Every open door isn’t meant to be walked through

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Imagine that you are visiting a friend who lives in apartment complex. You Mapquest your way to the complex, but your friend didn’t give you the specific number of his apartment, so you start walking up and down the hallways where every door looks the same. You’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for – maybe that welcome mat he used to have years ago? Perhaps a door knocker emblazoned with his family crest (cause that’s always there)? But not this time. There are no marks of identification to let you know which door is the right one. But finally, after walking down two or three hallways you finally come to a door that looks like all the other ones… except it’s open.

What do you do?

I can tell you what you DON’T do – you don’t just walk right through it, assuming that it’s the right one just because it’s open. You’re smarter than that, and depending on which state you’re in, you know about things like concealed handgun laws. You still knock. You still examine. You still use your powers of deduction and wisdom to know whether or not that open door is the right one to enter in.

Every open door isn’t meant to be walked through. But that’s precisely the way many of us treat God’s will in our lives. We glimpse an opportunity, we have a feeling, we see the seemingly greener grasses through that open door, and because the door is open, we conclude that surely this is what God intends for us. Here’s what it looks like practically:

  • God wouldn’t let me have these feelings if he didn’t want me to pursue this lifestyle.
  • God wouldn’t have given me this opportunity at work if He didn’t want me to go after it.
  • God would stop me from feeling bored in my current relationship if He didn’t want me to leave.

Just because the door is open doesn’t mean it’s the right one. Let me give you a case study from the Bible that helps us see this.

Though Saul was the king of Israel, his popularity had been surpassed greatly by David. David, the handsome young general. David, the champion over Goliath. David, of whom it was said had already been anointed by Samuel as the next king. And Saul would have none of us. In an obsessive rage, he launched out in a no-holds-barred manhunt for his once valued comrade. He chased him ruthlessly, and he chased him endlessly.

This went on not for days; not for weeks; but for years. All the while David ran, knowing that he was indeed the next chosen king. Knowing that as soon as something happened to Saul he would rise to the throne. Knowing at least at some level what God’s will was for his life. And then we come to the text in 1 Samuel 24:

When Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the wilderness near En-gedi.” So Saul took 3,000 of Israel’s choice men and went to look for David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. When Saul came to the sheep pens along the road, a cave was there, and he went in to relieve himself. David and his men were staying in the back of the cave, so they said to him, “Look, this is the day the Lord told you about: ‘I will hand your enemy over to you so you can do to him whatever you desire.’” Then David got up and secretly cut off the corner of Saul’s robe.

Afterward, David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the corner of Saul’s robe.He said to his men, “I swear before the Lord: I would never do such a thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed. I will never lift my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.” With these words David persuaded his men, and he did not let them rise up against Saul. (1 Samuel 24:1-7)

Talk about your open doors. The king was there, oblivious to David’s presence. And David was there, no doubt tired of running for the last four or so years. And his men were there, telling him that this was not only a golden opportunity, but that clearly this was from the Lord. After all, they knew God wanted David as king; and they knew that God had provided this choice circumstance; and they knew that it would be clean, quick, and easy. No more running and finally the chance to see what they all knew would eventually happen come to fruition. So up he snuck – quietly. Stealthily. Like the warrior he was, stalking his victim. The voices in his head were loud and clear: “This is going to be so easy. He’s completely unaware. The promises of God are true, you just have to take hold of them. Just reach out and…”

And then David blew it. I’ve got a feeling the text cleans up the conversation a little bit when David came back to the camp with a piece of a robe instead of the king’s head in his hand. So why didn’t he do it?

It’s because every open door isn’t meant to be walked through.

But that leaves us with a huge question, doesn’t it? How do you know? How do you know when to talk through the door and when not to? The text gives us at least part of the answer in David’s response: “I swear before the Lord: I would never do such a thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed. I will never lift my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.”

The way you know if the open door is the right door is by comparing what you think God might be saying with what you know He has already said. David no doubt wanted to stop running, and he no doubt was tired of being pursued when he had done nothing wrong. He had all kinds of feelings telling him that this was the door for him to walk through, and yet even in the emotional tumult of those feelings, he had the ability to step back and evaluate the door before him not based on what he perceived in the moment but what he knew to be true.

God is the same now as He was then as He will be tomorrow. And if He said it then, He means it now. So how do you know if the door that’s open is the door for you?

Look to what God has already said. And then go with what you know rather than what you think.


Michael Kelley (M.Div.) and his wife, Jana, have three children. He’s the Director of at LifeWay Christian Resources. His works include Boring and Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal. Keep up with Michael on his blog at michaelkelleyministries.com or on Twitter @_MichaelKelley.

Originally published at michaelkelleyministries.com. Photo credit: dbz885 via photopin cc

Links I like

Dads, Date Your Daughter’s Boyfriend

Marshall Segal:

One of the most terrifying moments of a not-yet-married man’s life is meeting his girlfriend’s father.

The much-anticipated introduction is an unending fountain of humor for friends and family, but it’s more often an occasion for horror for the young man. What will dad say? What will he ask? Will he be armed? The moment is a mountain to overcome in almost any relationship, but I believe it’s a mountain we, as Christians, can capture for the good of the daughter, the suitor, and the father.

Starting A Fire and Keeping It Going

Mike Leake:

I love survival shows. One of my favorite shows in this genre is Dual Survival. One of the guys on that show is a bare-footed fella named Cody Lundin. And the dude can start a fire from anything and with anything in about any climate.… I, on the other hand, can barely start a fire using a lighter and a propane tank. Therefore, I stand in awe as I see these dudes take the strangest components and from them create fire and then sustain the fire.

But I’m even more astounded at the way in which the Lord can create a spark of grace in a heart and fan such a spark into flame.

How to Grow Spiritually

William Boekestein:

There was once a powerful Syrian general named Naaman who had contracted the dreaded disease of leprosy. At God’s instruction, the prophet Elisha promised Naaman healing if he would wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman was indignant. Dipping in the Jordan was too undignified an act for him, and it didn’t fit his definition of help. If not for the persistence of his servants, he would have returned to Syria unhealed (2 Kings 5:1–14).

For the same reason, many people miss God’s simple, ordinary plan for their spiritual growth—diligent attendance to the means of grace.

When My Fashion Accessory Told Me To Take a Hike

Tim Challies:

There was a day when one of my fashion accessories talked back. It told me to take a hike. I had said something about it on Facebook or Twitter or snapped a picture of it for Instagram and it was none too pleased. It said it to me nicely enough, but the point was clear: cut it out.

Why Was Judas Carrying the Moneybag?

Jon Bloom:

Judas’s masquerade is a lesson for us. Wolves can look and sound almost exactly like sheep. And sometimes Jesus, for his own reasons, allows the disguised wolves to live among the sheep for a long time and do great damage before their deception is exposed. When this happens, we must trust that the Lord knows what he’s doing. Judas reminds us that even ravaging wolves have a part to play in the drama of redemptive history.

Links I like

Finding Jesus In The Storm

Ryan Freeman:

At the end of their own physical strength these men, many of whom were lifelong fishermen, were also at the end of their personal and professional competence. Their obedience to Christ brought them to the end of anything they had to offer, and they saw the futility of their efforts. Personally, as a member of a church plant, and a church planting church, in a city where most churches have fled for the suburbs and real estate prices make churching nearly impossible, this struck a chord! When all our efforts fail, and our strength is not enough, we can either reason with ourselves that wisdom dictates a change of course … or we can hold fast to the instruction of our Lord and trust in Him to provide resources beyond ourselves!

More humble theologians, please!

Aaron Earls:

Why is it that despite the horrible record of “conventional wisdom” we continue to rely on it and trust it?

While this problem is widespread in culture, it particularly impacts the church. Once something becomes adopted by the majority of Christians, even if it is not biblical, it is almost impossible to change their minds.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to get Preparing Your Teens for College by Alex Chediak for $2.99. Also on sale:

7 things guys need to know about suits

4 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Church

Brian Croft:

I’ve been asked this question many times not just through my Practical Shepherding website, but even more recently in my own church by visitors. It is a common scenario. You move to a new area. You get find your new residence and job. You get the kids enrolled in school. Where you settle in a local church often becomes a longer, more drawn-out task.

After checking out all the churches you desire to visit, here are four questions to ask yourself as you narrow the search to make a decision.

One of the books that most deeply affected my faith

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The last little while I’ve been talking a lot about the relationship between books and the Christian faith. A little while ago, I shared five books I believe new Christians should read as well as five four and a half that I shouldn’t have read as a new Christian. Clearly, I believe books and reading are really important to our growth as Christians. (And I think God does too, since He reveals Himself in a book and all…)

So a few days ago, I asked friends and followers on Twitter about what book, outside the Bible, had the most profound impact on their faith. There were some pretty terrific answers—The Pilgrim’s Progress, Valley of Vision, Christianity and Liberalism… Even a couple of newer books like Note to Self got a mention!

I’ve been thinking about this question since I asked it—partly because it’s one of those questions that you don’t really think about until you have a reason to. What, of the tens, hundreds, or thousands of books you’ve read in your lifetime, are the ones that made the biggest impact. Of all the books I’ve had the opportunity to read, only one really jumps out at me as being a true game-changer.

What’s interesting is it’s not a book about a theological concept or anything like that. It’s a book about a person, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. I read this book shortly after it was released (though I don’t recall why I wanted to read it in the first place!). It’s the story of Tom Carson, a pastor and church planter whose mission field was la belle province—Quebec. He wrote no books. He received few accolades. He was just an “ordinary” pastor, with the same insecurities and doubts about his own ministry that so many of us have.

But the image that still sticks in my head is his deep dependence upon the Lord:

I went looking for Dad after the morning service to entice him to come and play the piano while the rest of us sang or played instruments. He was not where he usually was. I found him in his study, the door not quite closed. He was on his knees in front of his big chair, tears streaming down his face, as he interceded with God for the handful of people to whom he had just preached. I remember some of their names to this day. (Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, 80)

You get this sense that when Carson prayed, he prayed as though the Lord really is sovereign—that He must intervene for the lives of Carson’s hearers to be transformed. Because He must. That’s something that keeps coming back to me, again and again, particularly as one who often struggles in my own prayer life, feeble and half-hearted as it sometimes is. God is bigger than my weaknesses, but He is pleased to use me in my weakness.

Your turn: what’s a book that most profoundly impacted your faith?


photo credit: gioiadeantoniis via photopin cc

LInks I like

The Superior Blessed the Inferior

Erik Raymond:

…there are many (glorious) ways this points to Christ. However, I want to briefly focus on one for the sake of a gospel meditation. When you read of the superior blessing the inferior you don’t have to think long before you are face to face with Jesus and his dealings with you through the gospel. This is the ultimate example of the superior blessing the inferior. He is infinitely glorious eternally enveloped in the perfections of his person. He is superior in every way. His love, compassion, holiness, justice, mercy, humility, joy, courage, loyalty, and holiness all are without blemish or defect. He is utterly perfect. Yet this perfect one, this superior one, blesses us the inferior. In Christ, we have every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1.3). We are clothed with righteousness, adopted into a new family, given a new hope, new life, new holiness, indeed all things are new and precious in Christ! He who has taken our sin, guilt and shame upon himself while giving us his righteousness, liberty, and holiness. Indeed, we who have trusted in Christ have been richly blessed!

A ridiculous-sounding affirmation

Gloria Furman:

What a tender place the Lord has you in! To have that feeling of longing for his Word and to have that be your big question emerge in the midst of those circumstances is a precious gift. We’re not Word-hungry on our own; it’s evidence of the Spirit’s work when our heart is inclined to his testimonies (Ps. 119:12). And what a blessing it is to your young children that they see your appetite for God’s Word being played out in front of their watching eyes. Where does Mommy want to run to (or limp) when she’s starved for spiritual nourishment? God’s Word is so treasured that time spent meditating on it is hunted down instead of brushed off. It’s an assuring and tender grace of God to feel that even in your bone-weary physical fatigue you feel just as deeply that your soul longs and even faints for fellowship with God.

The Tone Deaf Singer

Tim Challies:

As Christians we are told to sing from the gospel, for one another, to the Lord—a ten-word summary of Colossians 3:16 which says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” As Paul writes to this Colossian church, he wants them to realize that every Christian needs singing lessons. If we want to sing a song that glorifies the Lord, we first need to apply some lessons.

What Are We Teaching Our Daughters?

Rebecca Vandoodewaard:

The Lord doesn’t require His daughters to braid bread and arrange flowers. For women who want to, those things are gifts. And while we should have skillful hands and strong arms (Prov. 31), what God does require is that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). That is a teaching that can, by grace, bear eternal fruit in a daughter’s life. A woman who is skilled in every domestic art is of little Kingdom use unless she also thinks biblically, discerns wisely, understands the times, and can serve her family and church with these vital gifts as best she can.

Why Do Some Believe and Some Don’t?

Daniel Hyde:

Our forefathers spoke of faith as “receiving” the gospel or more personally as “embracing” Jesus (e.g., Canons of Dort 1.4). This is important because all too often we can think of faith as just some mental gymnastic you do or an ethereal connection to an ethereal thing called God or Jesus. But what do the ideas behind the words “receive” and “embrace” communicate? They should evoke personalness because faith ispersonal. When I put my faith in Jesus this means that I receive Him and all that He is for myself. This isn’t theological Christianesse, but what John says earlier in John 1:11–12: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name . . .” That’s faith. Does this describe your relationship to Jesus? Do you receive and embrace all He is for yourself?

5 books every new Christian should read

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While the most important book any Christian should be reading is the Bible, it’s beneficial for us to read books in addition to it. We grow in our faith not only through the Holy Spirit’s work in revealing the Scriptures to us, but God also uses the encouragement and gifts of other believers to do so.

Most of us get this, but when it comes to actually getting down to brass tacks and picking books, we’re not so sure where to start. At least, this was my experience as a brand-new Christian. When I came to faith, I wound up reading a whole pile of garbage very early on. I really needed was some guidance from another believer, a little help being pointed in the right direction.

And although I can’t go back in time and give this guidance to myself, I can pass it along to new believers today. So, here are five books I think every new Christian should read:

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by R.C. Sproul. There are a lot of really great books on the key teachings of the faith, but this is my top-choice for an entry level introduction to Christian theology. It’s greatest strength? Each doctrine is explained in bit-sized chunks using plain language.

Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. One of the big challenges new believers have is relearning to read. Specifically, how do you read Christianly. And contrary to popular opinion, this doesn’t mean turning our brains off—it means reading even more intently than you may have in the past. (For more on this book, check out my review.)

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. In what I hope will be the last recent(ish) release on this list, Kevin DeYoung’s book answers a big, important question: how do I know God’s will for my life? This is a question that came to the forefront very early on for me, and the answers provided were (and are) astoundingly helpful. (And if you’re interested, here [and here] are a few more thoughts on this book.)

A Call to Prayer by J.C. Ryle. Prayer is a strange and awkward thing for new believers (actually, it’s strange and awkward for a lot of us who aren’t so new in the faith, too), but it’s one of the most essential things we can do as Christians. This little book offers great encouragement in pursuing prayer with vigor.

Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. Not every book needs to be about teaching you how to do something in the Christian life—sometimes you just need some great encouragement. These daily readings from Charles Spurgeon have encouraged Christians for more than 100 years, and I’ve no doubt they’ll continue to for many years to come.

There are more books that Christians should read, but these are the ones I would strongly encourage giving to new believers who are just starting out. What books would you encourage new believers to read?

All who believe are family

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photo: iStock

If we are the children of God, if we are the heirs of God, and joint-heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ, then all who believe in the Lord Jesus constitute one family. They may be scattered all over the world, may in ten thousand things differ as to the present life, and in ten thousand things have differed as to their manner of life before they were brought to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus,—may differ after their conversion as to their position in life, and in numberless ways also as to attainments in knowledge and grace; but nevertheless, as assuredly as they believe in the Lord Jesus for the salvation of their souls do they constitute one heavenly family—they are brethren. We glorify God by living as such here. In heaven we shall be together. Throughout eternity we shall be unspeakably happy, and love one another perfectly and habitually. But we are to glorify God by manifesting this love now, while on the earth, while in weakness and exposed to conflict, while the struggle is going on; now we are to be united together, and to manifest that we are one family, the heavenly family. This is the way to bring glory to God.

George Müller, Jehovah Magnified

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Love people, not evangelism

Why study shadows when we have the Son?

David Murray:

Why study shadows when we have the Son? That’s a question I’m often asked when I’m trying to promote more reading of the Old Testament. The question is usually focused specifically upon typology. Why study the types when we have the anti-type? It’s a valid question and if there is no satisfactory answer then the Old Testament, or large parts of it, are going to continue to gather dust. But I believe there is a satisfactory answer, six answers in fact.

A day in the life of a storm trooper

This is pretty amazing.

Are We Really Held Guilty for the Sin of Another?

Michael Patton:

The concept of Original Sin has long been a vital part of Christian Orthodoxy, yet is being challenged and redefined by many in the Church today. Some are beginning to question the validity of the traditional Evangelical understanding of the doctrine asking questions of its legitimacy in its current understanding. Most particularly, the doctrine of imputation is being questioned. This is quit understandable. In fact, I would venture to guess that the concepts housed in this doctrine can seem to produce a vital assault on our conscious, rendering any concept of divine justice impotent.

Let us back up a bit . . .

The Thing That Will Bring You The Most Freedom Today

Josh Blount:

What’s the most freeing thing you could possible do today?

That question could conjure up all sorts of associations in your mind. You might think of freedom fromsomething: oppression, fear, anxiety, challenging relationships, or difficult circumstances. You might think of freedom to something: to do what you want, live as you want to live, go where you want to go. Since “freedom” is such a broad concept, I’ll narrow the question down even more:

What frees you to be who you’re meant to be – today?

A Faith That Fights

Aimee Byrd:

Christians are disciples, and therefore by definition, we are disciplined. Hebrews 12:11, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it,” is couched in an exhortation not to grow weary under the discipline of our loving Father. By using the illustration of a Grecian Olympic fighter, the preacher to the Hebrews teaches us that part of our discipline in the Christian life is conditioning. We need practice.

Links I like

A Hymn Worth Not Singing

Kevin DeYoung:

Can we only sing songs in church written by solid evangelical Christians? I wouldn’t say that. We may not know the precise theological convictions of some ancient hymn writers and, no doubt, popular tunes can come from a wide array of sources. But I question whether we should sing songs meaning something with the words that the author did not mean. Fosdick wrote God of Grace for the dedication of the Rockefeller financed Riverside Church in New York City (October 5, 1930). Years later when he penned his autobiography, Fosdick entitled it “The Living of these Days,” an allusion to a line in the second verse of his famous hymn. When Fosdick wrote of the church’s need for courage and asked God that the church might bloom in “glorious flower,” he had a different vision for the church than we should be comfortable with.


No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free

Daniel Darling:

A few years ago, when I was a pastor, I had a hard time explaining to a rather cranky member why we, as a church, had to pay for a license to use Christian music in our worship services. “They should give it away freely. Why do I have to pay for it? I thought this was ministry. Why they are out to make money?” What made this man’s beef all the more interesting is that I had just concluded, a day earlier, a long conversation with him about what he considered unfair pay at his work. The irony was lost on him, but not me.


Preach for 99¢ at Amazon

One of the most helpful books I’ve read on preaching, Preach: Theology Meets Practice by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, is on sale right now for 99¢. Go get it!


Christianity Packs Its Office and Leaves the Building

Jonathan Leeman:

Yet if I leave the public square, what will keep you from burning down my church? On what basis will you tolerate me and my so-called false god, even if he’s tucked away in the private sphere? You might refrain for pragmatic reasons for a little while. But if you can manipulate the levers of power to get rid of troublesome religious minorities like my own, why wouldn’t you?

So I guess the big question in all of this is, if I and my morality left the public square altogether, what would you be left with?


Taking God at His Word book launch

On April 25, Crossway and WTS are teaming up for a book launch event for Kevin DeYoung’s latest (and, to date, greatest) book, Taking God at His Word (which I reviewed last week). The daylong event will be held at Covenant Fellowship Church in the greater Philadelphia area. The event will feature plenary addresses by Kevin DeYoung, as well as panel discussions with David Powlison, Carl Trueman, K. Scott Oliphint, and G. K. Beale. Tickets are still available at $25 a piece if you’re interested in going. I’ve no doubt it’ll be a good time!

God is not a Magic 8-Ball

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As part of my re-reading project this year, I’m going back and reading a number of books I really enjoyed and looking at them again with (hopefully) fresh eyes. The most recent on the list is Kevin DeYoung’s little book, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will.

One of the things I love in this book is DeYoung’s ability to lovingly deconstruct our sometimes goofy notions about how to know God’s will. His major beef? That we think we “need” to know God’s specific plans for us at all:

God is not a Magic 8-Ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience and invites us to take risks for Him. We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is we think He’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds. We feel like we can know—and need to know—what God wants every step of the way. But such preoccupation with finding God’s will, as well-intentioned as the desire may be, is more folly than wisdom.

The better way is the biblical way. Seek first the kingdom of God, and then trust that He will take care of our needs, even before we know what they are and where we’re going. (26)

As much as we think we need to know God’s specific plans for our lives, we really don’t. Instead, can—and should—enjoy the freedom given in His explicit command: seek first the kingdom. God will take care of the rest.


photo credit: somegeekintn via photopin cc

4 things I liked and 3 I didn’t about the new Noah movie

Russell Crowe as Noah

This weekend, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah made its way into theatres with many a feather ruffled. Much ink has been spilt discussing concerns about the filmmakers’ liberties in bringing the story of God’s wrath against humanity to the big screen.

It’s the kind of movie that, honestly, if it’s you’re temperament, you’re guaranteed to find something to hate about this movie. But frankly, that’s every movie. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t all bad, nor is it all great. Here’s a look at four things I liked and three I didn’t:

What I liked: they nailed the problem of sin.

Seriously. They absolutely got it right—the problem of sin wasn’t—and isn’t—external. It’s inside each one of us. There’s a quite brilliant scene where Crowe’s Noah is describing the problem to his wife (Jennifer Connelly), and she counters his argument, trying to remind him of the virtues of each of their sons. But Noah tell her how even those good qualities—and even their love for their children—can be perverted by sin.

Throughout the movie, you see this over and over again: in this film, there is no denying that humanity is twisted and evil to its core. The destruction of creation, the competing narratives of Noah and Tubal-cain (who treats God’s command to have dominion over creation as permission to abuse it rather than faithfully steward), the possible cannibalism… this is a dark world filled with wicked people. You can’t blame God for wanting to destroy it.

What I didn’t: the empty hope of the film’s second chance.

The big idea in the end is that the Creator is giving Noah and his family a second chance, to let humanity be the way it was intended in its relationship to creation. And yet, given the rest of the film, the note of hope falls flat.

As much as the filmmakers get right in their depiction of sin, they still get a key thing wrong: they still show it as something that can be mastered by human will. And so the hope rings hollow. We can try all we want to master the beast, but eventually it’s going to eat our faces.

What I liked: they gave us a human Noah.

Noah is a bit of an enigma in the Scriptures. Because we don’t know a lot about him, so there’s a lot of whitespace to be filled in. Aronofsky, naturally, has to take a lot of liberty in giving him a personality (to say nothing of giving his wife a name…). He is a man with a clear sense of justice. He takes the call to wisely care for creation seriously. He cares for his family until…

What I didn’t: they gave us a very human Noah.

There’s a lot to like about this Noah, but he’s also one who you struggle to relate to. A religious zealot, a man obsessed with obeying his God and utterly lacking in compassion and mercy in the task. And when he finally exhibits those characteristics, he believes he’s failed the Creator.

But this just isn’t the picture we’re shown in the Scriptures. Instead, we’re shown a man who was declared righteous, who was shown grace by God and spared by God to be a type of Christ—a “second” Adam through whom all the people of the earth would come.

What I liked: the Creator—God—is a central figure in the story.

There are no atheists in this film. No one doubts the existence of the Creator. Truly, I am grateful the filmmakers didn’t go the cheesy and blasphemous route with having Liam Neeson’s voice come out of a cloud, or Morgan Freeman show up wearing a white suit. There are no two ways about it: God is a powerful presence in Noah.

What I didn’t like: the Creator is hard to understand.

And while His is a powerful presence, He’s still not a character. Because the Creator in the film speaks in dreams and visions to Noah, as opposed to clearly speaking, what He wants to communicate can be obscured by the recipients interpretation.1

This is what leads Noah into his compassionless quest, one where he believes that his family is not to repopulate the earth, and what leads him to believe he’s failed in his mission when he shows compassion at a key moment. This is not the kind of Creator we need, and thankfully it’s not the kind of Creator we have.

What I liked: Discussing the movie with Emily afterward was actually more fun that watching it.

Honestly, the movie itself is pretty okay. It’s not a life-changing film, but it’s also not a waste of a movie ticket. But talking about it with Emily afterward was terrific. We spent about an hour chatting about what each of us noticed about the movie, and more importantly, thanking God that He did speak clearly to Noah, and that He continues to speak clearly to us today.

Did you see Noah or are you planning to? What are your thoughts on the film?

“All this is true, and much more.” Pilgrim’s Progress conversations (3)

Apollyon accused, “You almost fainted when you first set out, when you almost choked in the Swamp of Despond. You also attempted to get rid of your burden in the wrong way, instead of patiently waiting for the Prince to take it off. You sinfully slept and lost your scroll, you were almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the lions, and when you talk of your journey and of what you have heard and seen, you inwardly desire your own glory in all you do and say.”

“All this is true, and much more that you have failed to mention,” Christian agreed. “But the Prince whom I now serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive. Besides, these infirmities possessed me while I was in your country, for there I allowed them to come in. But I have groaned under them, have been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon from my Prince.”1

Personal reflection

If I ever flirted with the idea of the Christian life being one of health, wealth and happy relationships, God effectively ripped such notions out of my head and heart very quickly. My earliest weeks as a believer were filled with strife and conflict.

  • Sins I’d committed (all related to speech) were levelled against me.
  • Conflict with family over lifestyle changes created tension.
  • Trying to untangle the mess of Emily’s and my pre-Christian life together into something pleasing to God nagged at us.

This was a time of intense accusation mixed with serious conviction.

I wonder if this is the case for more of us than we think—and I wonder if it’s part of the reason so many get frustrated in their walk with the Lord? There seems to be an assumption that everything should be coming up Milhouse once we put our faith in Jesus. And as soon as anything remotely bad (or mildly inconvenient) comes up, we start shouting, “Why isn’t this working? Where are you, God?”

We forget that the Christian life is a war. It’s a war that’s already one, to be sure, but a war nonetheless. Our enemy is constantly accusing us, and yet we do not need to despair. We win the battle when say with Christian, “All this is true, and much more that you have failed to mention… But the Prince whom I now serve and honor is merciful and ready to forgive.”

Reading with Ryken

At a purely narrative level, the two episodes are among Bunyan’s most inspired creations. They take their place among the best of epic and romance adventures and are triumphs of the literary genre known as “fantasy.” Doubtless the book of Revelation was an influence on Bunyan’s imagination when he composed this chapter. The journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is equally heightened, replete with such archetypal details as a place “as dark as pitch” and a narrow path with “a very deep ditch” on one side and “a very dangerous” bog or quagmire on the other. Adventures such as the two in this chapter require a childlike willingness to be terrified by monsters and dangers. C. S. Lewis’s comment on Edmund Spenser’s allegorical poem The Faerie Queene applies equally to Pilgrim’s Progress: it requires a dual response, one childlike and the other sophisticated and able to figure out the allegorical meanings of the details.

On the allegorical level, then, we are given pictures of the power of evil in the form of what the Bible calls “principalities and powers.” Compared to these giant threats, the more subtle obstacles to the Christian faith represented by people named Talkative and Timorous seem rather tame. The dangers through which Christian passes in this chapter are more than human.2

Next week

Next week’s discussion of The Pilgrim’s Progress will be centered around chapters six and seven.

Discussing together

This reading project only works if we’re reading together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. A few questions and points to consider:

  1. How does Christian’s battle with Apollyon reflect your own experiences as a believer?
  2. What similarities do you see between the physical details of Christian’s adventures to this point and the dangers we face in our spiritual lives?
  3. What means has God given us to overcome these dangers?

Post a comment below or to link to your blog if you’ve chosen to write about this on your own site.

The Adam Quest by Tim Stafford

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Some time ago, an excellent article appeared online reminding us that “pixels are people.” Behind every podcast, blog, and book we consume, there is a living, breathing human being made in the image and likeness of God.

Including those with whom we disagree.

Perhaps nowhere is this point easier to forget than in the origins debate. For some, this is a clear dividing line—if you subscribe to evolution in any form, you’re selling out the gospel. Others would rather stick their fingers in their ears and run away than engage the conversation. The debate gets too heated too quickly, and, when we’re not careful, people get burned.

This is what happened to Tim Stafford’s son, Silas. “Silas got burned by the fight over Genesis,” he writes in his latest book, The Adam Quest. Silas loved geology and chose to major in it in college, but his love for this scientific field began to cause friction with friends who insisted the earth is young.

If Silas wanted to be a serious Christian, he had to get out of geology. Whatever geologists believed about the age of the earth was completely wrong. . . . They could not let the subject alone. I imagine that they felt they were courageous Christians, speaking up for scriptural truth and refusing to let a friend go down the path of ungodliness. In practice, though, they drove Silas away from faith. (2)

Silas is by no means alone; many—on both side of the debate—have felt alienated from Christian fellowship over this matter. Their love of science and their faith seem at odds, and they’re unsure how to reconcile the two. But Stafford, senior writer for Christianity Today, wants to show them that science and sincere faith aren’t diametrically opposed. And he does so by humanizing the debate—introducing readers to 11 scientists, each of whom professes faith in Christ, and each of whom holds differing views on origins.

Novel approach

This approach—which is the most compelling reason to read The Adam Quest—will surely frustrate many of its readers, even as it elates others. As long as a position remains an abstract concept, it’s easy to ignore the “human” factor. That is, we can quickly forget that our rhetoric in debating various views really does affect people. Like Silas’s friends, we don’t notice the effect of our words. We’re too busy trying to win an argument to realize we’re losing the person.

But humanizing doesn’t just remind us of the people affected; it rounds out the perspectives on each view. Although Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, and Georgia Purdom espouse young earth creationism, by reading each’s story you begin to see their nuances to the position. You realize it’s built on something more than a literalistic approach to Scripture. These are not foolish, naïve men and women. They are extremely thoughtful, winsome, intelligent, and most importantly, humble. Nowhere does this characteristic shine more clearly than in Stafford’s profile of Wood: [Read more...]

Three things we are learning about forgiveness

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One of the things we’re working with our children on is the concept of forgiveness—how to ask for it and how to offer it. My oldest typically does the begrudging, sullen, “Sorry…” thing and tries to leave things at that. My middle one is very honest and when you ask if she’ll forgive you says, “I’m not sure, I have to think about it.” And for the moment, Hudson remains a quasi-sociopath. Because, well, he’s two.

But talking with my kids about forgiveness is tricky, in part because it requires me to check my own heart on how I approach it—do I withhold forgiveness as long as possible? Do I do anything that cheapens it?

Here are three things I’m trying to remember and impart to the wee ones:

1. Assume the best—and be honest when you’re having a hard time doing so. Whenever someone asks forgiveness, I want to assume they’re genuinely asking. That there is true, heartfelt, Spirit-wrought  conviction. I’ve not been perfect with this; in fact, I’ve been down right terrible at it a lot of the time. But rather than putting on a nice face, sometimes it’s best to be honest about this struggle, rather than damage a relationship further by saying you forgive but are harboring bitterness.

2. Always pray and watch for the fruit of repentance. To be clear: our offer of forgiveness doesn’t mean we don’t care whether or not people change. It actually means we care very, very much. One of the kids really struggles with telling the truth right now, and we’ve told her that when she makes a habit of lying, it’s hard for us to trust what she says. We frequently pray with her that God will help her tell the truth, we coach her on honesty (and remind her that the consequences are always less severe when she’s upfront about something), and we watch. This requires a lot of patience because the fruit of repentance develops over a long period of time.

3. Protect the repentant from falling back into sin. Sometimes you can’t remove a person from a situation. For example, my daughters share a bedroom because we live in a three bedroom townhouse. This is going to be their reality for the foreseeable future. As a result, there are some things we’re not going to be able to protect our girls from, such as Hannah’s desire to irritate Abigail as much as possible.

But if a privilege or a responsibility offers too much temptation to sin, we remove it  for a season (or indefinitely) and explain why. We’ve done this with making choices at various ages (such as what they’d like for breakfast or choosing their own outfits), and we’ve also done it with an extended bedtime for our oldest (who, it turns out, is a much chipperer person when she’s gotten a little extra bit of rest).

None of these are things I’m perfect at, but they’re things I want to improve in and to train my kids to understand the importance of. Forgiveness is too important to cheapen with faux-repentance or withhold from the genuinely contrite. It is serious business. Lord willing our whole family will continue to see it that way.


photo credit: quantumlars via photopin cc