God’s Not Dead & God’s Not Dead 2 –Movie Review

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Martin Luther would have empathized with these film depictions of Christians who  found themselves in situations that required them to defend their faith against great odds.  You might say they became leaders unintentionally, as did Luther himself.  Facing the Diet of Worms in 1521 he said,

“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other.  My conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.  God help me.”

Both films feature a main character who risks virtually everything to defend his or her Christian beliefs.  Both are vindicated and triumph over systems that seek to ridicule and belittle them.  They are entertaining and inspiring, for sure.  Both had very good presentations of the logical, scientific and historical reasons to accept Christianity (the big word for this is apologetics.)  I found them inspiring and entertaining. (Of course, I know I am years behind in my movie-viewing and probably most readers have already seen the films — if you haven’t, you can now easily get them from the local library).

I do have a few criticisms:  most of the characters were almost cartoonishly one dimensional — the Christians are obviously good, the atheists bad, and not much room in between for the doubting or seeking.  Conversions and answers to prayer come quickly….but this is a movie, right?  Things have to move rapidly (after all we only have 120 minutes) and I can’t expect the character development I might find in a good novel.  So I can let that go.

More seriously, the discussion of free will in the first film, and the implication in the second that we must “ask Jesus into our heart” conflict with Lutheran theology.  God choses us, we do not chose Him, and we do not have free will over our salvation (although we do in other areas.)

The Newsboys are not my favorite Christian musical group, but I’ll include the song for those who enjoy them:

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Rise Up O Men Of God

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This hymn was written by William P. Merrill, a Presbyterian pastor.  I have heard it used at Lutheran ordination services.  These days some object to this hymn because the language is not inclusive.  In some hymnals the wording has been changed from “men of God” to “saints of God.”  However, in researching its’ history, I found that it was written in support of a growing men’s movement.  Since the original purpose was to encourage the leadership of men in the parish, is it necessary to “correct” it?  Would it be wrong to write a hymn directed specifically toward women?  Or some other group within the body of Christ?  I love this hymn just as it is, and personally think the gender-neutral idea sometimes goes too far. I’m posting it today for my husband’s birthday because it’s one of his favorites as well.  Readers, what is your opinion?

Good Leaders Encourage

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“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Long ago (1990) and in a universe far, far away (Camp Hemlock Overlook, Va.) I walked with Christ on Women’s Rainbow Via de Cristo #21 where I sat at the table of Deborah. Years later someone asked what I received on that weekend that I would most like to pass along.

I thought long and hard and I can boil it down to one word: encouragement. A VDC weekend is probably the only place in the world where all you have to do to get a round of applause is stand up and state your name! It’s a place where virtual strangers (who quickly become sisters in Christ) will hug you. On a VDC weekend, people really listen to what you have to say and they don’t judge you. They pray for you and with you. It’s a place that feels safe, and very, very, encouraging.

Here’s the best part: the weekend happens only once, but you can pass it on by giving someone else that great feeling of encouragement EVERY SINGLE DAY for the rest of your life. Encouragement is listed as one of the spiritual gifts that build up the Church, and every one of us can prac-tice it. Here are just a few suggestions:

  1. Send a birthday card
  2. Write a thank you note
  3. Give a pat on the back –“great job!”
  4. Hug someone
  5. Bake/cook someone’s favorite
  6. Say “I love you”
  7. Help someone with a job or project — before they ask
  8. Ask someone to pray for you (yes, that is encouraging, because it shows you trust them)
  9. Listen, really listen when someone shares with you
  10. Pass along a book you found helpful/interesting/inspiring

Well, you get the idea.  It’s not very hard.  It won’t cost you much.  And it can change somebody’s day, maybe even their life.  It may change your life as well.  Give it a try.  Go out and pass it on.  That’s what good leaders do.

Mere Hope by Jason G. Duesing — Book Review

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Jason Duesing, author and academic leader at Midwestern Seminary, does not use the term “mere” in the usual sense. He harkens back to a more ancient use in which the connotation is not “bare” or “trivial” but “central” or “essential.”

In our world we are made instantly and constantly aware of so many tragedies and conflicts that it’s easy to become cynical, indifferent and despairing. We are quick to “medicate, avoid conflict, exaggerate, deflect, blame and hide.”  To counteract this, Duesing maintains Christians must remember and turn to our biblical sources of hope.

“Until Jesus returns, Christians should look down at their foundational gospel hope, look in at their fountain of living hope, look out at the need for a flourishing hope, and look up and focus on future hope.”

His suggestions for focusing on hope include:  regular time with God’s Word, Christian fellowship, singing, praying, remembering our purpose to share the gospel promise with others.

Mr. Duesing makes a strong, scriptural and theological case for continuing to live an active and hopeful Christian life.  This little book is  chock full of literary references, and if you love to read, as I do, you will no doubt find some new authors you are interested in checking out.  Lord of the Rings aficionados , take note!  Duesing is obviously a fan of Tolkien and uses this series to illustrate some of his main points.  He also loves to quote C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling,  and a host of other writers, theologians and philosophers.

This author likes words, too, and you may learn some new ones.  Some are theological:  propitiation, for example;  others are just interesting — my favorite was eucatastrophe.  (I’ll let you check out the book on your own to learn the definitions.)

In spite of his somewhat academic approach, the writing is clear and the main points are understandable.  My only concern is that many readers will become a bit bored with the many references to authors and works with which they are unfamiliar ( I didn’t but that’s the English major in me!)

Verdict:  Three stars

Check out the link below to learn more or order:

http://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/mere-hope

Praying For Our Leaders

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Leadership is a spiritual gift, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  It can be lonely, frustrating and disappointing.  We should take time to be thankful for the leaders in our life — in our family, our church, our work and our world.  Here’s a prayer for leaders I found that may help you do that.  You can read more by following this link:

https://www.a-spiritual-journey-of-healing.com/prayer-for-leaders.html

A Prayer For Leaders In Your Life

Dear God,

I stop and think of those who are leaders in my life…
in my home…
in my work….
in my country….
in the world….

Perhaps there is someone I find it hard to think of with love.

I hand over to you any anger or fear I feel.
In this moment, I send them love.

However I feel about them, in this moment, I see your love flowing into me and out from me to them.

Dear God, I ask you to feed these people on your wisdom and your understanding,
for their good and for the good of all they serve.

Let them recognise and take the authority that is theirs to take.

Thank you God for guiding them every step of the way.
Amen

“1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior…” -1 Timothy 2:1-3

Fanning the Flame #9–Book Review

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One of my assignments for this month’s Fanning the Flame team meeting, was to read and book and write a book report.  Here is my finished product.

PRAY WITH YOUR EYES OPEN

BY Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

 

Richard Pratt, who is a professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, examines prayer by dividing it into these three basic components:  God, the Believer and Communication.  Each section of the book addresses one of these categories.

 

Looking at God

  1. View God through the eyes of a servant—recognize our total dependence upon Him
  2. Describe God as you pray—for example when you pray for guidance, you might call Him “good shepherd”; when you pray in grief, think of Him as “comforter”
  3. Use metaphors and comparisons in our prayers—call God “my rock” or “my shield”
  4. Broaden your focus by praying in detail about God’s activity in salvation history, past and present. For example, you could contemplate the details of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Thinking about the Bible story in prayer will draw you into the sweep of the divine drama that is still unfolding
  5. Being guided by Scripture sense God’s presence by picturing God in His heavenly dwelling.
  6. Remember that God is everywhere, He is with you to protect you. Imagine walking with Him in the garden, and allow Him to take you away from the worries of the world.

Looking at Ourselves

  1. Open your heart honestly to God, praying about all your feelings, positive and negative, without allowing the negative ones to lead you into irreverent grumbling or rebellion
  2. In your mind, paint a vivid picture of yourself and your circumstances: are you feeling lost in the desert, rejoicing on the mountaintop?
  3. Trust in God’s goodness; don’t be motivated by greed or selfishness
  4. Reflect on your personal blessings, and God’s care for the world
  5. Reflect on God’s will with a desire to see the world changed.
  6. Be open to God’s response.

Looking at our Communication

  1. Maintain a proper balance between form and freedom: because God is our father, it is appropriate to speak with Him in an informal, spontaneous way;  because God is our king, it is also appropriate to plan our prayers and speak more formally
  2. Don’t spend so much time taking or writing down requests, that you must hurry through the actual prayer.
  3. Prayer should be urgent and persuasive: focus on God’s people, the world around you, and God Himself.
  4. Take time to tell God the story of what He has done in your life. This gives strength and joy.
  5. Prayer can be more than words: strong feelings may demand weeping or singing, kneeling or raising hands.
  6. Practice prayer—your prayer lives, like any other skill, will only develop if you practice.
  7. Consider taking a prayer retreat, or setting aside an entire day for prayer.

 

Corporate prayers can become lifeless through repetition.  Some suggestions are:

  1. Have a special emphasis for a month, week or quarter
  2. Use prayer to celebrate a special occasion
  3. Plan a group prayer retreat

Throughout the book, Pratt relies heavily on the Psalms as examples and illustrations for his points.

I read this book quickly and that does not do it justice.  Each section includes discussion questions and exercises.  In our vision narrative, Beth Ann mentioned we might have small groups devoted to the study of prayer.  This would be a great book to read and work through with such a group.  If you read it as individually, it would be best to read one chapter a week and taking the time to journal and try some of Pratt’s suggestions.

Here I Am Lord

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Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8

This song, one of the most popular pieces of modern liturgical music, is used often on Lutheran Via de Cristo weekends. It was written in 1981 by a young Jesuit, Dan Shutte, for a diaconate ordination mass, and speaks of being called by God to be a Christian leader. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

 

Trusting Your Leader

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"I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my guide." - Martin Luther

A Flawed Leader part 2

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Like everything else about David, his love for God was big.  It became the central and defining relationship of his life, from the moment Samuel anointed him and “the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” (1 Samuel 16:13)  After that, God’s will became part of his decision-making process.  The Bible records many times when David “inquired of the Lord” before taking action.  When things looked bleak, David turned to God and “strengthened himself in the Lord.”  When he succeeded, he humbly gave credit to God, saying, “who am I God, and what is my house that you have brought me this far?” (II Samuel 7:18)  When rebuked by Nathan, God’s prophet, he quickly admits, “I have sinned against the Lord”(12:13).  He begs God to spare the life of his child, but when the child dies, he accepts God’s authority without bitterness.  In fact, he immediately “went into the house of the Lord and worshipped.” (12:20)

As a dying man, David’s last thoughts are about the house he wanted to build for God.  He assembles his officials, seasoned warriors and army commanders, stewards and sons and commends the building of the temple to his son, Solomon.  He tells the people to “observe and seek out all the commandments of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and leave it as an inheritance to your children after you forever.”  He advises Solomon to “know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought: (1 Chronicles 28:9).  The best advice he could impart to those he was leaving was to know, obey and serve God.

David’s history depicts a man who walked and talked with God throughout his life.  To David, God was not a distant authority to be appeased or obeyed out of fear.  God was his rock, his deliverer, the satisfier of his soul.  Read through the Psalms to get an idea of David’s enduring and personal attachment to God.  More than 70 Psalms indicate in their superscriptions that David wrote them.  Many mention specific occasions in his life:  for example, “when he fled from Absalom”  or “when the Philistines seized him in Gaza.”  Others were written as a cry for mercy, or guidance;  they expressed joy and despair.  They recall his days as a shepherd and a king.

David’s leadership and his relationship with God were not perfect, because David was not perfect;  but he had the saving faith “the ancients were commended for” in Hebrews 11.  With confidence in God’s grace he could say, “The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear?(Psalm 27)  Like Abraham before him, David “believed the Lord and (God) counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

A Flawed Leader

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This article was originally published in the October 2009 issue of The Lutheran Ambassador.  I believe that David’s story can give all Christians hope and point us to the most important component of Christian leadership. 

When you think about David what comes image comes into your mind first?  The young shepherd whose faith in God empowered him to face the giant Goliath with only a slingshot?  The King who was so unselfconscious he danced with joy before the Lord?  The sensitive poet and musician who composed many of the Psalms still used in our worship services today?  With God’s help, David was a leader who did great things.  He was a saint.

But David also had a dark side.  He lusted after another man’s wife and took her in adultery.  When she became pregnant, he tried to trick her husband into believing the child was his own.  When it became apparent that his deceit wasn’t going to work, David had him killed.  God punished David by taking the life of the son who resulted from his adulterous liaison.  David did some terrible things.  He was a sinner.

David seemed to do everything in a big way.  He was a fierce soldier–“Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands (1 Samuel 18:7)–and a charismatic king who united the Jewish nation, brought the ark to Jerusalem and built a palace there.  His magnetic personality attracted both men and women.  Brought to King Saul’s service as a young man, David quickly became a favorite who could calm the King’s terrible moods with his music.  Saul’s son Jonathan loved David with a friendship that was “more wonderful than that of women” (II Samuel 1:26), and Saul’s daughter Michal also loved David and became his wife.  In all David had at least eight wives and 14 children, but his family life was far from successful.  The jealousies that arose between these children of different mothers resulted in so much dysfunction that one brother raped his half-sister, was then killed by another brother who subsequently led a rebellion against his father, David, and was killed himself.

How did this man, a liar, fornicator and murderer, a man who could control armies but not his own children, come to be considered by God, “a man after my heart, who will obey my will (Acts 15:22)?  Why was his family chosen to be the human branch of Christ’s family tree?  David’s story reminds me of a nursery rhyme I learned when I was small about the little girl with the curl down the middle of her forehead:  when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid.  Some of David’s sins were truly horrid.  So why does God hold him up as an example, we should follow?

The reason is simple:  God does not keep score.  The most saintly among us are still sinners and we still need a savior.  David’s good works did not earn him special credit with God and his sins did not preclude him from being Gods’ man.  That slate was wiped clean by Christ’s sacrifice.  It wasn’t anything David did that made God call him “a man after my own heart.”  It must have been something else.  I think the something else was his steadfast and life-long relationship with God.

To be continued tomorrow …..