Dead or Alive?

I’ve been hearing this phrase in my head over and over in the past few months:

“Every living thing changes.”

Maybe it’s partly because I’ve noticed that the gray hairs in my beard are staging a coup d’etat over the dark hairs. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through a lot of transitions in life the past few months at church and at school and at home and with friends. And change can be scary because it moves me away from something that I know and into the unknown.

But if it’s static and unchanging, it’s not alive. A living person is constantly changing. (cue comments about my weight going up and gray in my hair…) Likewise, a relationship that is alive is always evolving and growing and moving. I thank God that my marriage is not in the same place that it was when we said “I do” 17 years ago! A business that thrives is always changing. IBM, for instance, began as a maker of dials and time recorders in the 1880s. Imagine if Apple had decided to stick to making desktops and Steve Jobs hadn’t changed to embrace the mobile phone market!

This is true of people as well. Consider the Apostle Paul, who in my mind is the greatest follower of Christ to ever live. In one of his earliest letters, he says in Galatians 5:12 “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” That’s pretty hard core! But at the end of life, in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, the very same man said, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

This is also the case with our spiritual life. If it is not growing, it’s not living. That’s not to say that we’re not saved (salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone), but it’s not living and breathing and useful for today. This is what James talks about in James 2:17, that a faith that is not working and growing and changing is dead.

Every living thing changes. So embrace the change and the growth.

How about you? Where are you changing? Is your marriage changing for the better? Are you growing closer to God, growing in your use of your spiritual giftedness in service to God for the benefit of the kingdom, and changing your heart? If you took a spiritual inventory would you find that compared to a year ago some things have definitely changed, or are you in about the same place?

Every living thing changes.

Actions Have Consequences!

One of the most important lessons that we must learn in life to succeed is that actions have consequences. What we do will lead us to be victors or lead us to failure. Every decision is important!

 

If your kids are like mine, you probably have issues getting them to bed on time. We’ve cajoled, we’ve spanked, we’ve nagged. It’s tough stuff! Recently, though, at the suggestion of our counseling pastor we read Boundaries With Kids and have implemented what Cloud and Townsend call “reality based consequences.” What that means is that when kids disregard a boundary they have to deal with a consequence connected to their breaking the boundary. For us and bedtime we established a firm boundary: the kids must get to bed by their bed time, in jammies, teeth brushed, family prayers said, and without us having to warn them of the time. The consequence for breaking the boundary is that for every minute they are late to bed, the next day their bedtime is 5 minutes earlier. So 5 minutes late to bed tonight costs 25 minutes tomorrow!

 

Sure, the kids tested the system. They’re kids! After a couple of tries to avoid the consequence and realizing that we were going to hold to it, they started adjusting. And now, several months later, it is almost comical. Our youngest daughter is 7 and was playing some Wii near her bedtime. I even remarked to our oldest child that I was wondering how late she was going to be! Then, about 6 minutes until bedtime, my little one realized what time it was. She sprang into action! It was amazing how fast she turned off the video game, got dressed, got her teeth brushed, and huddled the family up for prayer. And sure enough, she was in bed SECONDS before bedtime! Knowing that there was a firm boundary and established consequences made a huge impact on her.

 

We now have a mantra for our kids at home: “I am responsible for me.” I ask the kids who is responsible for them, and they all answer “I am responsible for me!” That extends to school, to bedtime, to chores, to life.

 

This is how life works. When we break a boundary, there is a consequence! I had to explain this to a student this week who had a court date. He was frustrated that he would miss class and asked me for an excused absence. He had been ticketed and needed to be in court for sure, but I told him that he was responsible for himself and that the absence was not excused. That would cost him points in class, and he tried to tell me all about how it wasn’t his fault that he got pulled over. Nope, sorry bud. Actions have consequences! (this is a good student, so no hate there…)

 

Do you realize that this is how God works? As Christians, we are each responsible for our conduct and our decisions have consequences, good and bad! 2 Corinthians 5:10 says that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 Paul tells us that our decisions as Christians matter!

 

If anyone builds on the foundation [of Christ] with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind of work each has done. If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

 

Actions have consequences and I am responsible for me! Likewise, you are responsible for you. How you live for Christ matters not only in your witness but in your reception by Christ on judgment day. There WILL be consequences for what we have chosen on that day, for good or for bad.

 

So…a question for you. How are you doing with those boundaries? Now that you know that the boundaries are established and will be enforced, does it change how you look at your decisions today? I hope so! Smile

Refreshing Grace: The First book from Biblical Framework Press!

RefreshingGraceFrontCoverOnlyHave you ever wondered how God can be in control of everything and still allow people to have free will? I think that for many Christians, this is a real conundrum. Sure, there have been “fights” between Calvinists and Arminians over this issue for 500 years; Calvinists argue that God is great and in control, and Arminians counter that God is good and offers salvation to all.

 

For many Christians, though, neither answer is sufficient because God says both in His Word. But how can both be true?  Well, this week I published a new book titled Refreshing Grace. This book takes a new approach to this often emotionally charged issue and explains the issue, and a fresh biblical solution to it, in an understandable way.

 

If you’re interested in the issue of God’s sovereign control and our free will in salvation, my prayer is that Refreshing Grace will help you understand the issue with more clarity and passionately pursue Christ with that new knowledge.

 

The book is available on Amazon.com in paperback as well as on Kindle.

 

Amazon.com paperback edition.

 

Amazon.com Kindle Edition.

Same Task, New ‘Tude

I know I wrote a recent post about motorcycling and the Christian life, but some themes bear repeating. Smile  I got to ride my bike today for the first time in over a month (it’s been WAY too hot in Phoenix), and man oh man is riding fun. I just love hitting the starter button and listening to the exhaust pipes burble (that’s a new word…I am going to patent it I think). I love feeling the throttle engage, banking into a turn and accelerating out of it. I love letting the bike whine in first gear for a little too long because the engine was built to rev.

 

For pure joy, no car ride can touch the same trek on a motorcycle. I’ve had fun driving cars, too, but a bike transforms a commute into a fun time. Usually the drive between school and church is taken as quickly as reasonably possible just to get from one to the other. Today it was a lot of fun, and I am really looking forward to my ride home!

 

Isn’t that a great reminder about the rest of life? It’s the same task, but when approached from a different perspective it can become so much more fun and engaging. I think that the Christian life can become much the same: boring when we get into a rut or keep at the same old thing, but fresh and new if we will change the pattern or find an engaging way to accomplish the same task. Maybe your Bible time is boring…how about reading a devotional instead, or getting the Bible on audio narrated by celebrities? If your service at church is getting stale, have you thought of approaching the task from a different angle or maybe changing ministry focus? If your prayer life is stuck, how about making time for God at a different time of day and with a different focus?

 

Tasks can get repetitive and boring, including spiritual disciplines. How do you keep it fresh and keep your perspective on the Christian life fun and engaging?

The Dark Knight Rises: A Fitting End

This is probably too late for the masses who’ve seen it, but last night I got to go see The Dark Knight Rises. Here’s the short version: I liked it a lot, but my wife hated it. If you’re a Dark Knight fan it’s a must. If you’re a comic book fan, it’s a good movie. If you’re just a casual movie-goer, make sure you’ve watched the first two movies in the Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) before seeing this one or you’ll be lost. If you dislike violence or psychological suspense and darkness, skip this one. There’s a good plot synopsis on Wikipedia, and I always appreciate the movie reviews on PluggedIn.

 

There are plot spoilers in this review, so caveat emptor.

 

The Good

 

I appreciated the redemptive message of the movie. After The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne goes into hiding and Batman retires. Bruce is seen as a husk of his former self who must rekindle his love for Gotham and find the strength within himself to return to the Batman persona and once again save Gotham from the evil plan of Bane.  His selflessness and willingness to do the right thing when he has every reason not to is inspiring. I especially appreciated a scene when Selina Kyle (Catwoman) tries to get Batman to come away with her and escape the bomb blast that is coming. Batman chooses to stay and save the city. He also repeatedly offers Kyle opportunities to redeem herself.

 

I love the themes of loyalty in the movie as well. Alfred is loyal to a fault, even going so far as to leave his job with Bruce Wayne in the hopes of saving him. That is admirable. John Blake is a character who starts as a beat cop and through the movie becomes a detective and is later prepped to become Robin in possible future movies. He is loyal and has great integrity. He is a great character in the movie.

 

I also think that there is a great theme of consequences in the movie. Commissioner Gordon is haunted by his inability to tell the truth at the end of the previous movie, and his lie bears the terrible consequence of bringing so much pain to Gotham and to himself. Bruce Wayne withdraws from society and the world around him falls apart. He loses much of his fortune, his health declines, and even the philanthropic work he was doing stops because his business loses money. Worse, since he is gone from Gotham as Batman, the scheme of Bane is allowed to take shape.

 

I also thought that the plot twist at the end was great.

 

The Bad

 

This movie is a Christopher Nolan movie, based on a comic book series that is in itself quite dark. If you are naïve enough to think, ESPECIALLY after The Dark Knight, that this movie wouldn’t be very violent and dark then you get what you earned. It is violent, and anyone with an aversion to violence should stay away. There is lots of death in this movie, mostly from gunplay when Gotham degenerates into mob rule overseen by Bane. Several times Bane snaps people’s necks, though thankfully the camera cuts before he does it so it’s off-screen.

 

More than the physical violence is the psychological violence. Bane is cruel and hateful. He wants to torture Bruce Wayne before killing him because Bruce killed Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins. (it’s an admittedly long plot arc) Wayne spends significant time in a prison pit they call “Hell” while watching Gotham under siege on a TV that Bane puts there. Wealthy people are made to walk across thin ice to their own death as a form of punishment during mob rule in Gotham.

 

This is also the first Dark Knight movie where we actually see Bruce Wayne have a liaison with a woman. It’s not done too terribly (Nolan cut the scene just right), but it was only hinted at in previous movies. As a redeeming feature, I felt that the way that Catwoman was presented was not ridiculously sensual, though she definitely showed off her curves in her cat burglar suits.

 

On a slightly more “who cares” note, if you’re a gun-lover this movie will drive you nuts in parts. Just about everyone who touches a gun does something stupid with it at some point in the movie, and weapons-use and handling is ridiculous in points.  When Gotham’s cops march down the street toward a gang of Bane’s thugs holding automatic weapons, the fight should have been over in a hail of bullets. Instead they all close and have a fistfight brawl that looked like it was choreographed by the writers of West Side Story.

 

Finally, a portion of the dialog is really hard to understand. Even in the theater with a quiet crowd there were several lines that I missed because they were garbled or too quiet.

 

Conclusion

 

Like I said before, if you are a Dark Knight fan then you’ve got to see this movie. If you are a comic book fan it is a good one, too. That said, the downsides to me keep this from being a kids movie. I would definitely say that it could easily have earned an R rating, so be careful taking your kids to see it. 15 would be the minimum I would consider, personally. And even for adults, if you’re sensitive to violence or psychological violence this is one to probably skip.