I think Denzel Washington is an outstanding actor and makes nearly every movie he is a part of worth watching, at least for me. I watched the movie Man on Fire where he played a character named John Creasy. Creasy was a washed up CIA agent. He’s wasting away in Mexico and is asked by a friend to be the bodyguard for a young girl named Pita played by Dakota Fanning. Creasy is a crusty alcoholic and Pita slowly steals his heart. Actually she takes his dried up heart and breaths life into it again. Pita ends up being kidnapped and Creasy sets out to find out who’s responsible and dispense justice in a way that makes a movie a movie.
He finally kills his way to the top of the food chain and the head bad guy is simply known as La Voz, the Voice since no one knows what he actually looks like. At the climax of the movie Creasy realizes Pita is still alive. He asks La Voz what it will take to get her back. The Voice says in the phone, “A life for a life”. Creasy says, “What do you mean, a life for a life?” The Voice says, “Her life for your life”. And the camera sets on the face of Denzel Washington while he soaks in what The Voice is telling him and the cost of getting back the one he has come to love. He hesitates only a moment before saying, “Alright. Alright. My life for her life”.
It’s the climax of the movie because there is no greater thing to do, nothing more profound to say. Creasy is willing to pay the ultimate price of love.
People ask me what I love about Christianity. This is right at the top. Christianity is the only religion in the world that rests on this the greatest movement of love. It’s called atonement. Life for life.
How can someone who has lived the life I’ve lived ever be truly forgiven and set free. The Voice says, “Life for life”. And the camera sets on the face of Jesus who says simply, “Alright. Alright. My life for his”.
It was the only way for Creasy to get back the one he had come to love. It was the only way God could get back the one he had been loving since time before time. And that one is you. Atonement.
Look for it in every great movie. See it in the eyes of your Savior. Hear it in the voice that says, “Life for life”.
There’s a great scene in the movie, Remember the Titans, when Denzel Washington moves into the personal space of Gary Bertier. Gary is having a little trouble accepting Denzel as his new football coach. Denzel leans in close and asks Gary, “Gary, who’s your daddy”?It’s a pivotal moment for both characters because it will define their relationship. The disciples watched Jesus pray and finally mustered up the courage to ask him to teach them to commune with God in the same way. I’m not sure what they expected but Jesus looked at them and said, “Ok fellas. This is the first thing you need to get right. Call him daddy”. You could have knocked them over with a feather.
No one had ever considered calling Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth by such an intimate title. But that’s what Jesus called him and that’s what Jesus told his disciples to call him.
One of the things I love about Christianity is the idea of adoption.
My daughter Becca will be heading to Monterey, Mexico in September to fulfill her life long ambition to work with orphaned and abandoned children. She wants to be one who stands in the gap and sprinkles what love she has on these little dry souls who are thirsting for love and dying for lack of it. She has love to give but my guess is it will be draining in many ways.
But imagine a little child being told one day that she has been adopted. She didn’t audition or fill out a resume and yet she was chosen. It’s hard to imagine what the first meeting is like or what it feels like to walk through the front door to what is now your home. But I have watched it happen from a distance. I have seen little children in our church run to someone who could not possibly be connected to them biologically and yell, “Daddy” as the man swoops her up in his arms and calls her by the name he gave her the day she became his own.
There is a reason the Bible says one day Jesus will call you by a name only he knows. It is your true name and he has been whispering it to you ever since you became his own.
The idea of adoption is one of the most wonderful images in the Bible. I didn’t audition for the part or fill out a resume. I was chosen simply because the Father wanted another child. He calls me by name and says to me, “Call me daddy”. So I do.
So, last week I spent some time at a monastery. It was a Trappist Monastery located deep in the farmland of Kentucky and it’s been there for 160 years. The monks are committed to labor, prayer, and silence.
One of the 5 love languages in Gary Chapman’s book of the same name is quality time. I decided I needed to spend some quality time with Jesus so I made a reservation and headed to the monastery with my journal, my Bible, time, and silence.
I’d never done something like that before so I made a list of stuff I wanted to cover with Jesus. It ranged from questions about certain passages of the Old Testament to questions for direction regarding my family and about 13 things in between.
Of course that was my agenda and Jesus had one as well. I spent most of the first day in confession. While it was one of the 15 items on my list it seemed to be one of only a very few on Jesus list. If anyone thinks they are a really good person I would challenge them to go sit somewhere in silence for at least 2 full days and see if it is all the great things you’ve ever done that come bubbling up. I can save you the suspense and let you know it won’t be the highlight reel that comes up. It will be stuff that will surprise even you. Instead of depressing me, it made me feel a deeper love for Jesus and a greater wonder at grace. I started writing down some of my thoughts concerning that grace and it ended up being a list of it’s own. Actually two.
The first is a list of 26 things I love about Christianity. The second is 26 things I love about Jesus.
So my blogs are set for the next year. Each week I will write a short blog on one of the 26 things. I hope it helps you but more than anything I hope it helps tether me to the wonder of grace for the next 52 weeks.
A tornado two miles wide swept through the town of Moore, Oklahoma earlier this week. Devastation hardly describes what it left in its path. One man said, “They say a tornado sounds like a train”. Then he paused and looked in the distance before he said, “I’ve never heard a train that sounded like that”. As I write rescue teams are frantically looking for people who may still be alive and buried in the rubble. Sadness and pain can hit one place so hard that it sends an echo throughout the whole country. As I sat in my chair early this morning with my Bible in my lap I heard the echo and it made me pray.
It’s hard to know what to think when something like this happens. Hard here in Ohio. Harder still in Oklahoma. Nearly impossible if you are a parent of a child whose body lies buried in the classroom where you dropped them off earlier in the day.
Almost everyone cries out at times like this. The ones who never trusted God to begin with have their souls hardened even more. Those with faith wonder what God is doing or if he cares at all.
As I sat this morning my thoughts turned to I Kings where Elijah was wondering the same thing about God. God tucked him away in a cave and told him to hang on. A wind came strong enough to break the stones all around and scripture says, “The Lord was not in the wind”.
Later in the stillness following the storm the Lord speaks to Elijah in a still small voice.
I started praying for the people of Oklahoma. Maybe they are looking for God to be saying something to them during the storm. That he’s mad or that he’s forgotten about them or that he doesn’t care and never has. But what if that’s not when God speaks at all? What if he is speaking now? As people run to help and churches all over the nation pick up phones to offer help and water and food and shelter appear seemingly out of nowhere. What if this is the time when God speaks and this is when he says how much he cares?
I guess I’m praying for the people of Oklahoma and all of us to have ears to hear. I pray we will listen at the right time for the still small voice. Because this I know, God speaks when we least expect it and when we need it the most.
I recently heard that grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your own children. That’s a little harsh but you get the point. Having grandchildren is so much easier than raising children it ought to be illegal. Karen and I had our two grandsons over for a sleepover a couple of weeks ago. A single night sleepover is about my limit. It’s exhausting and I hardly do anything. They are like weird little alien life forms that suck the energy out of every other living life form within a certain range. The entire sleepover I was within that range and they sucked me dry.
Liam is 4 years old and Connor is two. That means Connor gets the short end just about 100% of the time. Being a second born myself I see why first borns can be so compliant. I would be compliant too if I won the sibling rivalry war every time. Anyway, finally at one point Connor had enough and he ended up biting Liam in the face. Ok, that was a little extreme even for a fellow second born. Liam was in recovery triage with his grandmother (which is my wife Karen and it’s still weird to think I’m married to a grandmother even though she is a hot one). Liam turned to Karen and through stifled sobs said, “Grandma, something is wrong with Connor. He’s got a bad heart”. And the truth hung there like a cloud.
A couple of interesting things. One is that Liam had never spoken anything more true in his short little life. His brother, whose smile could charm a wildebeest, does have a bad heart. But the other truth is that even though this time he was the “bitee” something is wrong with Liam’s heart as well. And something is wrong with Grandma’s heart and the one who now writes this little blog, and the one who is reading this whoever you may be.
Bad hearts all of us and in desperate need of a Savior. I need to remember that when I read about abortion doctors and the IRS and Benghazi and watch the Heat sprint to another championship. Our hearts are bad and still the Savior came. Our hearts are bad and yet we have been redeemed by a God who loves us in spite of ourselves. That’s the truth I can’t wait for Liam to understand and who knows, once he understands maybe he will be the one to tell little Connor.
We are right in the middle of the NBA playoffs. There have already been a number of spectacular finishes and amazing plays. The sheer athleticism of some of the players is breathtaking. Fans come to the games sporting jerseys paying homage to their favorite players. At this stage of the playoffs the games themselves become a type of religious experience for many. Last night Manu Ginobli hit a 3-pointer with no time left in the second overtime to win the game for the San Antonio Spurs. When asked after the game how he was able to do something so amazing under such phenomenal pressure he said simply, “That’s what I do”. And fans nodded their heads in wonder. It’s hard not to be a fan when witnessing greatness.
As I write this I’m looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean. There is something about the ocean that does something special deep down inside me. My daughter Becca and I were standing together staring out at the horizon beyond the first of many miles of roiling water. She said, “What do you think God was thinking when he made this? Was he thinking, “I know, I’ll make a ginormous body of water, make that salt water, fill it with creatures both large and small, and set it to motion connected to the moon?’” We laughed and then stood in silence thinking about the complexity and the beauty of the ocean. God also made it so that we as humans are drawn almost irresistibly to the shore. We walk along the sand as the waves lap up on our ankles and we feel the tension leak out of us like air out of a balloon. It seems like even if you are not religious you sense you are in the presence of greatness when you walk along the shore. And of course you are.
It’s hard not to be a fan. We are made to be in awe. To witness greatness and stand and cheer until we are hoarse and we are made to do that with a host of others. We should do it at the edge of the ocean in the middle of a thunderstorm that sends the waves crashing onto the shore like liquid buildings and the sound makes us hold our breath. Instead we fill arenas and cheer human beings made in the likeness of the One we long to know. If asked why He created the ocean the way he did he might simply say, “That’s what I do”. And we should just stand and nod our heads in wonder.
I remember when I first fell in love with Karen. We were in college and being in love was tough on my GPA. I found myself day dreaming in class. My mind would wander to what it would be like to spend my life with her. I would doodle her name on a piece of paper. In short, she had captured my heart and with my heart most of my thoughts. I don’t remember being bored during that time because I always had her somewhere in my mind as a kind of oasis to bring out and turn round and round looking at her beauty from every angle.
Those days have given way to reality which in many ways is better than the dreams of what was not yet.
Last week I was returning from my trip to India and Sri Lanka. The trip included back to back 10 hour flights. There was a lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing. I read until I couldn’t read anymore, I watched movies, I tried to sleep. I would lean back in my seat and close my eyes and I realized that I get bored far too easily.
My wife has been one of the great gifts I have been given by God. This is true. She was such a magnificent gift that thoughts of her swallowed my capacity for boredom for a time. But she is only a gift. I also have the gift giver who loves me even more. The gift giver is more beautiful and dazzling than anything on this earth, more interesting, more brilliant, more everything. I have Jesus and do not choose to allow the thought of him to captivate me.
I think I need to learn to doodle again. I need to learn how to pull the face of my savior up to the forefront of my mind and begin to look again at his beauty from every angle. On the next ten hour flight I want to be able to day dream about what it will be like to spend a lifetime with him and then another and then another. I want to wonder what the timber of his voice will do to my soul and how my name will sound on his lips.
I need to learn to love this One who loves me so.
So, I’m going to learn to doodle again. If the gift he gave me some 32 years ago still makes my heart sing, how much more will the Giver himself set me dizzy
What makes a human being happy? I mean long term, nice and steady, fulfilling inner shalom happy.
Today was a beautiful day. One of those Spring days here in Ohio that makes you feel good just to walk outside and breathe deeply.
I spent a few days last week in Dallas at a conference meeting. I go to Dallas twice a year to meet with a dozen pastors of similar size churches. We are from all over but most of the guys are from Texas, California, Florida and the Carolinas. Those are all good weather places. The weather in Dallas last week was unseasonably cold…for them. For me, it was nice enough to walk around outside without a jacket which means it was very pleasant. They didn’t think so.
It’s got me thinking about the pleasure spectrum. Everyone is born with a very wide range of things that give us pleasure. We love being in thepleasure zone so we continually look for ways to increase our pleasure. The problem is when we do that we shrink our spectrum. I noticed that with the guys from California. They are so used to blue skies and beautiful weather they found it difficult to enjoy cloudy and 55 degrees. But after 5 months of winter here in Ohio, I was thoroughly enjoying the weather in Dallas. The winter opens up our spectrum every year which is why today is so exquisite.
So, back the original question. What makes a human being truly happy? This is what I know. Give any human being everything they want. Put them in the lap of luxury at the very tip of the pleasure spectrum and very soon the whole spectrum will disappear and they will be miserable. I go on mission trips with groups of people and one the most common surprises to people is how happy the children are with nothing. They don’t exactly have nothing. They have little. And that means nearly anything, virtually everything, can give them joy.
So, I’m learning to love the weather here in Ohio. It’s a gift. It’s not a gift we would choose and that is precisely the point. It’s a gift from a Father who knows better. This is our time as buckeyes to be happy. The winter helped open our spectrum wide. Enjoy and praise the Father who knows better than you how to fill your life with joy.
This past week I watched a documentary on the D-Day invasion. It was an amazing almost unbelievable operation. Both the Allied forces and the Germans knew that if the invasion succeeded the war was essentially over. After the invasion it was just a matter of time. That’s not to say there was not a tremendous amount of fighting that still had to go on.
The first day after the invasion was referred to as D-Day plus one. And every day afterward, until the end of the war, was in this way connected to the invasion. Some of the fighting in hedge rows meant days of fighting to gain several feet. At other times the Allied forces flew through the opposition.
This past week we celebrated Easter. In many ways Easter marks the invasion for Christians. Jesus coming into hostile ground and against all odds mounts an almost unbelievable operation. After the resurrection, all the spiritual forces both good and evil know the war is over. There is still much fighting to go on but we are definitely in the D-Day plus era. There are times when it seems like we only make progress in inches. It’s one hedge row at a time. Then there are times when it feels like we have the enemy on its heels and we are growing leaps and bounds. Wherever you are today, I just want to remind you that the war has already been won.
So today I am thanking Jesus on this D-Day plus 2. I hope you are as well.
My 2 year old grandson is learning words. I say “eyes” and he points to his eyes. I say “ear” and he points to his ear. He is learning the simple truth that words have meaning. Each word has a different and distinct meaning and that is the secret of language and communication.
Institutions have boundaries. Hudson High School is an institution. There are those who are a part and those who are not. I am not. It doesn’t make me less of a person. I just don’t qualify to be part of that institution. Let’s say I decided to sue to become a part of Hudson High School by saying that it is discriminatory to not allow a 54 year old man to sit in classes and I win. Now Hudson High School is open to every age group at any time. Does that make HHS better or worse? Well, if another person sues who lives outside of Hudson who claims it’s discriminatory that only Hudson residents get to go to Hudson High School then eventually Hudson High School will no longer exist. Sometimes re-defining boundaries doesn’t expand at all. Sometimes changing the meaning of words makes them meaningless.
The Supreme Court is trying to decide whether the definition of marriage needs to be re-defined. Marriage is the only personal relationship that the government feels compelled to regulate. The government does not regulate friendships at all. What I mean is that there are no contracts regarding friendships and if you decide no longer to be friends you don’t have to get a divorce. Marriage is different. Virtually every known culture regulates marriage. The question is why.
I read a paper by a Harvard professor who claims the thing that makes marriage different than every other relationship is that it is characterized by a particular organic union. An organic union can be something as simple as holding hands. It’s actually any way two or more people are joined together. Sex is another organic union. Marriage has always been recognized by the state because the organic union that is unique to marriage can and often does result in children. The reason the state has always had a vested interest in marriage is because marriage is the institution that not only produces children but is deemed best at protecting and maturing children into proper citizens.
I was listening to the news today as people said it’s time to change the traditional boundaries of marriage to include other types of relationships. There is an inherent problem. An institution like Hudson High School exists to do something that cannot be done if the boundaries are changed to include everyone. Marriage is a word that describes a particular type of relationship. Historically that relationship has to do with what the union of a man and a woman can produce. Namely children.
Words have meanings and institutions have boundaries. When you remove boundaries and change definitions it doesn’t always result in a bigger and better thing. Sometimes it makes what was designed for a purpose cease to be altogether and no one benefits at all.