Sunday, April 17, 2016

Full of Grace-a movie review

FishFlix Christian movies sent me a complimentary copy of Full of Grace in exchange for my review. Mary, the mother of Jesus,is in her final days here on earth. It is 10 years after the resurrection and the church is struggling to find answers to the cultural and spiritual differences that are dividing Jewish and Gentile Christians.

The opening scenes show Peter's resistance to leading the church and we soon learn Peter is doubting the reality of his faith in spite of the miracles he experienced first hand in the months following the resurrection. Sensing her time is short, Mary sends for Peter and brings encouragement to him and a small group of other disciples and church leaders.

The scenery in the film is beautiful and the actors perform almost reverently as they match the solemn and serious tone of the movie. I appreciate the way the script upholds Biblical events and Scriptural text as Mary reminisces and reflects on  her life with Jesus. It is she who still holds him close to heart and reminds the others that Jesus has not left them.

I recently studied the book of Acts in a Bible Study class and it was good to see familiar characters like Peter and James and what life might have been like for them.  The problem between Jewish and Gentile believers was a very hot issue as the church grew in size.  However, I never got the impression from Scripture that Peter was discouraged or had lost the vision to lead the church as the film portrays. The conjecture works for the story in order to give Mary the role of mentor and minister to those who listen to her message.

This is not a movie to entertain.  The action is slow and many scenes are silent except for soulful music playing in the background as an actor wrestles with inner emotions. It might be good in a church setting with discussion afterwards. The theme of honoring Mary and giving her center stage may appeal most to Catholics. This is not a genre I would normally choose, but the film is well done and held my interest.  Even though the problems of the church are not revisited before the movie is over, we are left to believe that Peter, now inspired by Mary, will lead the church forward.

Thanks, again, to FishFlix movies for giving me the privilege of reviewing a film that was inspirational and outside my usual movie fare. If you are looking for a film to generate a faith conversation with a church group or to watch in a personal reflective time, you might find Full of Grace fits the bill.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Pleasure is the Measure of Our Treasure

Time magazines reports that a growing number of young men are getting the word out that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because of consuming explicit content of porn in ways and means never possible before and on devices that deliver it fast and privately.  As teens and pre-teens, this steady diet effected their young, impressionable brains and they are now reaping negative effects on sexual function, and as one porn user confessed, "I just want to enjoy sex again and feel the desire for another person."
Many are now sounding the alarm, speaking publicly, and creating online sites and apps to educate others and to help men quit porn. Time Magazine, April 11, 2016.

This is good news! We who believe that the God who created us and who gives clear instruction on how to enjoy all of life, including our sexuality, are encouraged to hear how even secular people are admitting the negative consequences of degrading this sacred gift and are trying to reverse the pandemic flood of pornography.

Our pastor is sharing a sermon series on enjoying God more.  Even greater than God's desire to have our service he wants our friendship and mutual enjoyment. Is God our pleasure?  Using a passage out of Jeremiah 2, where God expresses displeasure with his people for seeking after other gods, Jeremy's challenge was to stop finding pleasure in polluted water when God is offering living water that satisfies completely. Stop eating junk food, when we can eat the best of the best.

“For my people have done two evil things:
They have abandoned me—
    the fountain of living water.
And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water at all!  Jer. 2:13

Pleasure is the measure of our treasure! Often Jesus is presented as the means to the treasure--salvation, heaven, forgiveness.  But Jesus is the treasure! The reward of relationship! Enjoying God empowers us to enjoy everything else.  

Service too, comes out of this pleasure.  Jeremy illustrated this with a story about his children.  When asked to clean their room, there were as many responses as their individual personalities could come up with. And not a very satisfactory end result.  When he announced a fun event to take them to, only when the room was cleaned, the deed was finished quickly and thoroughly.  When motivated by pleasure, the work was easy and complete.

Can we ever become addicted to loving God?  I've heard it said that the more you get to know him, the more you want to know him. 

The definition for addiction from says:
-the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

What do you think? Is loving God like an addiction? To know him is to want to know him more. But I don't think we're enslaved to the habit of loving him.  Isn't it rather that as we get to know God better, we desire to deepen our friendship, not as a consumer of his love, but as partaker in a mutual affectionate relationship?  I believe that no matter at what level we enjoy God, loving him is still a constant choice on our part. He never enslaves us or holds us as captive. He remains the lover who holds us but who would never force us to stay. Unlike the nature of addiction, we hunger and thirst for him and get filled.  We drink of his living water and are satisfied. We choose him because we've tasted and discovered that his love is always good. Being filled brings rest and contentment.  He makes his home with those who love and obey him. Home is comfortable. As I discussed this with a friend recently, we agreed we both want more intimacy with Jesus and just as in a marriage, there will be times of talking and times of quiet just being together. We don't measure our pleasure with our spouses by how much activity together or touching we sustain, but rather in the delight of just knowing we're united and we belong together, even when apart. This is love that has moved beyond romantic euphoria; love that has been seasoned through testing and continued trust.
Home is also where our hearts yearn to be when we're away. The Psalmist describes his longing for God's dwelling as yearning and even fainting for it. He likens his desire for God as a deer panting after water. So, yes, to know God is to crave more of him.  But it's still our choice.  Just as lovers can drift apart through neglect or allowing another attraction to turn their eye away from their beloved, so we can, and are prone, to leave the God we love. In fact, the book of Deuteronomy is the call of God to his people to choose him.  They are ready to enter in to the promised land and God knows that the attractions of other gods and the abundance of physical provisions will  test their relationship with him. They do eventually end up choosing to go their own way apart from him and they ultimately experience destruction. Without guarding our hearts against what can rob us of the pleasure in our Treasure, we will walk away from him also.

One of the advocates against pornography from the article mentioned earlier says, “I would tell my son, I’ll be straight up with  you, all superstimulating things, like Internet porn, junk food and drugs, can be fun and pleasurable, temporarily. However, they also have the potential to desensitize you to normal, natural things and ultimately rob you of the one thing you thought they would give you, the ability to experience pleasure."

May we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith.  May our pleasure be in him, as we choose to remain in him,  even when we don't feel his presence, even when the cares of this life distract us and even when it means saying no to other good things so we can gaze on his beauty and be amazed at his goodness.  His pleasure in us never wanes or diminishes. What love could be better than that?

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.  All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. Jude 24 & 25.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

When A Nation Forgets God-A Book Review

I was pleasantly surprised to find this book very insightful and less dogmatic then I expected. The author cites credible sources for his claims and presents a well balanced voice in making his comparisons between our culture today and the society that allowed Hitler's rise in Nazi Germany.

I confess I was drawn to this book because of frustration with the political system in our country and a growing deep concern for the future of the 'land of the free and the home of the brave'.  Lutzer begins the book stating that he hopes for the reader to see his concern is for the church even more than concern for the country.  The church has the important mandate to bear Christ's witness to God's saving grace, realizing that God is the only one who can save us from those "trends that have already evoked his judgment". Will we take the charge seriously and not react with anger, vindictiveness or self-pity?

As Hitler's methods advanced, freedom was traded for promises of a better economy, propaganda revolutionized thinking and eventually turned into law which no one could resist or reverse, and Germany's youth were taught to be loyal to the State and against parents who would dare to teach them anything contrary to the revolution.  Gradually, laws determined what pastors could share publicly. The role of the church was minimized; the State provided alternate ways to marry, celebrate holidays, dedicate children-no need for a religious ceremony. The book finds many parallels to our culture today, such as, propaganda that normalizes same-sex marriage, politically correct textbooks, hate-crime legislation, and media conformity.

While we can judge the church in Germany for not being an opposing voice to Hitler's evils, are we preparing now to respond any differently to times of persecution and suffering that are likely to happen even here in our country? There were heroes of the faith during Nazi Germany and the author tells some of their stories in a later chapter of the book.  It is not necessary to have freedom to remain faithful believers.  "As freedoms decrease, our witness becomes more focused...It is not how loud we can shout, but how well we can suffer that will convince the world of the integrity of our message".

What does it take to prepare? The author offers answers at the end of each chapter, pointing the reader to Bible promises and hope to live in this time of history where our faith truly counts.  It's more about  glorifying Christ, than winning political battles.  It's believing suffering to be a divine gift and not fearing it.  It's showing the character of Christ even when we lose.  According to Lutzer, the characteristics of those who can stand up under persecution are those who know the power of prayer and fasting, can recite large portions of Scripture and hymns, count it an honor to suffer for Christ and know that suffering is a gift God gives to the church.

This book encourages me to keep my focus on the cross of Christ and to live fully committed to his call to be a faithful follower, no matter what happens in the days ahead.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Treasure in the Midst of Sorrow

This was shared as part of Goshen College's Lenten devotions that were published online each day during Lent.

A Treasure in the Midst of Sorrow

By Ruth, Good Library day circulation manager
Scripture: John 19:16-30 (NRSV)

My husband’s aunt died recently. At the funeral, a grandson read the tribute his mother had written about his grandmother. His voice was steady and unfaltering as he shared with us the eulogy; words a grieving daughter found too difficult to speak for herself. Next, a son-in-law shared the story of how the family gathered together on that last day, not knowing when the final breath would occur, but hoping to be with her in that moment. The details were touching as family members each knew to come or were summoned to come in time to share this life event together. The speaker affirmed that God’s timing had been beautiful; a treasure in the midst of sorrow.

We see Christ in his final moments before death. His mother, his aunt and a handful of friends are there, staying… waiting… drawing near. In spite of agonizing pain, Jesus speaks one last love message, entrusting his mother to the care of his beloved friend, John, who agrees to provide a home for her. We’re touched deeply and marvel at this love. It’s this same great love of God that sent Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

As we believe and draw near to the cross today, how comforting to know Jesus is still providing a home for those he loves. Our eternal home will be glorious, but even now he makes his home in us as breadwinner, protector, companion and care-giver. He designs and executes renovation and remodeling for hearts that need transformation. His careful maintenance purifies and purges.

How comforting to know Jesus is acquainted with suffering, grief and death and can give us help and hope in our times of pain and loss. This is God Immanuel, God with us.

Jesus, thank you for making this Friday ‘good’, as we commemorate your death and amazing love for us.

Scripture: John 19:16-30 (NRSV)

Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; 17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.
19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” 25And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 28After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.