Some Big Changes

The following is a letter I read to my church, Ekklesia, on Sunday (with a few more added details).

In December of 2007 I wandered thirty minutes late into a small apartment Bible study taught by a guy from Maui with long flowing blond hair. I remember feeling awkward that there were only eight people in attendance, but I also remember the exhilarating realization that I had never flipped through my Bible so much during a sermon before. I was hooked. That Bible study would officially become Ekklesia a month later.

Pre-iPhone pic of one of the first apartment meetings. My future sister-in-law is on the left.

Pre-iPhone pic of one of the first apartment meetings. My future sister-in-law is on the left.

Going into that room, I had no intention of becoming a pastor, in fact it was one of the last things I would have ever wanted. I wanted to be a writer and always had wanted to be one ever since I was young. I was going for a Bachelor of Arts in English at the University of Oregon. But only a few months into attending Ekklesia, the apartment was overflowing with college students and I joined the School of Ministry. Ekklesia soon moved into the Sheldon Community Center.

Ekklesia starting to grow. We eventually stuffed over 90 people in there.

Ekklesia starting to grow. We eventually stuffed over 90 people in there.

I was drawn to SOM because I got to see the immediate impact of the Word of God on people’s lives. There my love for the Bible grew and we got down in the mud and worked harder than I ever had before (which was good for my nineteen-year-old self). Fast forward to the summer of 2009, Ekklesia was exploding and I became one of the church's first interns. Later that year, I became a pastor-in-training and eventually a pastor, leading the Kids Ministry, teaching classes, and loving people.

Wesley announcing the School of Ministry. I'm absent from the pic cause I was teaching in the kids classroom.

Wesley announcing the School of Ministry. I'm absent from the pic cause I was teaching in the kids classroom.

I had never wanted to be a pastor and now I was one. Go figure. What changed? I can’t explain it other than the fact that God led me to it. Through a serious of many events, He slowly changed my mind. He gave me a deep love for the people of God and an overwhelming desire to teach them the truth of His Word. I traveled with Ekklesia through many seasons, trials, and campuses, and the Lord always enabled me for the ministry in front of me.

Easter 2012 in the Hult Center.

Easter 2012 in the Hult Center.

Last year though, a question started to nag me in the back of my mind. Was I called to pastoral ministry for the rest of my life? I knew I had always felt called to bring the truth of God’s Word to people, but I also know that can take many different forms. And I knew that the form I had always felt most gifted in, most called in, was the written word. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a deep passion for writing and for books. All of these things swirled in my mind as I considered the question of my calling.

But even as I questioned and searched, I knew I was called for the moment. Every morning I came into the office knowing that I was called to today and to give my best. The problem was that whenever I tried to look years down the road, it became murky.

Me teaching a seminar at our offices.

Me teaching a seminar at our offices.

It’s not that I didn’t like my job or the people I worked with. I love our staff and have always loved them. Some of my closest friends in all the world are on staff. I love Wesley and Kara and am so thankful for all the time they have poured into me and my family. They are two of the most generous, self-sacrificing individuals I have ever known. I love this church and have always loved this church. But I just wasn’t sure if God was calling me to be a pastor anymore.

After struggling with this question for many months, praying about it, and discussing it with my wife and others, I have realized that I no longer feel called to be a pastor but instead feel led to proclaim God’s truth through other means.

I have accepted a position at Harvest House Publishers to be an acquisitions editor for them, specifically looking for books and authors to publish in the realm of children and family. My wife, Rebecca, and I are united in this decision and are excited for this new season of life. I’m going to now focus my gifts and skills to bring good books that will glorify God and equip the upcoming generations and their parents. I’m also going to get the chance to live out my childhood dream of working on books. I understand that not many people get an opportunity to pursue their passions and so I’m extremely grateful for this chance.

Greeting people at Easter 2014.

Greeting people at Easter 2014.

I don’t believe it was a mistake for me to be a pastor here. I’ve grown more through being a pastor at Ekklesia than from anything else—except marriage and parenting, of course. I’ve made relationships here that will last a lifetime. I met my wife here! It wasn’t a mistake for me to be a pastor, but I personally believe not everyone is called to be one for life. Some are just called for a season. I was called to join Ekklesia at its birth, to help its staff, to be a pastor and a leader and a teacher. I don’t regret a single minute of it.

But God is moving me on now to serve him through different means. You don’t have to be a pastor to make a difference for God and to make an impact on the world. God doesn’t value one vocation over another. Being a pastor is no holier than being a plumber, a banker, a barista, a student, or in my case—an editor.

My wonderful family.

My wonderful family.

Just because I will no longer be a pastor and paid by the church, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being a participant in this church. We are not leaving Eugene. We are not leaving Ekklesia. You will still see me and my family on Sundays. The elders have asked and I have agreed to serve and lead as an unpaid elder here. I will still teach classes (Train students: you better be in class on April 3). I am still leading my Community Group. I am and will remain a faithful servant to this church, paid or unpaid, pastor or not, because I am a Christian and the church is my family.

Thank you for all the love I’ve been shown over the years. Thank you for loving my family. Thank you for showing me what church really should be. It’s about the glory of Christ, making disciples, and loving your neighbor. Don’t ever forget that and see that I don’t either.

My Daughter's Birthday

One year ago today, my youngest daughter Avery was born and it was one of the happiest days of my life. One year ago tomorrow, it was the scariest day of my life.

Avery was born with an intestinal malrotation, which basically means her intestines had a kink in it like a twisted garden hose. It wasn’t visible through any of the ultrasounds and so none of the doctors could have known it at the time. That kink cut off blood to the rest of her intestines and also didn’t allow for any digested milk to pass through. If it wasn't corrected quickly, she would lose part of her intestines or even die. (The surgeon later told me that Maurice Gibb from the Bee Gee’s had the same condition much later in life. He died of a heart attack while waiting for surgery for the malrotation.) 

Right after her first bath

Right after her first bath

We found out about Avery’s malrotation while she was about to be discharged from the hospital. A certified pediatric nurse practitioner, Alicia, from Eugene Pediatric Associates was giving her a final examination. Right before Alicia was about to declare Avery in perfect health, Avery turned her head and threw up green vomit. I’ll never forget the color, especially as it soaked into the crib's blanket. It was like the color of grass.

Alicia noticed the vomit immediately and exited the room, saying she had to make a phone call to our pediatrician, Dr. Bradshaw. Bradshaw happened to be at the hospital in a meeting and so she came over to look at Avery, also bringing with her the pediatric surgeon’s assistant. It explained to us that Avery had thrown up bile, showing that there was some sort of blockage in her intestines and food was not being fully digested. Avery needed to immediately get an X-ray to see what was causing the blockage. Best case scenario, it was a buildup of something and they would just need to poke it to free everything up. Worst case scenario, it was a malrotation and they would need to do major surgery. We kissed Avery and then they whisked our one-day-old baby out of the room, leaving my wife and I holding each other, the green blotch of bile still on the blanket.

They brought us to a different room to introduce us to the pediatric surgeon (Dr. Zallen) and tell us the news. It was a malrotation and Avery would need surgery immediately. They were already prepping her as they talked to us. Dr. Zallen explained that they couldn’t fully know the extent of the malrotation until they opened Avery up. For the surgery they would make a large incision (especially for a newborn) along the abdomen and then pull out Avery’s intestines to find the kink, see if there was any dead tissue, and do what needed to be done. We signed some papers and Dr. Zallen left to operate on our baby. It ended up that from the moment she had thrown up bile to when she went under the knife, it had only been an hour.

The surgery would take an hour and a half long. It sounds like a cliché but it was the longest and most anxious ninety minutes of my life.

I had never prayed so hard before that moment. Never offered God so many deals so he would do something for me, so He would save my baby girl. 

Avery's first meeting with her big sister, Madeline.

Avery's first meeting with her big sister, Madeline.

Nothing had prepared me for this moment. There was no warning. No training. No amount of seminary or years as a pastor had given me any sort of special knowledge on how to handle such situations. If anything, my years as a pastor—making hospital visits, attending funerals, praying over the sick—had trained my mind to think that scary things happen to other people, not me. But we live in a fallen world where bodies breakdown, even in the womb.

It was the most helpless I had ever felt as a parent (which is saying something because I often feel helpless already). I completely and utterly had no control over the fate of my child. She was in the hands of God and Dr. Zallen.

Two pastors from Ekklesia, Seth and Ian, came by to bring us lunch and keep us company. I had spread the word to as many people as possible about Avery’s surgery and hundreds were praying for her (if you were one of them, thank you so so so much).

In the NICU right after surgery.

In the NICU right after surgery.

It took longer than what they had said, but eventually Dr. Zallen entered our room, telling us that the surgery was finished and Avery was doing great. They opened her up and found the twist in her intestines quickly. Everything before the blockage was dark purple (he even showed us a picture he had snapped on his iPhone). Once they untwisted everything, her intestines immediately turned a healthy pink, showing that blood was flowing again, the crisis averted.

They wanted to keep a close eye on Avery so they transferred her to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), where typically premature babies are kept after they are born. It’s a highly secure and sanitized wing of the hospital (they make you wash your hands all the way up to your elbows for three minutes with this horrifically smelling soap that looks like it has iodine in it). They gave Avery an epidural to deal with the pain and placed her in a special crib that kept her warm and plugged her into countless monitors tracking her vitals. She looked so fragile lying there—IVs stuck into her, a large bandage over her belly, tubes running up her nose and down into her stomach to drain out any excess bile. One of the nurses had placed a stuffed giraffe next to Avery’s crib; the giraffe had a bandaid on its stomach too.

The NICU rooms have no place for the parents to sleep, instead they let the parents visit any time of the day. The wonderful nurses at the NICU would hold her and be her guardians. We had to pack up our things and drive home with an empty car seat. It’s quite an understatement to say that it was not the homecoming we had planned for.

Avery's room in the NICU

Avery's room in the NICU

Avery’s recovery was quicker than the doctors expected. Initially she was supposed to stay in the NICU for a week, but she was digesting food and the pain had subsided.

They said she was strong. She was released into our care after four days instead of seven.

Dr. Bradshaw would go on to say later that this was one of the most memorable moments of her career. For the crappy situation that it was, everything came together perfectly. Avery didn’t throw up bile at home where it may have gone unnoticed (or at least we might not have been alarmed over it), but she threw up in front of the nurse practitioner. At the same time, Dr. Bradshaw happened to be at the hospital where she could speed things along quickly with her connections, instead of at her clinic. We even found out later that Dr. Zallen, the pediatric surgeon, was a fairly new addition to the hospital. Without Dr. Zallen, they would have had to life-flight her to Portland (Dr. Zallen is also married to one of the doctors at Dr. Bradshaw’s clinic).

Thank you, Alicia. Thank you, Dr. Bradshaw. Thank you, Dr. Zallen. Thank you, NICU nurses (who are angels in scrubs). Thank you, God for watching over her.

Looking back at all of this, I can see God’s guiding hand. I had no control of the situation, but He was in complete control.

Avery's first day home. I look dog tired.

Avery's first day home. I look dog tired.

Avery's scar from surgery after the bandage could be taken off.

Avery's scar from surgery after the bandage could be taken off.

The surgeon warned that although he had fixed the problem the intestines could always still fold over, causing another blockage. It could happen when she’s eight or when she’s eighty, or never at all.

In the back of my mind, I still live with that worry. When she cries out in pain, when she hasn’t had a bowel movement for a while, when her stomach seems a little distended, my mind thinks, is this it? Is it back again? I’m still out of control. Every day, I have to remind myself who is actually in control.

Avery is one year old now. You can still see her scar from the surgery, but it is starting to fade. She is walking, albeit as wobbly as a baby giraffe. Sometimes she says words like “momma” or “dada” or makes doggy noises when she sees any sort of hairy animal. She has sparkling blue eyes that match her sister’s, and my dad’s. Her big sister, Madeline, adores her and is very protective of her, but Avery often shows she can take care of herself. She has a big personality, a loud mouth, and still is strong. 

Happy birthday, little one.

Avery's scar today.

Avery's scar today.

Why I Loved the Noah Movie

Last Tuesday I finally got to watch the controversial Noah movie—and I loved it. I’m a pastor and a Christian, and I still loved Noah. It’s not a perfect film by any means, (artistically, the movie sometimes drifts towards the overdramatic and cheesy) but it was emotionally gripping and it caused me to think (and talk) about it non-stop.

There are many Christians who don’t feel the same about the movie as me, and I think that’s totally fine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you don’t like this film. But there are some critics of the film who have violently opposed it (many without even seeing it) because they believe it’s blasphemous. 

You’ve all heard, no doubt, about the infamous “rock people,” the violence, the environmentalism, how God is never mentioned, or how dark the movie is. Many Christian critics are angry at the film because they believe it makes a mockery of the original text in the Bible (Genesis 5-9) and of the Christian faith. One reviewer said that only elitist, “self-loathing,” hipster Christians who want Hollywood to love them will like this movie. In the most respectful way possible, I think they missed the whole point of the movie.

To fully discuss Noah, I feel compelled to talk through some very significant plot points that would be considered spoilers (and they go far beyond the fact that there is a flood). So here’s your spoiler alert.

Don’t think of this essay as a movie review (a movie critic I am not). Think of this as a companion piece to the movie for those who have seen it or those who wish to know more about the movie. Because this is a thorough examination of the movie and not a review, it is long. Please bear with me and take the time to read the whole thing before coming to a conclusion. 


ARONOFSKY’S VISION

Many naysayers denounced Noah because Darren Aronofsky, an atheist, said in an interview that he was going to make the “least biblical biblical movie.” People heard that statement, out of context, as an admission that he was going to make a movie that subverted the Bible and undermined the story of Noah. But that couldn’t be farther from Aronofsky’s intent. In fact, Aronofsky loves Noah.

If people did a quick Google search and read some interviews of Aronofsky, people would see that this isn’t some plot by secular Hollywood to make Christians look like it idiots. This was Aronofsky’s passion project. This was a movie he’s wanted to make since he was a child. Ever since the 7th grade, Aronofsky, who grew up culturally Jewish, has been captivated by the Noah story. He even wrote a poem about Noah that won a contest at the UN. Aronofsky has been trying to make this movie happen for the past fifteen years. And so, any effort to put Noah on the screen was not going to be with a hidden agenda, but was going to be a tribute.

Knowing Aronofsky’s heart for the Noah story, the next question inevitably asked is, “Why did he change so much of the story?” Aronofsky’s intent was never to improve or devalue the story of Noah in the Bible. Instead, he sees his movie as following the Jewish tradition of the midrash. The midrash is a type of rabbinic commentary in the form of narrative. Instead of going line by line—“this means this, and this means this”—the midrash expands, elaborates, and even speculates about the story in order to better develop and discuss the themes of the original text. By presenting the story in a fresh way, the themes of the original text can hit us anew, challenge our original ideas, and even shake us out of apathy. In a way, the movie reminded me of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem of Creation and the Fall (and most Christians are okay with Paradise Lost). Of course, this isn’t proper form for a sermon (although I’ve definitely heard homilies that tip-toe this line). But as a movie and a work of art, Aronofsky and Ari Handel (his fellow screen-writer) make use of this tradition in a fascinating way.

Ari Handel explains their intent: 

     We read Genesis as kids and young adults—but what we had in our minds was a Playmobil ark and as for animals, pet stores. And that’s the way the Noah story has gone into the pop consciousness. It’s a very, very, very different story than what we saw when we opened Genesis again as middle-aged men and thought seriously about what’s there. To get people to grapple with it and to see it fresh, we wanted to break expectations. Some of them we wanted to break that are just incorrect—like the idea of what the ark looked like. It was purposeful.

     What I’d tell people is it’s very important to us that nothing we actually did directly contradicted the Genesis story. There are some places where people think we did, and I’d just say, “We didn’t.” It was all grounded somewhere. It wasn’t just the Genesis story the way you expected it. But it’s grounded. Anything we did that isn’t explicitly there isn’t arbitrary. There are themes in the Genesis story that we wanted to dramatize and make people empathize with.

Understanding Aronofsky’s heart for the Noah story and his methods behind the madness is essential for understanding Noah the film. I can’t stress this enough. Aronofsky through this movie is not trying to condescend or subvert Christian truth. This isn’t part of some Hollywood conspiracy to mock Christianity. He’s trying to help us wrestle with the issues of the Noah story, even as he wrestles with them himself. 


ADDRESSING CONCERNS

Although most things in the movie may not have contradicted the account in Genesis, there are plenty of things that are different. These differences are what most people have been concerned with. Although I just do not have time or space to interact with every single thing in the movie, I do think it’s necessary to interact with a good portion of them.


CHANGING THE STORY

Much noise is made about how Aronofsky "changed the story,” but the reality is that he didn’t take away most of what is actually stated in Genesis. What he did do is add a lot to fill in the gaps. 

There simply is not enough in the original text for a two-hour-plus movie. Noah doesn’t even have any recorded dialogue until after the flood. If a Christian made the Noah story into a movie, they also would have to invent a lot of things to simply make it a bearable movie. 

Adding material to the story to make a good movie is not an uncommon thing for a biblical movie. Son of God added things. Passion of the Christ did it. So did The Nativity Story. Definitely The Prince of Egypt. Don’t even get me started about Veggie Tales. But even the beloved Ten Commandments adds a lot to the story that simply isn’t there. For some reason, Christians seem to be fine with those changes but not with those in Noah. 


THE CREATOR

One of the most common complaints about the movie is that God is never mentioned, but is only referred to as “The Creator.” Many have seen this as another underhanded move by Hollywood to subvert the Bible and the God of the it. But in all honesty, I think I liked it better that they referred to God as the Creator. Noah takes place only ten generations removed from Adam, which is not that large of a gap because of how old they got to live. God’s act of creation is continually brought up and referred to. The film does not feel that far removed from Eden. It makes sense that He would be referred to as the Creator. 

Also, God doesn’t seem to mind being called the Creator either. “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:28). We need not get worked up since God’s personal name is not even revealed until the time of Moses (and it’s YHWH, not God).


SAVE THE TREES

As to the environmental elements of the movie, it was less heavy-handed than Happy Feet. Albert Mohler, who really did not appreciate Noahpointed out that there are elements of environmental themes in Genesis 6-9, although he felt the movie overemphasized them too much. Mankind was given dominion over the earth, not to suck the earth dry but to steward it (Genesis 1:28-30). Aronofsky’s emphasis of mankind’s wasteful use of the earth is a direct way to show how humanity rebelled against one of God’s first commandments in the Bible.

As for Noah and his family’s veganism, most people miss that this is actually what Bible Noah and his family were (or at least were supposed to be) before the Flood. Before the Flood, man’s authority over the animal kingdom did not include using them for food (Genesis 1:29-30). As much as it pains me to say, God’s original design for us did not include steak and ribs. It’s not until after the Flood (Genesis 9:3) that God says humanity can eat animals. The movie uses this fact as a symbol of Noah’s faithfulness to the Creator and the rebellion of the descendants of Cain.


THE WATCHERS

In regards to the “rock people,” known in Noah as, the Watchers, they are angels who rebelled against God and were tossed out of heaven, cursed to carry Creation on their backs. Their biblical counterparts of are known as the Nephilim, which many interpreters believe were the giant offspring of fallen angels who mated with humans (Genesis 6:1-4). In my opinion, that’s even more fantastical than the Watchers. 

The thing I liked the least in Noah was the Watchers. They did not seem to fit the gritty, earthy tone of the movie but instead added a sort of cartoonish interruption. But with the source material that offers you the mysterious Nephilim, I could see how Darren Aronofsky's imagination ran wild.


NOAH

For most critics, the character of Noah (Russell Crowe) was probably the biggest hangup about the movie. To be fair, Noah is a very, very dark character in the movie. His character arc moves from a compassionate father, to wrathful prophet, to crazed madman convinced that God doesn’t want humanity to continue after the flood. Most of what Noah does and says is almost absolutely not what the real Noah did. 

The high point of his insanity occurs when he finds out that Shem’s wife, Ila (Emma Watson) is pregnant on the ark. Sure that the human race is not supposed to continue, he vows to kill the baby if it’s a girl, who could bear future sin-riddled children. Ila goes into an early labor and she eventually gives birth to twin girls, probably the worst case scenario for them. Noah traps Ila on the roof of the ark while she's holding her two newborns. Noah raises his knife to finish off the humanity, but instead he kisses his granddaughters on the head, drops the knife, and walks away. 

Noah later says, "I looked down at those two little girls and all I had in my heart was love.” It was love that kept him from destroying these little girls, just like it was love that kept God from destroying Noah and his family. The human race is able to go on, not because it deserves to, but because of love.

How the heck do we reconcile this maniac with the Noah of the Bible who was declared, “a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9)? I 100% admit that the Noah of Darren Aronofsky is not the same person as the Noah of the Bible, but they are more alike than you would think. It first starts with understanding what righteousness is.

What is righteousness? In the Old Testament, it's aligning with God’s justice. It’s not just being a good person. It’s having the same judgement as God. 

The Noah of the Bible may not have threatened his granddaughters with slaughter, but he did condemn the whole world, because of that judgement, he “became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7). The Noah of the Bible sat and watched the whole world suffocate, sink, and drown. He heard the screams of helpless people and he did nothing. He didn’t open a hatch and throw a rope out to help them. He also didn’t try and save the “innocent,” those too young to even understand what sin is. There were thousands of babies that were washed away and drowned in the flood, wiping out future generations of sinners. Noah, in the movie, reflects God’s wrath by focusing on just two more babies. In neither the movie nor the Bible, does Noah relish or delight in the deaths of others. In both stories, Noah is driven to drunkenness over it. It grieved him, just like it grieved God.

Noah is actually supposed to be a dark character, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Dark doesn’t mean a lack of righteousness. Remember how dark Good Friday was?

So why would Aronofsky choose to point his story in this direction? He wanted to explore the grief, wrath, anger, justice, and mercy of God and so they placed that journey onto Noah. When we watch Noah relent and drop the knife, it’s a small picture of what it may have been like for God to relent and choose to save Noah and his family on the ark. It puts the dilemma of the Flood on a personal level and depicts it in a way that will stay with you for a long time.

Noah was righteous because he reflected God’s righteous wrath and justice towards sin. But, Noah was also righteous because he reflected God’s mercy. Arononofsky just decided to display this in a more intimate, and intense way. Before we go criticizing Aronofsky for this narrative turn, of almost having Noah kill his offspring, let’s not forget that God actually did command Abraham to do this very thing. 


SIGNIFICANT MISSTEPS

Don’t misunderstand me though. There are still significant missteps that Aronofsky took in making this movie. The first one is the lack of covenant in the story. It’s implied in the end, with the appearance of a super sonic rainbow blasting through the sky and Noah repeating God’s mandate to be fruitful and multiply, but there is no explicit covenant mentioned at all. 

In Genesis, covenant language is all over the Flood story. Aronofsky missed an opportunity to make God’s mercy in spite of our wickedness that much more powerful. A covenant is an unbreakable, unconditional promise. No matter what, God is committing to save Noah’s family—not because they earned it, but because He chose them. No matter what, even if mankind becomes worse than ever before, God is committing to never flood the earth again. That’s not just mercy—that’s amazing grace.

The second major misstep of Aronofsky’s was to make the Creator in Noah distant. The God of this movie doesn’t speak with words to Noah, like He does in Genesis, but speaks through vague visions. These visions, though powerful, are hard to decipher and can (are) misinterpreted by Noah. This effect makes the Creator look less like a person and more like a force. All you learn and feel about the Creator is just through the lens of Noah, and that is a blurred lens indeed.

Aronofsky explained that he didn’t make God speak with words because of artistic reasons. It’s just too hard to make God speak on screen and not make it look cheesy. I understand that tension. You can only have Morgan Freeman or Liam Neeson be a god-like figure so many times before it just becomes lazy, but I feel like there still could’ve been a way to depict God as a character. Yes, we feel God’s grief over sin through Noah’s grief over sin, but because Noah is already an unreliable character, it does not give us a powerful sense of who the Creator truly is. 


A BIBLICAL MOVIE

In spite of those theological missteps, Noah is a good movieIt’s a good film as entertainment, but also as a biblical movie. It’s not a biblical movie in the traditional sense of making a line-by-line adaptation of a Bible story. In fact, I would say that Noah really isn’t the Noah story at all. And that’s fine by me. It’s a parable of who man is, what we have done, what we deserve, and what we really need to save us—mercy. 

Noah was created with a very conscious view towards the whole book of Genesis. Noah is deeply rooted in the stories of creation, the fall, and Cain and Abel. The movie recognizes that the Flood is a direct result of that previous chain of events, something I think many Christians miss. But more than that, there are echoes of Babel, and even echoes of Abraham and Isaac. There are even faint shadows looking forward in the narrative arc of the Bible, such as when God will finally destroy the earth with fire. Most Bible movies treat their story likes it’s a standalone episode with no ties to the rest of the biblical meta-narrative. Aronofsky is a storyteller, and so he understands that the Bible is not a series of unrelated events but one massive story.

Human depravity is on full display in Noah. Just seconds into the movie, we see Adam and Eve pluck the forbidden fruit off of the tree. Seconds after that, we witness the silhouettes of the first murder, Cain killing his brother Abel with a rock. Aronofsky repeatedly brings up this picture of the first murder, again and again in the movie. Whenever human sin is talked about or pondered, Cain’s raised fist holding a rock is displayed on the screen. This murder is the picture of ultimate human sin, taking life, something only God has the right to do. The villain, Tubal-cain actually uses the very fact that he can take life as a claim that he is like God. Taking life when it is not necessary is an affront to the Creator and His creation. This is why Aronofsky also pictures human sin through the killing and eating of animals. It has less to do with an environmentalist agenda. It’s to display just how far removed from Eden we really are. God’s original design was that there would be no death in Creation, but after the Fall, mankind let death spread throughout the earth like a virus. 

In one vivid scene, Noah roams around one of Tubal-cain’s villages and he witnesses within the span of several minutes the deep horrors mankind is capable of. Women and children are traded for food. Rape and cannibalism are implied. Animals are ripped open while still alive. It’s a brutal and horrible place. There are mass graves filled with discarded bodies. The scene itself is gruesome enough to make you want to take a shower afterwards. It shows that mankind really is deserving of righteous wrath. As Noah is shocked by everything he sees, he witnesses a half-crazed man running around from tent to tent. The man stops and looks at Noah and he is horrified to see that the man is actually himself. Noah realizes that even though these people are engaging in gross evil that he would never take part in, he is just the same as them. Sin is more than just something you do—sin is inside of all of us.

This scene is the turning point in Noah’s thinking and drives him to believe God wants mankind to be wiped out completely. They deserve to be. When Noah reveals this notion to his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), she disagrees and argues that their family is good. But Noah counters her arguments. He points out that even the good things their sons do are rooted in sinful motivations. He also asks her how far she would be willing to go to protect their sons. Naameh reluctantly admits she would kill to protect them, committing the ultimate sin.

Understanding that no one deserves to survive is what makes the ark so compelling. It’s what makes God’s mercy so baffling. After the Flood, one of the characters points out that the Creator has given them a second chance. A chance to start over and build a better world than the one previous. But those of us watching know what happens later in the story, and so does Aronofsky. The Tower of Babel arrives in just the next chapter of Genesis. Man fails again. God knew this would happen, but he still allowed mankind to survive on the ark. That’s mercy beyond comprehension.

Ari Handel, Aronofsky’s co-writer, said in an interview  "One of the questions we hope people come out of the film with is, to remember that we’re living in a second chance. And to ask ourselves, 'What are we doing with that second chance? Are we doing well with it?’” 

That’s a question we all ought to ponder and ask ourselves daily. We haven’t just been given a second chance, but billions of chances. In light of such mercy, what are we doing with it? 


WHY THIS MOVIE MATTERS

This movie matters, not because it gives a blueprint for how to make a Bible movie, but because it shows what a biblical movie, or a general faith-based movie, can be. It can be artistic. It can have solid dialogue and great acting. It can develop theological themes, and explore spiritual issues without being didactic and heavy-handed. I have not stopped thinking about this movie for a week now. That is the mark of a good movie.

Yes, Aronofsky added a lot. It didn't feel like the Noah story but I was okay with it because it was about much more than Noah. I understood the changes, even though I would have never made them myself. It was to examine the questions of the sinfulness of mankind, how justice and mercy can work together, and even what it really means to be made in the image of God.

One of the most powerful images to me from the whole movie occurred while Noah recounted the Creation and Fall story to his family while on the ark. He talks about Creation. He talks about the Fall. And then he talks about the first murder, and that silhouette of Cain smashing Abel’s head in with a rock appears again. Noah then says that man has been killing each other ever since. The clothes on the silhouettes modernize and so do the weapons, all the way through history with knives, hatchets, arrows, muskets, and rifles. It's here we see that this isn't a movie about Noah at all. It's a movie about ourselves. It’s a movie about who we are and what we deserve, today. We haven't become better since the ancient times. We haven’t evolved. We are just the same.

In light of such human sinfulness, what do we deserve? It is very clear from this movie that we deserve judgement. That would be what justice calls for. But God, knowing that mankind cannot bear such wrath, decides to offer us mercy.

This movie was bold. It ambitiously grappled with deep questions and gave better answers than probably most Christians could’ve given—definitely better than most Christian movies.

It isn't the Noah story, but it never mocks it's source material. It never talks down to those who hold this story so dear. If anything, because it's foundations are found in something we value, and because we know the rest of the story, I really think a Christian could have the most enriched viewing experience of Noah than any other person. We know what it truly means to get a second chance. We know what it means that water cleanses. We know what it means that we are so wicked and deserve destruction. We know that a greater Adam, one far greater than even the real Noah, walked this earth, and brought about our rescue, giving us the greatest act of mercy and grace, and new life.

To Christians who saw the movie and didn’t appreciate it, I hope that you will think about these things and perhaps give the movie a second chance. You don’t have to like it, but you don’t need to demonize it. It’s far more Christian than you think.

To Christians who haven’t seen the movie, I don’t think you have to see the movie, but I encourage you to do so. See it, not just to enter into the national conversation, but also for yourselves. See it to wrestle with these questions. See it to once again encounter the truth of how sinful we truly are. See it to once again savor how great God’s mercy is.

Can’t wait to do this all again when Exodus: Gods and Kings comes out. 


The Hiroshima Lie

It’s amazing the lies humans come up with.

Last week I came across one of the most fascinating stories I had ever heard. Mamoru Samuragochi, the son of a survivor of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima at the end of World War II, lost his hearing at 35 years of age. But this great loss could not keep Mr. Samuragochi away from the love of his life, music. Defying all odds, he went on to become a celebrated music composer. His compositions were often compared to those of Beethoven, whose hearing had also deteriorated throughout his life. Samuragochi’s greatest symphony, “Hiroshima,” inspired by the bombing his father survived, sold around 200,000 copies and won several awards. He was considered a Japanese national treasure. His musical works have been included in video games and even the Sochi Winter Olympics.

It’s all an amazing, inspiring story. Except for the fact that Mamoru Samuragochi isn’t actually a composer. He’s not even deaf.

He made the whole thing up. 


Why do we lie? What’s so wrong with the truth?

It does make some sense when someone lies to protect themselves (not that it makes it any less of a lie). We see that the truth will get us in more trouble than we would like, so we lie. 

The first lie I can remember saying was when I was explicitly told not to bring my new toy over to my friend’s house. I tried to sneak the toy out in my shirt. When trying to leave, my parents asked me why I was holding my belly—even though they could see the toy bulging underneath my t-shirt. Not wanting to get caught, I told them it was because I wasn’t feeling good. They didn’t buy it.

At least my lie was better than Aaron’s when Moses asked how the golden calf got there. “The people gave me all their gold and jewels and I threw them in the fire and out popped this mass of gold that happens to look an awful lot like a baby cow.”

Right, Aaron.

While it makes sense to lie in order to protect yourself, what doesn’t make any logical sense, at all, is why we lie when we have no reason to. Stretching a story just a little bit. Shifting a few details around. Creating whole facts about ourselves. Appropriating someone else’s story for our own. 

Often times we do such things, not to protect ourselves from harm, but just to make ourselves look better. We weren’t pinned in a corner, we just wanted to paint ourselves up a bit. 

When we lie in this way, we’re saying, this is the version of me I would rather people see. We aren’t satisfied or happy with how we really are, and so we create a persona, we construct a facade, we pad our resume. Hopefully, people won’t see right through it and see us for who we really are.

The truth? We can’t handle the truth. It’s not good enough. 


Mr. Samuragochi put a lot of work into crafting his lie.

He hired a ghostwriter to compose his songs, an part-time lecturer at a Tokyo music college, Takashi Niigaki. Niigaki was the key to Samuragochi’s success, but also his downfall. The ghostwriter turned out to be the one who first broke the news that Samuragochi was not an actual composer and was not actually deaf. Niigaki told reporters that he was paid a modest sum of money to compose the music, but was also told be Samuragochi that if he didn’t continue to write, Samuragochi would commit suicide. Niigaki said that he and Samuragochi had normal conversations over the phone, and would even listen to music together.

Samuragochi defended the motives of his deception, claiming that his childhood love for music fueled this desire to be the next Beethoven. Although Niigaki wrote the music, Samuragochi claimed to be the driving force behind the themes and musical architecture. As long as the seed of the music was rooted in his heart, that made his lie okay, right? 


We often make excuses for our lies. We justify them to ourselves. It’s ok for me to stretch the truth because it’s founded in the truth. We even give these stories innocent titles like “fibs” and “white lies.” 

What we’re actually doing is just lying to ourselves so we can lie to others. Whenever a pang of guilt enters our minds, we shove it out with our carefully crafted and well-nuanced justifications. I thought of the themes and so it’s just like I wrote the music myself. 

We can do this for so long that we begin to believe the lies too. 


Why do we lie? Fear.

What’s so wrong with the truth? It’s out of our control.

The truth is out of our control, and more than we could ever know. Whether we try to run from it or try to dress it up, the truth will find us. Samuragochi knew that. He told reporters, “I thought the truth would come out some day. It all grew beyond my control, and filled me with terror.”

But the thing is, we should never be afraid of the truth, even after we’ve lied. The truth is not a curse. The truth is liberating. It’s liberating because it means that we no longer have to be the masters of ourselves, burdened with the task of crafting stories to create a better us. The truth means that we no longer have to be in control, and that’s a good thing. When we allow the truth to rule our lives, we allow God to rule. 

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) 

The Veil of Familiarity

Stories reveal truth.

The first story I remember creating was in the fifth grade. I would think about this story every single night in bed while I tried to go to sleep. Little by little, I constructed the plot in my mind. It was never the most realistic scenario in the world, but hey, give me a break, I was eleven.

It always began with me shredding the slopes of Mount Hood on my snowboard. The mountain recently received obscene amounts of snow and so everyone in Oregon wanted to experience the fresh powder. While enjoying the view at the summit of the mountain, I bumped into the new girl in school I had a massive crush on. What fortune! This was my chance to show her my skillz. She smiled at me as we chatted about school, making fun of our teacher, and how boring math was. It was a grander experience than the mountain itself. 

As we were about to bomb down the mountain together, a great earthquake shook the entire base of the mountain, causing a massive avalanche. Hundreds of thousands of tons of snow thundered down at mach speeds, eating everyone and everything in its sight. My girl and I bobbed and weaved, missing deadly obstacles by mere inches. Thankfully though, because we were at the summit when the avalanche began, we had avoided the worst of its crushing weight. 

Eventually, the snow captured so much debris that the avalanche stalled halfway down the mountain. This created a giant wall of snow over a hundred feet high and five hundred feet thick. The only survivors were me and the girl. While the company was pleasant, we were trapped behind the wall of snow, unable to scale the wall, and unable to be rescued. 

The noble man that I was, I comforted the girl and let her know she would be safe with me. After she cried on my shoulder for a bit, we banded together and created a large shelter out of snow, complete with a living room, bedrooms, and a kitchen (with a special smokestack to keep our fires from melting our new home). During this time we fought off hunger, cold, snow storms, and wild beasts. Eventually, the girl fell in love with me and we even got to kiss!

It was all a magnificent fantasy to fall asleep to every night. The world grew larger with every attempt and the story became more and more elaborate. I could feel the cold snow on my finger tips, smell the pine, and hear the roar of the avalanche. The only problem was, I could never figure out how to get us off that darn mountain. Perhaps, a part of me never wanted to. 


THE STORY

I know it sounds like a cliché (and that's because it is a cliché—a true one, nonetheless) but, life is a story. It’s full of characters—some good, some insufferable, some evil. It has dramatic tension and despair. It has high points and victories. It has plots and subplots. It has a beginning and it has an end.

This is your life.

Often, we don't think of life as a story though. We think of it as just existing, like a plastic bag caught up in the wind with no aim and no purpose, landing wherever we will. We wake up, we plod through work, we make fools of ourselves, we eat, we go to the bathroom, we read, we go home, we spend time with our family, we watch TV, and we go to bed to start this exhilarating cycle all over again. But there's more to life than just existing. There is living. All you have to do is open your eyes to the story. There’s a lot more happening around you than you think.

Life is a story because it's caught up in the Story. It's the truest story there ever was, but it's still a story. It too is full of characters, most of them also insufferable and evil. It has drama. It has hope. It has a story arc. It has a villain. It has a hero. It has a beginning and it will have an end, but the end is not here yet because you are here.

This story is found in the Bible, and it explains all others. It gives us aim and purpose. It explains what we’re doing here on this rock hurling around the sun at unimaginable speeds. This story tells you why you feel what you feel, desire what you desire, and what to do about it.

You are in this story, the source of all others, but you are not the main character. Life is a story, but ultimately it’s not yours. Life is His story. 


BEHIND THE VEIL

Good stories aren't an escape from reality. In fact, they can be a way to help us dive deeper into reality. They sweep us away to different worlds so they can plant us back in our own, with new eyes to see. 

Stories reveal what’s going on in our hearts. Perhaps, my story of the wall of snow displayed a longing to grow up to be a man, a hero. Perhaps, it displayed a thirst for adventure. I know for sure it betrayed a deep, deep desire to get the girl. 

But good stories are more than just a mirror into the soul. They’re also a means of communicating truth. Good stories don't just tell us how things ought to be. They give us an accurate picture of how things are. They don't sugarcoat reality (unlike Amish romance novels and Thomas Kinkade paintings). They give us the the brutal, unvarnished truth about human nature and life. 

That’s what I love about the Bible. It doesn't give us a rosy-colored view of humanity. Most "heroes" of the faith, in fact, are more messed up than any of us ever could aspire to be. Noah was a drunk. Lot slept with his daughters. Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, who he thought was just a prostitute (their child went on to be an ancestor of Jesus, by the way). Moses was a murderer. David was a murderer and an adulterer. I could go on and on down the list.  The point is, good stories don't hide the truth, they bring it to light for all to see.

We need stories to do this for us because the truth often grows stale in our mouths. We've heard it time and time again—be good, be nice, be truthful, be noble, be generous, don't lie, don't cheat, don't kill, don't abuse, don't take advantage of the weak, don’t destroy the environment, and on and on and on. We get it.

Stories pick us up, shake us out of apathy, and force us to see these truths in new light. C.S. Lewis wrote about this concept:

The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity’. The child enjoys his cold meat (otherwise dull to him) by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savoury for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat. If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. (On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature)

Instead of just hearing we ought to fight for truth and freedom, we have William Wallace storming down the plains of Scotland against the oppressive English, kilts waving in the air. Instead of just hearing how the best leaders are humble, we get to see Aragorn and his refusal to take the throne before his time. We get to see true sacrifice in Aslan’s death for Edmund. We get to see these things played out and feel the weight of their significance.  

In seeing truth played out in stories, we get to experience it. These dusty truths begin to take on a new weight for us that they never could have taken before. Good stories are theology made flesh.

We are in constant need for truth, but far too often our eyes are blinded by the veil of familiarity. It's the same old same old. This is why we need good stories, to take us behind the veil and bring us back into the light. 

Nations: An Interview with Michael Watson

Michael Watson is Ekklesia's worship pastor and we have been so blessed to have him here! He previously was the frontman for the Christian band, Above the Golden State, with Sparrow Records. ATGS has now become Nations and they have recently released a new worship album self-titled, Nationsand it is amazing! We actually sing a few songs from the album in the Ekklesia gatherings and so many people have commented on how they have been blessed by those songs.

I recently got to talk to Michael about his experience creating this worship album, his background in music, his heart for the nations, and so much more.

How did you get into music in the first place?

My parents both play and teach music for a living. Eventually I grabbed a guitar sitting around the house and asked them to help me out. I think I was 12 at the time.

Writing a worship album sounds like an insanely personal process. What inspired this new album? Why write a worship album? What ties the songs together?

I knew I wanted to record another record. I'd written over 100 songs the past 5 years. A number of them I felt confident were worth being shared.

Over a year ago when I sat down to pick out songs for the new record with Steve Wilson (producer of Above The Golden State), neither of us had any idea what this record would sound like or what it would be called. The further we got into production, it was obvious to us two things: 1. It was a worship record and 2. It didn’t exactly sound like an ATGS record.

A theme that I believe comes through in a number of places is the idea of a the sunrise — light over taking darkness. Another theme seems to be "death to life." As stated above, neither were intentional but both reflect the sort of things that I'd been thinking about and/or God had been teaching me about through scripture and life experiences.

"My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is steadfast and confident! I will sing and make melody. Awake, my glory, my inner self; awake, harp and lyre! I will awake right early, I will awaken the dawn! I will praise and give thanks to You..." Psalm 57:7-8

What song [from Nations] is resonating with you the most right now?

I think about the song "My Side Of Town" and "Middle Of The Fire" a lot. Both involve the heart of God for restoring justice in our lives and those around us, meaning right relationship with God, creation and people. I like the fact that there's no "fairy-tale" ending to both stories... faith and trust must take action!

I'm currently reading a book by a friend, Ken Wytsma, called Pursuing Justice, which looks at justice in the character of God and its implications for us, the church, in helping restore justice on our street, our city, this nation and around the world. Eugene is a great starting place.

What has God taught you through writing and recording this album?

Practically, and this may seem strange, but I believe God is training me through this experience to write better worship songs. I've been able to apply a lot of these things to more recent songs I've written. Hopefully we'll all get to hear those sooner than 2 years from now. Haha! I'm taking donations if anyone is interested? ;)

What are your hopes for this album? How will you measure its success?

Albums can sell a lot and do nothing for the Kingdom of God, so I hope it will further God's kingdom wherever it is heard. It's sort of difficult to track that but not impossible. To everyone that owns the album, please share it with anyone you know! You have my permission.

What is it you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?

I really hope people learn more of depth of God's character, especially in regards to thislife. I say this referring not solely to the lyrics... but I desire the music to convey these things as well.

For you, what makes a song a "worship song?"

A "worship song" gives worth to something. It could be about anything, or anyone. The reason I felt this album should be considered a "worship album" is because of the frequency of songs that have lyrics directed as praise towards God. Along with that, there are songs of justice, which according to God is a required element of worship.

Why the name change from Above the Golden State? What does "Nations" mean?

I think it’s twofold — to the nations and from the nations.

God’s message and goal throughout the scriptures is to be in relationship with all people from all nations. From the calling out of Abraham to the sending out of the apostle Paul, we are being sent to the nations! (Gen.12:3, Acts 9:15) We are telling the world of this God who is love... praising Him among the nations.

The gospel (Jesus is Lord) has in many ways successfully reached the far corners of the earth and continues to do so today. Point in case, here I am 2000 years later on the other side of the world singing and sharing about the love of God... using electric guitars and computers. Ha! So now the message is coming from the nations too (Ps.57:7-11, Matt.28:19, Rev.7:9). Amazing!

How have things changed for you now that you're a worship pastor?

I feel like my whole life has led to this moment. Every piece from my first job in ministry at Solid Rock in Portland as it was just starting, to Above The Golden State, to getting married and going back to school to finish a degree in Theology. I absolotely love doing what I'm doing. I have less time to write and record, but I think that will change as I go further along in the job. The new songs are definitely piling up.

You can find Michael Watson's new worship album, Nations, on iTunes. Also if you've never heard any of his other stuff, check out Above the Golden State and Strangers & Pilgrims. Follow him on Twitter at @atgs and @Nations_music and like him on Facebook.

Tweets of the Week: 09|06|13

My wife doesn't like the movie "Goonies." Really wish that came out during our pre-marital counseling. Secrets kill, truth heals.

— Jon Acuff (@JonAcuff) September 6, 2013

"A world of gentle touches is no truer than a world gone black." - @ndwilsonmutters, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

— Barnabas Piper (@BarnabasPiper) September 6, 2013

Meet the Pinterest user who's been attributing Hitler quotes to Taylor Swift without anyone noticing. http://t.co/lr8e100HJD

— RELEVANT Magazine (@RELEVANT) August 30, 2013

Dear J.J. Abrams, If the new Star Wars isn't awesome, you will be called Jar Jar Abrams. Sincerely, Everybody

— Darth Vader (@DepressedDarth) August 31, 2013

Good writing is about telling the truth. ANNE LAMOTT #amwriting #writing #writetip

— Jon Winokur (@AdviceToWriters) September 3, 2013

We worship and serve God for who He is, not what we get out of Him. @timkellernyc

— Carson Hickox (@CarsonHickox) September 4, 2013

Complaining about a silent God with a closed Bible is like complaining about no texts with a phone that's turned off

— Colin Kaepernick (@ColinKeapernick) September 5, 2013

Church bulletin bloopers: "8 choir robes are needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones."

— Mark Driscoll (@PastorMark) September 5, 2013

How to Lose in Sports

I hate losing. It doesn't matter if it's a card game, a touch-football game, or Scattergories. Losing is like being forced to drink a tall glass of cottage cheese while watching your puppy get kicked by the opposing team.

One of the worst days in UO history.

I know that sounds slightly extreme, but it used to be a lot worse for me. Whenever I'd lose or my favorite team would lose, it used to depress me for days. Not minutes. Not hours. Days. The worst was whenever my beloved Oregon Ducks would lose a football game.

Growing up, the Ducks used to lose often, so fall was always a rough time for my heart. But once I hit high school, winning became a regular thing for the Ducks. It got to the point that in my freshman year of college—attending the University of Oregon, of course—the Ducks were well on their way to go to the national championship game, led by the Heisman-trophy-candidate quarterback, Dennis Dixon.

But while playing Arizona, Dixon's knee gave out, a season-ending injury. Without their starting quarterback, the Ducks flailed and lost the game, forfeiting all national championship aspirations. They limped through the remainder of the season.

Needless to say, I was devastated. This was the worst loss of them all. I wasn't just depressed, I was angry. I felt like this had been some sick cosmic joke, to come so far over the years just to fall flat. It was unjust.

Trying to cope with the loss, some friends wanted to watch a movie. If something else occupied our minds, then maybe we would feel better. Someone chose the movie Blood Diamond, which had come out on DVD not too long before. If you don't know, Blood Diamond is a movie about conflict diamonds and how they are used to fund rebel armies who use child soldiers to wage their wars. It's a gruesome but very well-made film.

There's this one scene in the movie where the rebel general invades a village looking for new boys to join his army and slaves to mine for diamonds. The general massacres much of the village and rounds up all the males, boys and men. Hands get chopped off. Mothers get shot. It's horrible.

I remember watching the scene and feeling disturbed because the crimes committed were so wrong. But then I suddenly felt more disturbed. I realized that although I was moved by this injustice, I was not angered by it—not like how I was angered by the supposed injustice of the Duck game. I was more furious about a football game than I was about an evil man brainwashing children to kill people. I remember thinking, I am a horrible human being. Football doesn't matter as much as people.

Jesus took me to the mat for that one. Thankfully, from that point on I've had a sobered perspective on losing. Sometimes I have an initial emotional reflex, but it's always tempered with that memory.

A couple years later, the Oregon Ducks actually ended up going the national championship game but we lost because of a last second field goal. I was fine. Watching the game was actually one of the most fun experiences of my college career.

I'm not saying losing should be easy. I understand the pain of losing a game. In a high school soccer playoff game, I missed a penalty kick that would've tied the game. Instead, we lost because of me. The pain is real, especially for the players and coaches. I'm not going to take that away from anyone. But I do know that sports is just a part of life, not life itself. While we're losing games, people are losing loved ones. We should consider ourselves blessed when the most traumatic event in our life is just losing a game.

At the same time, we shouldn't devalue the losses. Don't pretend like they never happened. They're tools to teach us, grow us. In many ways, you learn more when you lose than when you win. There is such a thing as getting back on the horse, stepping back into the ring, and the come-from-behind win.

Everyone is going to lose at some point, definitely in sports but also in life. The question is not if you will lose, but how will you react.

Tweets of the Week: 08|30|13

Where in The Bible Does God Attend Anger Management Classes?

Editor's Note: I love to bring in different voices to this blog. Today, you have the privilege of hearing from Seth Clarke. Seth is one of my best friends in the whole wide world. He works on staff at Ekklesia with me and is an excellent Bible student. Also, I don't think there's a bigger Disney or Dirk Pitt fan on the planet earth than Seth. Enjoy!  -Kyle

Belief-in-an-Angry-God-Now-Linked-to-Mental-Illness-2I was friends with a guy who got into the Hollywood scene. He originally attended seminary to become a pastor, but decided that Hollywood was the way to go instead. Then one day he tweeted, “Jesus telling people not to cast the first stone would have been cool, if his dad hadn’t told them to do it in the first place.

Unfortunately, this is a viewpoint that many Christians and non-Christians hold. Many think that the God of the Old Testament was angry; He wanted blood! He wanted vengeance!! HE WANTED TO WATCH THE CAST OF JERSEY SHORE BURN!!!…But then came Jesus, the God of the New Testament. He was all about peace, love, harmony, and organic foods.

God the Father had a crew cut, was clean-shaven, and fought in Korea. Jesus rocked the long flowing hair, beard, and listened to Simon and Garfunkel.

Both these views are skewed.

Lets sort out the first problem. God is Jesus. Jesus is God. You cannot separate the two. How do I know? He says so.

  • “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
  • “I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

So if God and Jesus are the same, why are they so different tempered? Did God have a change of heart during the 400 years between the Old Testament and New Testament? Did he attend anger management classes? Did he stop listening to rap music? Yoga?

No.

Understand that God never changes.

  • “For I am The LORD, I do not change.” (Malachi 3:6)
  • "Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven's lights. Unlike them, He never changes or casts shifting shadows." (James 1:17)
  • "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

Also understand that God's anger in the Old Testament is a righteous anger aimed at evil. It is good. It is just. It is the proverbial Superman to the world’s Voldermort. (Calm down my fellow nerds, it’s just an example.)

And we even see Jesus use this anger.

In John 2:13-22 people were using the temple to sell stuff and make money. Jesus got so angry that he yelled, over turned tables, and whipped people to get out! Can you imagine going to the store when all of a sudden a man starts yelling, knocking things over, then pulls out his Indiana Jones whip to scare people out? That’s scary enough by itself, without the righteous wrath of God!

So if Jesus and God are the same person and never change, then what’s the deal with God’s anger in the Old Testament? I would like to argue that God is actually a very loving God in the Old Testament. He forgives a countless number of times. He loves the people of the world. He wants them to succeed in life. He wants what’s best for them.

You want some examples? I’ll give you some examples.

Here are some in just the first book of The Bible:

  • God gave man the whole world. Literally. “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
  • God told man not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not because he wanted to tell man what to do, but because he loves us and did not want us to die, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)
  • God made woman so that man would not be lonely. (Genesis 2:18-22)
  • God agreed to spare an evil, vile, corrupt city of large population if there were merely ten righteous people in this city. (Genesis 18:23-32)

God demonstrates his love in other books of the Old Testament:

  • God freed the slaves of Egypt, who then complained, turned away from him, and worshiped idols, and he STILL forgave them. (Exodus 1-32)
  • God spared David. A king who had everything, who slept with another man's wife, got her pregnant, tried to cover it up which failed, then killed her husband and made it look like an accident to try to cover it up again, then once the husband was dead he took her as his own wife. (2 Samuel 11 – 12:15)
  • God allowed the rich man, Job, to be tested but not killed, and then rewarded him with twice as many riches as he had before. (Job 1-42)
  • God continually offers redemption and grace to a stubborn and rebellious nation of Israel. (Isaiah 43)

But the biggest examples to me that the Old Testament God loves us are found in christophanies. Christophanies are God appearing in the pre-incarnate form of Jesus Christ. Again, if Jesus and God are one, then Jesus existed before he was born in flesh. Christophanies occur in the Old Testament when God wants to appear before man in a physical form. God the Father cannot appear before man, for he told Moses “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) Some examples of chistophanies can be found in Genesis 16, 18, 32, and Exodus 3.

So why would God want to appear to us who sin against him daily? Simple. Because he loves us. Because he doesn’t want to abandon us. Because he wants to be with us. He is the Father who wants to be with his children, no matter how badly those children misbehave.

Therefore I would urge anyone who is reading the Old Testament to shift their paradigm and look at who God really is.

A God who loves us.

A God who created us. Not so we could be ruled over and punished, but be cared for and watched over.

A God who ultimately would send his one and only son to be brutally murdered, so our relationship with him could be restored once and for all.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

Seth Clarke is a theology student at Calvary Chapel Bible College, musician, movie-buff, husband, and disciple of Christ. He's currently devising a plan to join the cast of The Avengers but he'll probably get beat out by Ben Affleck. Follow him on Twitter @Seth_Clarke.