Liam Neeson’s "Rebel-Yell" vs. Robet Duvall’s "Servant-Yell"

Yesterday I blogged about the move The Grey and mentioned a saddening, but powerful, as well as biblically accurate scene depicting Liam Neeson shouting expletives at God demanding him to reveal Himself and do something at that moment.

Several sermons ago in my “I See Tree People” on Mark 8, I gave an example from one of my favorite movies The Apostle. Robert Duvall is also shouting to and at God. Contrary to the shouting scene in The Grey, I used it positively. In fact it is actually quite a refreshing scene.

I’m going to compare these two scenes/activities because I think there is a right and wrong way to yell at and pray to God. 

1.) Before you yell at God for whatever reason, it is always good to believe that He exists and is a rewarder of those who seek him.  I just ripped that off from whoever wrote Hebrews 11:6  

 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Robert Duvall’s shouting match already assumed God is there and is a rewarder of those who seek Him. His problem is that he just couldn’t see why God let his wife run off with the previously declared “puny” minister of youth and then kick him out of the church they both started. He believes but doesn’t see. He believes but is also having trouble believing. Whenever there is doubt mixed in with faith, we need to bring that doubt to Jesus. I personally think that mixed faith can be offered to our Heavenly Father in the form of yelling and shouting. 

But there is a difference between this prayer-yell and Liam Neeson’s yelling at God. Liam’s character doesn’t come from a posture of struggling belief. Instead it arises from a skeptics stance demanding God to prove Himself. Quite a different thing altogether.

Does God ever hear the prayer of skeptics? Well yes, because many people pray for faith to believe and are granted that faith to believe. But if you are not convinced, even with mixed-up faith, that God is there and is a rewarder of those who seek Him, I don’t see how you have any ground from which to stand up and yell. Better to be on the knees asking God to grant faith, even if you’re not sure you even believe He exists, then to stand and yell in judgment.

This isn’t from Mt Sinai but from the Valley of Geoff’s Personal Conviction.

If you believe, or even believe/doubt, God can take your tears, questions, and even shouts. Probably not a good idea to throw in cuss words, but I think he can even take those words and do something with them. If he can turn wailing into rejoicing he can turn cursing into blessing.

2.) Just because we raise our volume don’t assume that means God will respond quickly. Might work with our kids, but doesn’t “work” with God. Neither prayer scene concludes with an “answer” or even a conclusion from the Lord, but what each does with the non-response speaks volumes.
In The Grey, Liam Neeson’s character gives God about 25 seconds to act. In The Apostle, Robert Duvall is up all night praying/yelling at God. Loudly and “longly.” When we yell or pour out our hearts to God, we may not see an immediate response. That’s OK. That was David’s experience. And because our Heavenly Father denied Jesus’ cries of being forsaken on the cross, we don’t need to fear silence forever. But silence doesn’t mean He isn’t there or doesn’t care, as interpreted incorrectly in The Grey.

3.) Yelling at God needs to be grounded on His promises. If you don’t make a cheer-leading squad or get the raise you want, you could yell and pour out your heart. If you are a child of God, you can yell at God like any stupid kid. But we see a bit more sofisticated and sanctified yelling from Duvall. He yells in accordance with God’s promises. Jesus promised peace to his troubled disciples in John 14 and then reminds them of this when he revisits them after his resurrection. At times peace can be as elusive as former WVU receiver Tavon Austin in the open-field. Our peace comes and goes. And when it goes we can bring to our Heavenly Father’s attention: “You promised Father…..” Duvall is yelling for something God has already promised where as Neeson is demanding God do something He’s not promised to do. It’s better to yell, “God give me peace because I don’t have it now and you promised!” then to yell, “God give me a better job because I know that is a true need of mine and you promised to meet all needs!” If you’re yelling at God, I think we should probably yell over things He has specifically promised to give us-but for some reason has for a season withheld the current existential blessing of such promises. And by the way, one thing I’ve learned is that God has nowhere in His Word promised perfect peace in this life this side of heaven. 

Billy Idol sings about a “rebel-yell” and Liam Neeson shows what one looks like. But Robert Duvall, gives us a great picture of a “servant-yell.” I hope this has encouraged you in your own prayer-yelling.

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Groundhog’s Day-The Beautifully Monotonous Gospel Story

Today is Groundhog Day. Though an undervalued holiday, it did give rise to one of the best holiday-centered movies (outside several Xmas films) of all time: Groundhog Day. This clever Bill Murray flick depicts a man experiencing the curse of going through the same day over and over again. Everyday is Groundhog Day. It literally couldn’t get more monotonous. But it also couldn’t be more clever. Yet I don’t want to talk about the genius of simplicity displayed in the movie but rather the simplistic and beautiful monotony of gospel story-telling.

Christ Church Santa Fe pastor Martin Ban once challenged a potential pastor from going into ministry without recognizing the simplistic monotony of the gospel story. Cunningly he asked, “Are you sure you want to be a pastor, you know, we only have one story we tell each week?” Well surely you change the story up each week? He said, “Nope, one story and we tell it over and over. Being a pastor is like Groundhog’s Day. We have one story and we tell it over and over again. We never change it. It never changes.”

This simple story of the gospel is the story that saves us, shapes us, and provides meaning for life and power to love. Sometimes it is expressed theologically in the terms Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. Sometimes it is re-enacted in worship through a Call to Worship, Response of Praise, Confession, Assurance of Grace, Response of Thanksgiving, and then through a Sermon where God speaks to us via His preached Word.

Regardless it is the same story. And I love to tell it and hear it told each week. Each day. It is monotonously beautiful.

Of course we can go deep into different parts of God’s story of Redemption, but it is the same monotonously beautiful story that never changes, but is constantly changing us. Or like Rich Mullins sang about the story expressed in the Apostle’s Creed: “I did not make it, no it is making me….”

A Boobalicious Baptism? Nope, not classy enough

A friend of mine posted a video snippet from the show Big Rich Texas (I guess that’s a real show) on how to do a classy and stylish baptism.



It is worth watching because it is quite outrageous. It is also quite funny, but at the same time it is quite sad. A weird mix, like Hope Solo and Jerramy Stevens who married one day after being arrested for assault. Jesus is conspicuously absent, but not in a Esther-esque type way.

Despite the fact that this video misses Jesus entirely, I will try to practice Paul’s method in his ministry to the Athenians (Acts 17) when he commended that which he could before critiquing and pointing to Jesus. Here’s my best shot.

Positives

1.) Breasts should take a backseat to a baptism. Now she doesn’t say this exactly, but instead warns against being “boobalicious.” I think that church is probably also a time not to be “boobalicious.” Then again, whatever that means, boobaliciousness is probably best reserved for the bedroom. 

2.) Baptism is celebratory. I think this lady gets that. It is a big deal. A baptism is something we should get very excited about. Jesus is on the move as a conquering King and we join in the celebration.

3.) Community. Sometimes shy people would prefer to have as little attention drawn to them as possible, and therefor postpone or put off baptism entirely. But our baptism is not an individualistic endeavor. We are being brought into a new community, of which we now have new blessings and responsibilities. And in turn, that new community, the church, has new blessings and responsibilities as well.

Negatives

1.) Baptism is not about you wanting to change. Baptism isn’t primarily about the commitment to live a different life or turning over an new leaf (thought that is certainly the result of the gospel), but about Jesus atoning sacrifice and resurrection which then empowers us to live differently (I Peter 3:21; Col 2:12). It may sound like semantics, but if God doesn’t deal with the punishment and power of sin, all is lost. Baptism is not a sanctified public New Years resolution ceremony celebration of your commitment to Him. It’s celebrating His commitment to you.
2.) Classy and Stylish? Not exactly God’s great and wonderful plan for our lives. I even wonder how “classy” Jesus was. When he describes the great eschatological banquet and party he’s going to throw at the end of time, he goes after the classless, scoundrel, smelly, crippled, blind (Luke 14). The classy people you would expect to come to the party didn’t want to be there. Maybe they felt too classy? I wonder if we don’t at times follow the same M.O., but just don’t realize it. Jesus washed feet, touched lepers and bleeding ladies. And that’s not to say he didn’t have classy friends: I’m sure Zaccheus’ house was probably pretty classy. When you steal a lot of money, you probably spend that money on your house. But classy and stylish didn’t form some sort of invisible fence determining that which he should or shouldn’t do. Now I’ve never been accused of being too classy and stylish (my high school priest/teacher refused to believe my family were members of the Tampa Yacht and Country Club), but there are things that I should do which I sometimes feel are “beneath me.” Am I not then acting too classy but sub-Christian?

3.) Don’t try to make baptism or Jesus beautiful. You can take something beautiful, such as a baptism, and try to make it more beautiful, and end up making it repulsive. Like Big Rich Texas. We can do this with our pictures of Jesus. CNN actually offered a survey to discern whether or not you were “Red Jesus or Blue Jesus?” When we create a Jesus that has a bigger heart for the 2nd amendment than the 2nd commandment, or a Jesus that is primarily interested in entitlements and more government regulation, we have before us a very ugly Jesus.

We’ve all tried to make him more beautiful by adding stuff which seems classy, stylish, fitting, and relevant, but we have ultimately presented a repulsive view of Jesus. If not to ourselves, then to others. And he’s beautiful beyond description as the disciples found out (Matt 17:2). They were speechless, minus Peter who was apparently a talker.

Anything you try to adorn Jesus with will in the end leave him looking uglier beyond belief, whether it be good works, tradition, politics, etc…That’s the irony.

In the end, I’m ok with an non-traditional baptism as long as the person and work of Jesus, and His church, take a front seat to stylish, classy, convenience, and individual.
 

Breaking Sad: Last thoughts on Breaking Bad

I recently finished the series Breaking Bad with my wife.  Now I’m Breaking Sad because NetFlix only has the first four seasons. Several folks told me to give the show a try, but I resisted, based on the simple fact that the show is about a chemistry teacher turned meth “cook.”

But after a number of my Christian friends actually told me to check it out, I decided to give it a shot. We got hooked very quickly. “Must have been love, but it’s over now.” Roxette once sang that. I feel her pain.

There are a number of shows out there dealing with issues that aren’t illegal. I tried several. And there were others I wanted to watch, but instead felt convicted after the first few minutes that I shouldn’t be watching them. But what makes one suitable and another one sin (at least for me-Romans 14)?

I think most Christians fall into two categories. Don’t watch anything “secular” unless we’re talking about Americas Funniest Home Videos. Or they choose what I call “the route of the oyster” and watch anything you want to watch and therefore suck in any “teaching” without thinking.

Here are some reasons, outside the the fact I appreciated the acting, writing, storyline, why I felt Breaking Bad was more than enjoyable, but instead devotional. They aren’t from Mount Sinai but the Valley of West Virginia. Yet perhaps they could be helpful to serve as principles to help guide us through the sometimes difficult process of discerning what shows/movies we watch…..

1.) Does the show glorify a particular sin?

In Breaking Bad, I found nothing glamorous about the whole meth making/dealing process. Duh…Of course there is money to be made, and lots of it, but the reality is that this “get rich quick scheme” ended up creating new problems (people asking where did the money come from, more crime like laundering, threat of death, more lying, murder, etc..). Ironically in order to provide for his family, the main character Walt actually destroys his family, hardens his heart, harms little children, kills people without thought, etc….It was kill or be killed, always looking over shoulder. Nothing glorious about meth. Walt becomes the kind of person he initially hates and judges. The specific sin of drugs only hardens and hurts himself and others. Know drugs, No glory.

2.) Does the show tempt you toward a particular sin?

Obviously no temptations toward Meth, only confusion how folks think meth is a good idea.

3.) Does the show expose sin, in any way, for what it is: rebellion, idolatry, deceptive, destruction/decay/death?

One of my greatest appreciations of the show is how it exposes Walt’s insistence that this drug making, and the affects of it, were only his problem. Breaking Bad really debunks the popular myth that an action is really only bad if it harms another person. That’s impossible. Each “sinful” action has a harmful affect on those within one’s community. Stealing affects the person whom the object was given. Affairs negatively the cheater, one cheated with, the children and husband. Lies destroy marriages and harden one’s soul to where one can then justify everything. Walt allowed a gal to overdose on drugs when he could have saved her. That in turn led to a horrific plane crash. Sin brings harm to individual and community. All sin does. Jonah ran from God and each step took him further away from life. Walt’s sin did the same thing.

In addition, there was really a greater sin behind Walt’s meth making: pride. Walt makes Oedipus’ “hubris” look like mild in comparison. Drugs and money were merely, as Keller calls them, “Surface idols.” Walt sought money and making drugs in order to be meet his need to be seen as successful and independent of others. Money simply provided this temporary prideful “success” and “independence” for him. To the discerning eye, the outward sin was only a symptom of a deeper heart idolatry of pride.

4.) Is there any positive takeaway or opportunity to discuss with neighbors or fellow believers?

On several cases, characters are placed in moral conundrums but have no real basis other than a feeling for whether something is right or wrong. Walt’s wife reacts disapprovingly against his incessant lying to her, but then she decides to make up a story for how her husband has so much cash. She used to think lying was wrong, and not reporting income was wrong, but she later participates in a money laundering scheme. A man who has been concealing income from the IRS, later refuses to pay off the 600,000 he owes the IRS with money he believes is obtained through gambling? He says he just doesn’t feel right about it. Walt once asks, “Where do we draw the line?” The show clearly shows the inability and inconsistency of an ethical system that is not based upon some overarching standard. Now it doesn’t reinforce God as that standard, but it does seem to raise the question: if there is no standard, can we really deem something right or wrong?

I see great opportunities for discussion in future.

5.) Is there anything clearly redemptive? 

At one point, Walt is actually broken. For a short time. His son sees him crying. The next day the father says, “Don’t ever think of me like this.” The son responds, “This is the best I’ve seen you in the last year and a half. You were real, authentic.”

Brokenness over sin-though this was merely brokenness over the consequences of sin-is a beautiful thing to the world around us. Jesus reminds us of its necessity in our posture before God as well as others in the Beattitudes: “blessed are the poor in spirit, and blessed are the meek….”

Just for a moment, there was something clearly beautiful…..

If we watch TV shows like an oyster and just suck in everything without thinking, we will do ourselves and families harm. But if we can actively discern messages in shows, and ask several key questions, they can be more than entertainment for us. They can be devotional and evangelistic. 

I’ve accepted who I am: I’m bad

My wife and I have been making our way through Breaking Bad on Netflix. As we are approaching the middle part of the 4th, and I believe, penultimate season, I’ve actually noticed a number of “common grace” (beneficial things non-Christians display and do) and fairly biblical insights. Let me share with you one particular questions that the series raises, and then answers.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it all centers around Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who discovers that cooking Meth can provide for his family. Everything goes downhill from there. Duh….

His partner Jesse regularly goes to a recovery group for drug addicts. The ultimate presupposition of this group stated in their beginning session is that you need to first accept yourself and that change is not the most important thing. You have to like and accept yourself. This Oprah-esque mantra is assumed as gospel over the period of several different sessions.

Now what is positive about this is that it points us to a God who accepts and justifies us not because we clean ourselves up, but completely because of His Son who took our dirt and gave us His cleanness. Therefore we don’t first clean ourselves up to come to Him. This kooky psychiatrist chooses to forgo the “religious” way to acceptance. You shouldn’t try to clean yourselves up so that someone else will accept you. I’m with that.

But he instead opts for the irreligious way of self-acceptance or self-actualization. Just accept yourself for who you are. You don’t need to change at all. You have to like who you are despite all that you’ve done, and how much your actions have literally destroyed lives.

Jesse gives it a shot. Instead of quitting the drug dealing industry, he hops back in with more vigor, determination, and delight than before. He used to to do it for money. Now it is who he is. He tells Walt that, “I’ve accepted who I am, and I am bad. I’m a drug dealer.”

In a later group counseling session depicted in another episode, the same leader presses him to open up and share. Then he drops the bomb shell which exposes this “self-acceptance” theory of change. “Do you know why I’ve come here? I’ve come here to sell the recovering addicts in this group crystal meth. Should I accept myself? How bad is that!”

The scene is beautiful in a broken sort of way. It exposes the follies of the religious/irreligious ways of salvation and change as futile shams. The only thing missing is Jesus.

The gospel is a third way to live. We don’t change in order to be accepted. But we also don’t NOT change because we should accept ourselves and all of our sin. We’re sinful. We shouldn’t see our sin and say, “That’s good stuff. That’s me.” The gospel says that is NOT the way God designed us to live. That is not you. Yet neither accepting ourselves, nor working to change our situation before God does any good. Change isn’t primarily the problem. Self acceptance isn’t primarily the problem. God’s acceptance of us is, and can’t be bought by self work or self-acceptance. 

Instead, the gospel offers us both God’s acceptance (which then allows us to say-I like who am re-created to be) and the gift of a desire to change. Not a desire to change in order to please God or others, but a desire to change because we already have God’s acceptance. And consequently the acceptance of His congregation of fellow struggling addicts.



Jay Mohr on "suffering"

Jay Mohr played a dirtbag agent Bob Sugar in the movie Jerry McGuire. From what I can tell after hearing him numerous times guest hosting the Jim Rome show, I don’t think he had to “act” too much for that role. Actually I have never enjoyed him filling in until a few days ago. 

Mohr referenced someone complaining, “We’ve suffered through years of bad quarterbacks and we finally have a good one now.” 

He responded, “Oh, so you personally suffered during the bad quarterback play? What, did you go without a coat all winter? Were you evicted from your house? Did you have no place to live? You suffered because of bad quarterback play?”

I’m sure I’ve said similar things. A good reminder in regards to words we use to describe sporting events. We don’t really “suffer.” Even long suffering Browns and Bucs fans.

But he wasn’t done. Mohr went on to fairly accurately describe the way some folks view their sports teams. We slave 40 hours at a job we hate with a boss we dislike to check out for 3 hours and have something to really live for.

I guess you can see why some folks use the word “suffer.” Not a good way to view sports. But when there is no alternative bigger picture other than sports, success, family, it makes sense. And when Christians forget the bigger picture of the gospel, we can very quickly revert back to our old form.

I may never say this again, but, thank you Jay Mohr.

Positives and Negatives from Episode 1

With The Office going down the drain last year, my wife and I agreed on one show: Parenthood. In the end, I think the writers raise one major question: what does a real family look like? Not so much what one should look like-that’s what the other shows like Modern Family and The New Normal attempt to do-but what might it look like? Several work together. They play together. They live together, and celebrate countless parties together. So what does it look like when a family is ALWAYS together? Scenarios arise, and questions are raised. 

Like any show, the nuclear and extended family is either denigrated and redefined (Modern Family/ The New Normal) or it is idolized (only the latter is the case). At the same time, the directors/writers/producers/actors in Parenthood also provide a positive picture and even include, at times, “biblical” instruction.

Positive “biblical” instruction: 

One couple has recently adopted a 7-8 year old lad. He is correctly accused of stealing some sort of lizard, but the new mother doesn’t want to bring it up. At the end of the show, the husband exclaims that, “By not bringing it up, you are not treating him like family, but like a stranger.” The implication being that family can ask tough questions that unsuitable to ask stranger in the same home. Of course the truth also applies within the body life of the local church. If we’re not willing to ask tough questions, which may or may not imply guilt or the need to change, we are treating each other like strangers, not family. Loved this one.

Family-olatry.

After spending some time with another set of grandparents, a child is found praying. The parents are none too thrilled about that, as they want the right to raise their child according to their beliefs. Fair enough. But when asked to define their “doctrine,” neither could offer an answer. So the search begins and ends with the matriarch and patriarch. Neither seems to offer too much help, but the bigger questions like “Where did we come from,” is raised. The standard existential “whatever you decide it to be” wins out, with one “string” attached. This isn’t utterly existential. What shapes the question, and thus the question is this: Whatever “truth” practiced and expressed within the family exists in order to ameliorate the family.

The sad part about this is its accuracy. Many people come back to church to give their kids religion and morals. However many professing Christians never leave this stage. What can your church do to make my kids better kids? What can Jesus do for my kids? I’m good with anything that helps my kids be better kids. If Jesus can do something for my family, I’m good with him. It ends there. No sacrificial giving or going. No bringing people in to the family unless they make it better or more comfortable. Jesus can’t ask anything of me that might keep my kid from a scholarship, being more popular, more comfortable.

Of course this belief is on a continuum and shows like Parenthood help raise keep that struggle before us. If you love your family, this is always a struggle! In the end, I’m thankful to have a show raise such questions and issues. If we take every thought captive-particularly our favorite TV shows-then they can be as devotional as they are enjoyable.