes me wonder how much I miss because I read Scripture blinded by past lessons. The Bible contains layer upon layer of meaning in each line but if we are not careful, we’ll miss much of it. We tend to think, “Oh, I know this story, I can just skim over it” or ” I memorized the Lord’s Prayer back when I was little, I don’t need to waste time with that”.

So before I went to see the movie “Noah”, I reread the original. I found the director’s version to be very imaginative. Though I didn’t agree with most of his interpretation, it did make me think of the parts of the story that we glossed over in Sunday School. I can’t help but feel that this is what God intended all along. Not that we learn a story or memorize a verse and move on from there, but that we continue to relearn and rememorize through different stages of life. Words that are divinely inspired will continue to reveal more layers of meaning as we change and grow. Scripture will not change, but we do. The stories that we loved as children will remain but we will find new depths to  them. My favorite verses will come back to me again and again. Each time I delve deeper into the words, I will renew the promises, remember the stories and, ultimately, reveal the love that God has had for me all along.

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P1000258His problem was a common one. He couldn’t resist temptation. I’m sure he didn’t look much different from his friends on the outside. But inside, well, that was a different story. They trusted him to handle the money for their little group, but he was already stealing from the stash. I don’t think his friends even suspected his duplicity until he marched the authorities up to his boss to have him arrested on trumped up charges. It was all done for a few coins, thirty in all.

Some say that Judas was a young patriotic Jew who, in his rush to restore the Jewish nation, decided he couldn’t wait for Jesus to act any longer. He probably felt that he had wasted enough time with this traveling preacher and they weren’t getting anywhere. Perhaps that was a part of it, but Scripture records his greed more than his impatience. He had been cooling his heels for three years with Jesus but he just couldn’t resist the sound of jingling coins.

It’s important to note that he was not alone in his final treacherous act. He allowed himself to be put under Satan’s complete control. I don’t think that true evil can surface without Satan’s involvement. As low as mankind can stoop, Satan stoops lower. Judas’ greed, impatience and unwillingness to let Christ’s teachings change him opened a door for Satan to enter.

I know that I have opened a few doors myself. Sometimes, I would just barely crack a door open. You know how it is when you want to peek in just far enough to see what it would be like. As hard as it is to admit, this is the behavior which puts us all in danger of a regular reoccurrence of betraying Christ.

So my problem is a common one. All the doors that lead to sin beckon me, yet there is another door that leads to Christ. If I can stay focused on that door while combining my yearnings with repentance, I just might have something worth hanging on to – the promise of salvation.

…Admitting my failures

…Acknowledging His sovereignty

…blending in His grace and mercy

…allowing my need for Him to overpower my life

…this is the road of a Christ follower in a difficult world.

 

 

 

 


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A Tale of Three Mary’s

The last of the snow is finally melting and even though it is still cold out, the temperature is starting to sneak back up the thermometer and I’m looking forward to spring. Some of my neighbors still may have a few lingering Christmas decorations that have been frozen in place for a  few months but I’ve already placed an Easter themed wreath on my door. Winter hangs on but spring is going to happen…eventually.

The last time I saw my extended family was at Christmas when it was cold and snowy out but now we are planning what we will do for Easter and hoping for a warm, spring day to celebrate on. As I wait for Easter, I find it curious to think that Jesus had only one other human at his side on both that first Christmas and the first Easter and that was his mother Mary. There were two other Mary’s who were also close to Jesus during his time on earth and this in between holidays, winter ending and not quite spring might be a good time to sit back and revisit these ladies.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most striking examples of faith that we meet in the Bible. She was a young girl from a little backwater part of the mighty Roman empire. When we first meet her she is engaged to be married to Joseph. The angel Gabriel appears to her with an incredible message. Women married early in those days so we can assume that Mary herself is just a young girl when she received the angel’s message (Luke 1:28). She is “greatly troubled” by the words. What must she have been thinking? She had heard stories of Moses, David and Elijah. They had been “highly favored by God” and look what they had to go through. Surely, God would not ask anything that extraordinary of her. She was just a child in a poor country town on the edge of nowhere. But the angel continues his message. He tells her that she “will be with child and give birth to a son…the Son of the Most High”. Mary’s answer is very practical. She wanders how this could happen to an unmarried girl but Gabriel explains that this is God’s son who she will bear. Is she terrified or perhaps just so overwhelmed by the very idea? Who can say? Thoughts of her angry parents and fiancé’s inability to believe her story must have frightened her. What would she do? How would she live? Yet, if the angel’s message is unbelievable, Mary’s answer is staggering and resounds down through the ages.

“I am the Lord’s servant”, Mary answers, “may it be to me as you have said”.

Complete submissiveness, no questioning, pleading for clarification or outright denial. I like to imagine that she paused for a moment, took a deep breath and then answered, but Scripture doesn’t record that. We just see the most stunning example of faith, trust and submission ever recorded. She accepts her fate and trusts God to handle all the details.

There have been times when I knew that God had a job for me and I wasn’t too thrilled with it. Maybe it was a volunteer position that no one else wanted or dealing with a sticky issue with a friend. I knew it was the right thing to do but I dragged my feet the whole way. Mary’s example of total submission to God’s will is not something we see very often. Sadly, most of us tend to react more like Jonah did when he ran from God.

Mary’s complete trust is evident throughout her son’s ministry. When the family attended a wedding and the host ran out of wine, Mary knows exactly where to turn for help. She will continue to be mentioned throughout Jesus’ earthly life. She is with Him at the cross and with the disciples praying after the Ascension. She was a little girl with a big faith and all the strength that is needed for that most difficult thing – submission.

Two other “Mary’s” come to mind. They each followed Jesus. If his mother can teach us with her words, these two ladies teach us by their actions.

Mary of Bethany was all about worship and adoration. Mary lives in Bethany with her sister Martha and brother Lazarus. They are friends of Jesus and hosting a dinner party at their home. Mary and her sister are in stark contrast to each other. Martha is always bustling about serving her guests but Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet. In Luke 10:38-41, Martha tries to complain about Mary’s “laziness” to Jesus but the Lord defends Mary. He tells Martha that while she lets everything distract her from her guests, Mary has decided to focus on Christ and that is always a good thing.

Probably, the best known story of Mary of Bethany is when she poured perfume on Jesus’ feet at another dinner party at their home. Martha’s reaction is not recorded but she is probably too busy to notice. She is there, serving as usual, as recorded in John 12:2. Mary takes a small jar of very expensive perfume and pours it out on Jesus’ feet. She dries it with her hair. The men present are shocked, but Jesus again defends her. He understands her.

Mary wants to show her love and devotion to Christ with her every movement. She seldom speaks yet her actions tell her story. When her brother Lazarus died she was beside herself with grief . When Jesus arrived on the scene she falls at his feet. She can think of nothing else to do than to throw herself on her Lord’s mercy. The only time Mary does speak is at this moment when she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. Jesus, himself, is moved to tears. In a powerful scene Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and the family is restored. The next time we see Mary is at the dinner party where she is pouring perfume and everyone is wondering if she has lost her mind. She does not speak. She simply shows her love and devotion to God. This is pure worship. She doesn’t care that those present will laugh or worse, have her removed from the room. She simply answers her overwhelming need to worship God regardless of how others will receive it. She is only concerned with Jesus’ response and He understands completely. Worshipping God is a way of saying “Thank you” to your Savior for all he has done and will do for you. How do you express those feeling? Not all of us can be as open and demonstrative as Mary was but can we try to put our love for God first and foremost in everything we do? Mary didn’t hold back; neither should we.

Lastly there is Mary, called the Magdalene. We are told that she had seven demons cast out of her. How horrible her life must have been until the moment of deliverance. She appears in Scripture as a loyal follower as Christ after the demons are removed from her life. She even helps to support Jesus (Luke: 8:1-3). Mary only wanted to be where ever Jesus was. She loved him and wanted to be in his presence.

Yet, she is more than just a picture of devoted love. She stuck around when things got tough. She was at the cross, the burial and even returned to the tomb after the Sabbath. When the empty tomb was discovered, the disciples went home but Mary stuck around. She was crying and didn’t know where else to go. It is then that the risen Christ appears to her. What a wonderful gift that God has given her! The first sighting of the Resurrected One was by Mary!

When things are going well, we want to stay by Jesus. We like to revel in how blessed we are. We slap each other on the back and say “blessed” and “hallelujah” but what happens when things go wrong? And they will go wrong. I hope you know that. It’s not your fault. It will just be a part of God’s plan for your life. Will you be able to stick with Jesus on dark days as well as good times? It will be very hard but we can look to the examples set before us. Mary, the mother of Jesus, shows us faith and trust. Her submission to God’s will is breathtaking. Mary of Bethany lives her life visibly showing her thankfulness to God. Mary Magdalene exudes simple yet profound love, just wanting to be wherever God may put her. A tale of three Mary’s that is still relevant today. Faith, trust, worship and love as it was lived out two thousand years ago and still holds true today.


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The Garden Gate

It’s March now though you wouldn’t know it by looking out the window. There are still some huge snowdrifts out there and the cold snaps are so persistent that we had to give them a new name. Now we call them a “polar vortex”. But I can still dream. I let my eyes wander over all the seed catalogs that have been arriving in the mail and my mind is off and running, planning my gardens for this summer. I’m envisioning one corner awash with various color sunflowers, a trellis covered with the lavender flowers of sweet peas, the pungent smell of basil and oregano amid towering tomatoes bursting out of their cages. It’s a good dream and I will work hard to see this happen. There’s nothing quite like cooking a meal using your own produce or arranging a vase of flowers snipped from your own cutting garden. A very good dream, but there is one thing that must happen first. The soil must be prepared by tilling and fertilizing. It’s a difficult, dirty, smelly job. So I do what any good gardener does – I call in reinforcements, namely my husband.

As he rototills the soil, I am always surprised at the rocks he tosses aside. When he’s done with his part, the soil is smooth, broken up and ready for planting. Yet each spring we will find rocks that have worked their way to the surface over the course of the winter. It’s been a brutally cold and snowy winter and I can’t help but wonder what boulders are lurking there, awaiting the gardener’s plow in the spring.

My pre-spring daydream creates the perfect backdrop for reading Luke 8:5-15 in which Jesus tells his followers the parable of the sower. The people of that agricultural society must have been able to connect with this teaching, but today it is curiously puzzling. Jesus compares the growth of God’s seed within us to a garden. If the seed falls on unbroken soil, such as a hard path, it cannot penetrate to the heart and well not be able to grow. Indeed, a bird passing by will be able to snatch it away. But the fertile soil of a believer is able to accept God’s Word. Just as my husband digs and churns up the soil with a rototiller, so does God prepare our soil. Only as we are broken of the pride that hardens us, can God plant, water and nurture His seed within us.

Jesus goes on to mention two other types of soil, rocky and thorny. The rocky soil is one that gladly takes the seed but never really gives it a chance to root itself. Think of a cornstalk whose roots cannot dig in because the soil has not been properly tilled. The first rainstorm will knock it over and it will die. God’s seed cannot root in thorny soil either. If you don’t let God permeate every part of your life and allow his roots to grow firm and secure within you, then you will fall when adversity strikes. The thorny soil is also soil that has received the Word, but allows the temporal worries of the world to choke out faith and trust in God just as weed or thorns can overcome flowers in a garden.

I like to think that my soil is fertile. I like to think that God has planted his seed and it is growing in my heart. But the truth is that my soul can be as thorny as an overgrown garden and as rocky as untilled earth. I shouldn’t be surprised to find rocks and thorns in my garden. It is important to recognize that these are the very things that drive us straight into the arms of the Master Gardener. If weeds never grew and rocks never surfaced, we wouldn’t need a gardener at all. We would be completely self-sufficient (and lonely and empty too).

We have the luxury of our very own personal Gardener, but all the rakes and hoes in the world are useless unless you allow Him access to your heart, “the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).  I know that if I stay very close to the Gardener twenty-four hours a day, all year long I will blossom under His tender care. A garden cannot pull out it’s own weeds or toss out it’s own rocks. That is the gardener’s job but he can only work when we unlatch the garden gate to our hearts.

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

James 4:8