Noah: What Works

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In Part Two of our look at the movie Noah, I want to talk about what I liked about the film. In the next post, I’ll hone in on some elements that didn’t work- didn’t work for a movie based in scripture, didn’t work in a movie period, didn’t work from a storytelling position.

There are some good things about the movie. There are some elements that I really liked. So, here are 6 things that worked in the movie Noah.

The Acting
Russell Crowe is fantastic. Emma Watson is wonderful. Ray Winstone, a fine character actor, brings evil to life. Jennifer Connelly, the Rocketeer’s ex-girlfriend, plays the part of Noah’s wife with grace. Some role their eyes at Crowe as a casting choice but I think it was spot on. Russell Crowe is an everyman and that’s what was required of this role. We needed to see pain and sorrow and grief and joy and determination and integrity. Crowe delivered.

Tubal-Cain
I loved having a villain to stand in stark contrast to our main character. Whereas Noah was righteous and earnestly seeking to hear from God, Tubal-Cain embodies the wickedness, ruthlessness, and selfishness of mankind. One of the criticisms surrounding the movie is that the name of God isn’t mentioned. While the film talks mainly about “The Creator” there is a scene where Ham meets Tubal-Cain in the forest for the first time. Tubal-Cain asks Ham, “Don’t you recognize your King?” Ham responds by saying, “Father says there is no king. The Creator is God.” The look of disgust on Tubal-Cain is priceless. There is a huge extra-biblical element with this character that on one level is hard to swallow. Tubal-Cain makes it onto the ark. Yeah, I know. I missed that flannel graph story too. However, this kinda works because the character serves to undermine everything that Noah stands for and has been seeking to instill in his sons. In this case, the tension is very good. Tubal-Cain adds an element of chaos into the new ordering of things. He represents the depravity, duplicitousness, and evil of mankind. Evil will stop at nothing to tear apart what God is doing. It is a major plot element that isn’t in the source material but it works because it serves the ideas of Chaos, Covenant, and (Re)Creation.

The Ark/The Flood
I loved the Ark. It definitely represented a structure that was 300 by 50 by 30 cubits. The Bible mentions that it was held together with tar as well and the whole thing looks cover in pitch. The filmmakers totally nailed the look in my mind. Also the flood is how I picture it as well. Not only was there rain but Genesis 7:11 tells us that “all the springs of the great deep burst forth.” In the film, giant spouts of water shoot up toward the sky just as I see it described in scripture. One thing that I have not seen anyone talk about is that the film is clear that this judgement is from The Creator. This isn’t a weather phenomenon that our main characters are too primitive to understand. This isn’t water coming from a broken dam. The flood is presented as a miraculous wonder/righteous judgement sent from above. Same with the animals arriving to the ark. They aren’t fleeing from a national park because of a dormant volcano. They miraculously appear while Noah and his family watch with wonder and amazement. The miracle isn’t written off as junk science or explained away as some animal ecological ESP.

Survivor’s Guilt
Throughout the film, Noah is depicted as a man who feels deeply about what is happening around him. He earnestly seeks to understand what God is calling him to. He loves his family. He is disgusted by the wickedness of humanity. He is sober-minded about what will happen when the flood comes. He feels the burden and the responsibility of his great task. There is one scene that takes the story of Noah and puts flesh to a man we’ve only read about. After the storm begins and Noah’s family is safe aboard the ark, Noah sits, covered with a blanket and he listens. The wind and the waves are howling and crashing against the ark. Amidst all the noise, Noah can hear screams of the people perishing in the flood. There is not victory in Noah’s eyes, only pain. Scripture tells us that God doesn’t send a flood because he is angry. There is grief in the heart of God and the film make that grief palpable through Noah. Noah wrestles with survivor’s guilt to a certain extent and his element is explored near the end of the film as Noah gets drunk in a cave cut off from his family. When i have talked about this element with others who have not yet seen the movie, there is instant connection with it.

The Redemption
In Part 3, I will discuss the reasons behind Noah separating from his family in more detail (because it doesn’t work) but I do like the way Noah returns. There is redemption as Noah is welcomed back to his family. Without words you see forgiveness, love, and grace- the same forgiveness, love, and grace God’s gives us- on the big screen for all to see.

The Blessing
At the end of the film, as The Creator sends a rainbow over this new creation, Noah recites a blessing over his family (Including Ham. Oh-oh! Genesis 9:22-25). Noah proclaims, “Be fruitful and increase in number!” A huge rainbow radiates from the sky, filling the screen with ROYGBIV. Then Kermit begins the opening chords to “Rainbow Connection” as the screen goes black (That would have work brilliantly.). The film ends on a note of hope and grace.

Get ready for Part 3: What Didn’t Work. I’m not a huge fan of director Darren Aronofsky and there are as many Aronofsky signatures in this film as there were animals on the ark. Many of his choices take the viewer out of the film or cause the viewer confusion or frustration. I’m going to suggest that by merely changing or cutting some of these things from the film Noah would have been a great movie instead of merely an Aronofsky movie.

Chaos, Covenant, and (Re)Creation

part 1

Welcome to Part One in our series looking at the movie Noah. Today the focus will be on the story of Noah as found in Genesis 6-9. As I argued in the introduction, there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not the movie Noah lives up to the theological narrative in Scripture and even more discussion about whether or not that even matters.

Last week, I saw a tweet that said, “All these Christians arguing that Noah isn’t theological enough… where’s their outrage about Capt America or Sabotage.

2 Points on this line of thinking:
1) You’re right. As Christians we are called to a higher standard when it comes to the media and entertainment that we consume. I’m the guy who takes a notebook or I sit where I can open up Evernote on my phone in order to jot down thoughts or ideas I have during movies I go to. (Next Week: 10 leadership Lessons from Saving Mr Banks!) So yeah, as Christians we should be ready to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) We should engage with all media rather than passively allow it to wash over us unfiltered.

2) What a misguided comment. This is a huge false equivalency. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Conan the T-800′s action-drama about dirty DEA agents and Mexican cartels never claims to be a story rooted in Scripture. And while Cap finds finds himself caught up in a larger universe of mythology and storytelling, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a long way from the T.O.R.A.H. When a movie claims to be  rooted in “research and biblical scholarship” you are inviting people to judge your film, not on your artistic interpretations, but on your “research and biblical scholarship.”

In Part 2, I am going to dive into some of the cinematic flourishes, inventive storytelling, and artistic licenses that the filmmakers gambled on that actually worked in this movie. It is completely understandable that in order to fill a 2 hour movie you might need to rely on elements that may not be found in a 3 chapter narrative with only one speaking part. It really isn’t fair to judge a movie completely by how literal it sticks to the source material. If that were true than we would have to critically reassess every movie from Disney fairy tales to Braveheart to The Ten Commandments to Son of God. Every one of these films, including those based on Scripture, contained something different, added, or artistically created in order to movie the story along.

So then, I’m not interested in arguing the merit of Noah based on it’s factual, literal accuracy. My concern is whether on not the film connects the audience to the overarching theological narrative we find in scripture, particularly how the story of Noah connects with redemption and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

To show you what I’m talking about, read at what director Aronofsky said in an interview about his goal of adapting a story from the biblical source and bringing it to life on the big screen.

“I think it’s more interesting when you look at not just the biblical but the mythical that you get away from the arguments about history and accuracy and literalism. That’s a much weaker argument, and it’s a mistake.

Because when you think about Icarus, you don’t talk about the feathers and the wax and how the wax attached to his body and how is it physically possible that he could fly with feathers on his arms. No. You’re talking about how he flew too high and was filled with hubris and it destroyed him. That’s the message and that’s the power. That’s power to have that idea. 

It’s impossible to understand what these times are because there are four chapters in the Bible. It’s just important that you don’t contradict any of it and that you study each word, and study each sentence, and try to use and extract as much juice out of that to be inspired to turn it into a vision that represents the spirit of it all. That’s the goal.”

So, that’s the bar we’re working with here. Does the movie Noah capture the essence and the grand narrative of its biblical source?  I actually love the connection to making a film about Icarus and making a film about Noah.

He’s right, in a film about Icarus, an audience isn’t going to care or want to connect with a lengthy explanation about which feathers cause the greatest lift or whether or not Daedalus used a running stitch or a hemming stitch. No one’s going to miss these scenes when they land on the cutting room floor and they really do nothing to serve the story.

In a movie about Noah, the audience would have been ill served by a 45 minute scene of exposition about the wood used to build the ark, the carpentry involved, or a roll call of all the animals. All of which you could point to as proof of a biblically accurate film. I myself was glad to see that the ark only had one opening, all though I was disappointed that God Himself didn’t shut Noah and his family inside. I’m kidding. Or am I?

The power of the film doesn’t come from small literal details but in the larger narrative that the story is trying to tell. In evaluating a film like this, one has to wrestle with the question, “Is the film true to the message of the source material?” Aronofsky, himself, says that for the film to succeed it must “represent the spirit of it all.”

Many have argued that the film fails to represent the theological narrative of the story of Noah but few have written concerning what they believe to be the true theological narrative. That’s what I want to do now.

I believe that if you’re going to make a movie about Icarus, it has to be about man’s hubris and failed ambition. If you make a movie about Nineteen Eighty-Four, you’re going to want to include themes about government surveillance and freedom. If you make a movie about Rosa Parks, you’re gonna need a bus so that lady can make a stand for equality.

In a movie about Noah, it is essential that your narrative focus on ChaosCovenant, and (Re)Creation.

CHAOS
Genesis 6:5–7
“The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

In the Genesis narrative there are two forces at work against one another: Chaos and God. This isn’t a ying-yang, can’t-have-one-without-the-other kind of thing. This is a cosmic battle. Chaos brings confusion, death, destruction, pain, anguish, frustration, and sin. God brings order, light, life, and relationship. Notice that God isn’t angry with man’s wickedness. God is grieved and his heart is deeply troubled. Chaos has taken what God created, what God established, what God loved and plunged it into darkness. Walter Brueggamann writes that the flood isn’t sent in order to take care of a moral problem but a theological one. Sin is an affront to Almighty God first and foremost. This is why God must reign in Chaos so that His beloved creation can survive. Man’s inhumanity to man (a symptom) flows from a people who have cut themselves off from the God who created them (the disease).

COVENANT
Genesis 6:8–9 
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”

Genesis 6:11–14
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.”

Genesis 6:17–19 
I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.”

Genesis 6:22
Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

Covenant is an overarching theme throughout all of Scripture. Here, God establishes the Noahic covenant with a righteous man who walks faithfully with God. That’s all we know about Noah. In a world caught up in unspeakable wickedness, this family man embodies hope and redemption. Covenant is much more than a contract. It is the establishment of a relationship between two parties. When God establishes a covenant with Noah, he is in essence establishing a covenant with humanity promising that it will survive, not through saving itself, but by His own grace and mercy.

(RE)CREATION
Genesis 8:15–9:17
“Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.

As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Covenant leads to (Re)Creation. God is faithful to Noah, his family, and His creation. He has not abandoned His grand experiment. He has given it a grand do-over. We get to begin again. Wrath gives way to Grace. Death gives way to Life. Curses give way to Blessings. God re-creates the world and again establishes his covenant with man. Instead of Adam, God established a new covenant in this re-creation with Noah telling him to “be fruitful, multiply, and increase.” God has reigned in Chaos once again and has established order and relationship with His creation. Man has been redeemed and forgiven.

ChaosCovenant, and (Re)Creation –  three foundational rocks that any retelling of the story Noah should rise or fall upon. These ideas are what give this story its power. These are what make this story timeless and should seek to connect an audience to the overarching theological narrative we find in scripture.

So, does Aronofsky’s Noah deal with these ideas? If the film does deal with Chaos, Covenant, and (Re)Creation, does it succeed in creating a vision that represents the spirit of this biblical narrative?

Grab a cup full of herbal tea, call your Fallen Angel sidekick, and get ready to embark into the magical forrest from Eden. There’s a storm coming.

Come back and check out Part 2: What Worked and Part 3: What Didn’t Work later this week!

A Flood of Outrage

a flood of outrage noah 2014

It has been one week since the film Noah hit theaters. The film grossed well over 43 million dollars in its opening week all while riding a giant wave of controversy. Unless you’ve been living alone on a lush green mountain in a cave without berries, you have been well aware of the debate surrounding director Darren Aronofsky’s dark, brooding biblical epic. Or Athiest director Darren Aronofsky’s anti-biblical, ecocentric, fairy tale. Or Hollywood’s latest attack on Christianity. Or the movie that Christians should embrace in order to start a dialogue with our culture. Or whatever that last blog post you read called it.

The truth is Noah is all these things and none of them at the same time. More digital ink has been spilt and more unrealistic expectations have been placed on this piece of celluloid than any other movie in recent history. The culture seems divided into a thousand different camps all defending their personal stake in their beliefs, feelings, and emotions surrounding this 2 hour tale starring General Maximus Decimus Meridius and directed by the guy who turned Natalie Portman into a literal Black Swan.

The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is this:

Everyone is OUTRAGED by Noah.

That’s right. Outraged! Everyone is expressing their outrage and calling for everyone within newsfeed or timeline eyeshot that they, too, must be outraged by this film, its production, the way it was marketed, what it takes literally, what is said subliminally, what it leaves out, and what it gets wrong.

One group says that you should be outraged because the film fails to be a literal interpretation of Genesis 6-9. They argue that anything less than a word for word, direct adaptation of a film is not just a disappointment but a detriment to society as a whole.

Another group tells you to be outraged at Christians who are outraged because the film fails to be a literal interpretation of Genesis 6-9. They tell you it is absurd to not expect filmmakers to add artistic flourishes or inventive story lines in order to make a movie palatable for audiences worldwide. “Get with the times and quit getting your spiritual underwear in a bunch,” they say.

One group says, “Embrace it!” Another, “Burn it!

Further, others claim outrage over the idea that anyone on any side would be upset over anything contained in a movie. After all, it’s only a movie.

Blog post after Facebook comment after tweet all telling you and me what to think about Noah and what to think about what others think about Noah.

The problem is I’m not outraged by Noah. I’m also not outraged by those outraged by Noah.

The movie and the whole conversation surrounding it has me feeling a bunch of emotions but outrage isn’t one of them.

The movie stirred emotions in me that ranged from confusion to inspiration, disappointment to frustration, and boredom to being nonplussed.

The reviews, conversations, and warnings have had me experiencing many of the same emotions.

Over the last week, I have had conversations in persona and online about my opinions on Noah. Some have asked me if I liked it. Some have asked if they should see it. Some want to know my thoughts on whether or not Christians should see this film. That’s why beginning next week, I am planning to post a series of thoughts on the movie and the biblical story of Noah.

I want to come at this a bit different than the other blog posts or reviews that I have seen over the last few weeks. In this series, I want to cover the following issues:

Part One: The Story of Noah. While some have addressed the fact that the film veers wildly from the biblical account and have argued that the film fails to live up to theological narrative of Noah as found in the Book of Genesis I haven’t seen anyone speak to what they believe the true theological narrative to be. In Part One of next week’s series, I want to attempt to address this theological understanding of Noah, the flood, man’s wickedness, and God’s righteousness. A film’s biblical accuracy isn’t judged on rock people but on whether or not the film connects the audience to the overarching theological narrative we find in scripture, particularly how the story of Noah connects with redemption and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Part Two: What Works. Believe it or not, there are elements of this film that work, both from a storytelling standpoint and as a biblical meditation. Many of the performances are top notch and the cinematography, at times, can be quite breath taking. Even some of the extra-biblical story elements work in order to point the viewer to a theological understanding of the nature of man, sin, and redemption.

Part Three: What Doesn’t Work. There are things that visually don’t work. There are storytelling elements that don’t work. There are additions to the biblical account that don’t work. There is a lot that doesn’t work. I want to share what I believe doesn’t work and discuss how some of the missteps and baffling choices mar the film.

Part Four: What’s Next. While all of the Noah debate will die off in an overwhelming deluge of Captain America this weekend, of which there will be no other box-office survivors, Noah will again resurface in a few months at Redbox and other studios are releasing big budget biblical adaptations later this year (Batman is Moses!). I love great stories and I love going to the movie house! I agree with Pastor Mark Batterson- Movies are the Literature of today. As believers, how are we to react or respond to movies and their attempt to produce stories based on holy scripture? What expectations should we have? What standards should we call for? I want to wrap up the series with a few suggestions on how you can engage cultural adaptations of biblical truths in ways that build bridges and are in line with the theological narrative of Scripture as a whole.

See, I don’t want you to be outraged at Aronofsky, Russell Crowe, Paramount, or the film Noah. I don’t want you to be outraged at those who are outraged. I’m not even going to argue wether or not you should even see the movie.

I am writing this series of posts because I want you to be discerning. I want you discern what God’s glorious story of redemption is all about and I want to intellectually and theologically recognize the real deal from the cheap imitation.

The Real Deal brings life and the other, at the very least, takes $12 out of your pocket.

See you next week!

Join the conversation: Add your thoughts or questions to the comments section.

The War Within

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” – Winston Churchill

Every feel like you just can’t get any traction? No matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, no matter the preparation? We all have plans and visions but often life gets in the way and we abandon these hopes and dreams before we can even get started.

Take for example what happened to me yesterday morning: I wanted to schedule a mid-morning workout so that I could get in a run before lunch. In order to do that I had to plan my day, get up a bit earlier, eat a good breakfast, get the kids off to school, and crush my morning tasks before 11am.

I hit everyone of those targets like a boss! As I gathered up my keys and wallet to head to the gym I suddenly realized that I left my hat at home. (I’ve been growing out my hair and my luxurious mane keeps getting in my face.) “Oh well, good try. I guess you’ll have to wait until later to run.”

I pushed back. “No worries,” I thought. “I’ll swing by the house and grab one. It’s on the way.”

As I pulled out of the parking lot I remembered that I had left my gym lock on my desk. “Oh well, better luck next time. Don’t want someone to steal your stuff.”

I let out an audible sigh groan and determined that I would grab my hat from the house, head back to the building, grab the lock, and then, finally, get to the gym.

Once at the gym, I put on my running gear and then put on my wireless headphones. Dead.

“Are you kidding me!?!?!” I thought. I wanted to leave and come back later. Fortunately, I pictured Eric Liddell kicking me in the shin for giving up because the battery had died on my headphones so that didn’t detain me for too long. (And Yes, in my vision Liddell kicked me dramatically and in slow motion.)

Now, I was about 15-20 minutes past the time I had wanted to start my workout and as I headed to my favorite treadmill I got a call from my wife. I stepped to the side to answer my phone and watched as another gentleman got on my favorite treadmill and start walking backwards on it. He. was. walking. backwards.

“Ok! That’s it! I’m done. Maybe I’ll come back tonight!”

That’s when it hit me. The Voices WITHIN me are often louder than the voices around me.

Nobody in that gym was telling me to pack it in and give up. Nobody was encouraging me to put my jeans back on and go get a cheeseburger. No, the loudest voice of discouragement and of self-doubt was coming from inside my own head and heart.

The Voice Within was telling me that I was too messed up, that I was incomplete, and that I was lacking what I needed to fulfill the hopes and plans I had for my day.

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, calls this The Voice of Resistance. The Resistance is “the most toxic force on the planet. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.” The Resistance doesn’t come to play- it comes to destroy.

So how do we silence this Voice of Resistance? How can we defend ourselves from something so insidious and debilitating.

We overcome the Voice of Resistance by remembering our Identity. Author Jeff Goins believes that once we have a clear understanding about our identity, that clarity can and will move us to action.

In order to quiet those negative thoughts and feelings inside of me today, I had to remind myself who I was and why I was at the gym in the first place.

I was there because I AM A RUNNER.

I may not be very fast but, I AM A RUNNER.
I may not have a hat today but, I AM A RUNNER.
My headphones may not work but, I AM A RUNNER.
I may not feel like it but, I AM A RUNNER.

That’s my identity. I have a log of all my runs, some race bibs, and a couple of medals that says that’s who I am. When I presented the facts of who I am to The Resistance, he left me until a more opportune time. I got on another treadmill and hit the start button.

Walt Disney once said, “The difference in winning or losing is most often not quitting.”

What ever you do today, what ever obstacle you face from within or without, what ever voice is telling you to pack it in… REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE.

DON’T QUIT!

Join The Prayer Team

Yesterday official marked the beginning of the Easter season. The 40 days leading up to Good Friday is  traditionally known as Lent. This is a season that calls Christians to prepare their hearts and minds through repentance, worship, fasting and prayer. Personally, I am using this time to refocus and recommit to praying for my life, family, and ministry.

I recently read Turnaround Pastor by Don Ross and he uses the acrostic P.R.A.Y.E.R. T.E.A.M. as a great approach to give you clarity and to help you stay focused as you pray. I’ve been using this as my prayer agenda over the last few weeks and I have experienced an increase in my capacity to concentrate and articulate what is really on my heart.

I want to share this with you today with the hope that it will help you gain a better handle on the time you spend with God in prayer each day. If you’ve ever been able to spend much time in prayer, I think this guide with help you create a strong foundation for a consistent and beneficial prayer life.

Try and spend at least one minute praying through each of these areas of focus.

1. Praise: How can I praise God my Father? Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4   

2. Repent: Is the Spirit convicting me of sin? For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight. Psalm 51:3–4   

3. Ask: What “Big Thing” am I asking for? Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7–8   

4. Yield: Am I regularly obeying the Spirit? If you love me, keep my commands. John 14:15 

5. Example: Father, make me an example others can follow. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I Corinthians 11:1   

6. Relationships: How can I love others in my relationships? My marriage, children, friends, neighbors, etc. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34–35   

7. Three: Who are three people the Spirit is asking me to pray for and invite to our church? Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Colossians 4:5   

8. Eyes and Ears: Pray that each person has a soft heart so their eyes and ears are open to the gospel. You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Matthew 13:14–15   

9. Attitude: How does my attitude need to change to be more like Jesus’ attitude? Have the same attitude as Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5   

10. Mission: How is God asking me to move the mission forward in helping people discover, trust, and love Jesus Christ? I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18

adapted from Turn Around Pastor by Don Ross

Watered-Down Love

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A few years ago I purchased the Bob Dylan Collection, a digital box set, from iTunes. The collection included every single Bob Dylan song, bootleg, and album from Bob Dylan (’62) to Modern Times (’06).

As I sifted through all the tracks, I came across a handful (ok, more than a handful) of songs that I had never heard before. One of the songs that I came across wasWatered-Down Love from the 1981 album Shot of Love.

The first time I listened to this song the lyrics seemed instantly familiar to me. The song is a contrast between pure love and the cheap, imitation that the world tries to pass off to us as love. Bob seems to say to us what Paul had to say to the church in Corinth.

Watered-Down Love
Shot of Love
Bob Dylan

Love that’s pure hopes all things,
Believes all things, won’t pull no strings,
Won’t sneak up into your room, tall, dark and handsome,
Capture your heart and hold it for ransom.

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Love that’s pure, it don’t make no claims,
Intercedes for you ‘stead of casting you blame,
Will not deceive you or lead you to transgression,
Won’t write it up and make you sign a false confession.

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Love that’s pure won’t lead you astray,
Won’t hold you back, won’t mess up your day,
Won’t pervert you, corrupt you with stupid wishes,
It don’t make you envious, it don’t make you suspicious.

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

Love that’s pure ain’t no accident,
Always on time, is always content,
An eternal flame, quietly burning,
Never needs to be proud, restlessly yearning.

You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

I hope that no one would ever dedicate this song to you or me. Jesus said that people will know that we are his disciples by the way we love others. For too long, the people of God have been known more for what we hate than for what we love.

Paul writes, “If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. Itdoes not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil butrejoices with the truth. It alwaysprotects, always trusts, alwayshopes, always perseveresLove never fails.“ (1Corinthians 13:1-8)

Let’s resolve to live everyday loving those around us with a pure and unadulterated love. A love that lifts high the name of Jesus. A love that seeks to bring hope and healing. A love that is fueled by the Holy Spirit.

Let there be NO watered-down love around here.

An earlier version of this essay was posted on August 28, 2009.

Coda

As I wrap up the last few minutes in my office on this final day of 2013, I wanted to post a thought or two here before I power-down the Mac, lock the doors, and head home for the evening.

I keep thinking back over the previous 364 days and I’ve come to the conclusion that this past year was a bridging year for me and my family. We had to cross a mighty river and we experienced a myriad of emotions, setbacks, triumphs, near-tragedies, exhaustion, much grace, and lots of mercy.

All this to get us from where we are now to where God intends for us to be.

I look forward to the new year because I can see a hint, a glimmer, of hope and God-sized possibilities. This vision has been born out of the crucible of this past year. I wouldn’t trade the last 12 months for anything because I believe God gave us this past year to lay a foundation for what is to come.

I’m ready to live in 2014.

My prayer is that you are too.

Let’s live a better story together as we move forward into whatever God has in store for us this next year.

 

2014

Like a baby’s birth
Something brand new comes this way
and changes bring life.

Legacy

Last Sunday, I began a new sermon series entitled, “Legacy.” All of us desire to leave something of worth to those we leave behind. Our legacy can be an inheritance, character traits, or a passion for a cause or people group. Leaving a legacy then is really about STEWARDSHIP.

Traditionally, when we have heard the word stewardship we automatically begin thinking about finances or writing a check to the church or another organization. Stewardship encompasses much more than just our money. Stewardship is about living the life that God has given us in such a way that all the glory and honor goes to Him.

If we are going to understand the true, biblical understanding of stewardship then we have to understand 3 things:

  1. God is the owner of everything. He owns our money. He owns our things. He owns our livelihoods, and ultimately, He owns our lives.
  2. We are merely stewards of all that God owns. When God created Adam and Eve, he made them stewards of the Garden. They were placed in charge of all that God created and they were given the responsibility of taking care of God’s creation. The same is true for us. We get confused when we begin to believe that everything we have is ours and that it is owned by us. We can get possessive. We can get territorial. We can get selfish. However, when we begin to see that everything we have – our families, our things, our relationships, our lives – has been entrusted to us to care for, tend, and nurture than that can change our hearts and the way we live.
  3. We have the responsibility to manage everything for God’s glory. Everything that God has given us isn’t ours to own but ours to manage. You don’t own your finances, God has blessed you with income so that you can take care of your family and bless others. Your job isn’t yours to own, you have been put in your position in order to interact with and impact those around you. You aren’t just a student, you are using the gifts and cognitive abilities that God has given you in order to learn and grow.

So, if God owns everything and if we are merely stewards of those things, talents, and abilities than leaving a legacy is really about how we live.Your legacy won’t be determined by how much money you have when you die. Your legacy won’t be determined by how many buildings or organizations are named after you.

The truth is, your legacy will only be determined by the way that you steward the life and relationships that God gives you.

Only One Life

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last. ”

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.

- CT Studd

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