Look for Wisdom (Prayer Devotional for the week of April 6, 2014)

I have a t-shirt that reads: “The book was better.” I love it, because with few exceptions (like The Princess Bride), I think it’s a true statement. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy movies a lot, but books can go into so much more depth on plot and character development. I develop an image in my mind of how the character looks, and one of the most frustrating things to me about watching a movie based on a book is when the actors don’t look the way I pictured the characters to be when I read the story.

We are visual creatures, and if you don’t believe me, then try wearing a t-shirt & sweatpants to your next job interview or go out in public with bed-head. We make snap judgments about people based on appearance every day. Even the church isn’t immune from first impressions. Take the prophet Samuel, for example. When he met each of Jesse’s sons to determine which one would be the next king (as God had instructed him to do … see the full story in 1 Samuel), he assumed that the eldest, tallest, and/or most physically attractive would be God’s chosen one.

Boy, did God throw Samuel a curveball! Samuel didn’t even voice his thoughts aloud as he was introduced to Jesse’s first son, but God knew what he was thinking and said to him in 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV), “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” After Solomon sized up seven older brothers, Jesse’s youngest son, David, was anointed as king.

A generation later, God appeared to Jesse’s grandson/David’s son, King Solomon, in a dream and invited him to ask for something (1 Kings 3). Instead of long life, revenge, or wealth, Solomon asked for wisdom. God was so pleased with his selfless request that he also gave him the worldly things that he did not ask for. Solomon would later write in Ecclesiastes 8:1b (MSG), “Wisdom puts light in the eyes, and gives gentleness to words and manners.”

Does having wisdom mean that Solomon was perfect? Of course not, yet I can’t help but wonder if he remembered hearing a thing or two about his dad’s experience with Samuel as he was growing up, and Solomon seemed to understand that what’s inside (our character traits and relationship with the Lord) matters more than what’s outside (mere appearances).

Christians and their knickers

I am looking forward to seeing the new Noah movie. I was going to wait until after I saw it to post something about it, but then I decided to go ahead and voice my initial opinion beforehand, so you’ll know why I even plan to see it. I am so sick & tired of fellow Christians getting their knickers in a wad over petty things. (That statement may tick off some people, but that just proves my point even further.)

The story of Noah spans roughly four chapters in the Bible (Genesis 6-9), not counting some genealogy mentioned in Chs. 5 & 10. Scarce little is known about the actual event, though Scripture is quite exacting when it comes to describing the ark and the timing of it all in relation to Noah’s age.

I have no doubt that the writers/producers took some poetic license with the screenplay. The movie includes extra-biblical characters and paints a morbid, violent picture of what The Creator did to the planet that he had handcrafted.

Well, duh. Starting in Genesis 6:5, we read that God was so disappointed in humankind that he regretted ever creating us. Ouch. There’s an age-old question that people still ask today: Why would a loving God punish us/allow bad things to happen/send people to hell/etc.? The answer is sin. We choose to turn our backs on God, to ignore or disdain the good plans that he has for us and trek off on our own selfish paths. My pastor is wont to say: “Every choice you make today affects every day for the rest of your life — and everyone else around you.”

Now, I’m not saying that every natural disaster is God’s punishment; don’t get me wrong. I’m just trying to explain that the story we read in Noah was the direct result of people defying God. Yes, it was tragic. It was awful. The story of Noah isn’t just a pastel nursery room decor theme. It’s a blight in human history. Yet, I also believed that it pained God and broke his heart to the core. It’s why God blessed Noah and created a new covenant with him in Genesis 9.

I don’t have a problem with a movie about Noah, even if it is more fiction than Bible-based. If one viewer decides to pick up a Bible – perhaps for the first time – and reads the story for him/herself, then that’s wonderful. Perhaps someone will leave the theater and think introspectively about their place in the world, and where they stand with the Lord.

Besides, people are talking about the Bible in mainstream conversations! How awesome is that?! I plan to take at least my older kids to see the movie, and I will spend time talking to them afterward to debrief and relate what we’ve seen to what’s in the Word. What are some important take-aways from the film? What parts were simply cinematography? What can we learn from it?

There are bigger battles to fight, brothers and sisters. Don’t get caught up in the hype and let irrational and misplaced “righteous anger” about a movie (or a book, or a TV program, or whatever happens to be the boycott-special of the month) serve as one more reason for nonbelievers to roll their eyes at us.

“Skip to the end.” (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 2, 2014)

My favorite movie of all time is a fantasy classic, The Princess Bride. One of the climactic moments involves a conceited ruler, Prince Humperdinck, as he is standing at the altar to marry his reluctant fiancée, Princess Buttercup. The Impressive Clergyman (that’s the character’s name) opens the scene with this line in an accented drawl: “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam …”

(I won’t bother with spoiler alerts, because the book was written in the early ‘70s, and the movie came out in 1987. If you haven’t seen it yet, then you are missing out and need to come over and watch it straightaway. Bring popcorn. I’ll try not to quote the entire film.) Anyway, back to the wedding. Prince Humperdinck loses his patience and his temper, demanding the priest to “skip to the end.” The Impressive Clergyman says man and wife, and the couple is married. Or are they?

We are looking at Matthew 5:27-37 this week, which is a passage of Scripture that has provoked a lot of controversy over the years. I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of it, but I want to encourage you to think about the message behind the words. Using three examples (adultery, divorce & oaths), Jesus states the existing law and then gives a broader interpretation of it. In each instance, his perspective deals with the heart of the matter, not just the letter of the law. Regarding adultery, he focuses on lust as the root issue. For divorce, he emphasizes the broken relationship. And about oaths, he reminds us of our humble place before God Almighty. We can’t skip to the end when it comes to heart matters.

When Princess Buttercup is finally rescued, she learns that she was never actually married to Prince Humperdinck because they never said, “I do.” By skipping that essential, personal element in the ceremony, their marriage was void. Relationships are not about crossing Ts and dotting Is. They’re the wholehearted investment of your life into another person’s life. That “bwessed awangment” is a partnership; it can’t be a one-way effort. You can’t skip to the end and call it done.