Last night, Morgan and I went to see the new Cinderella movie.

Now I need to make a couple of confessions. First, Morgan did not drag me to see the film. It was my suggestion. Yes I know it’s a princess movie. But I’m a bit of a film fanatic, I love Disney, and enjoy Director Kenneth Branagh‘s work. So sue me.

Secondly, I actually enjoyed it. Granted, Cinderella does more dress twirling than I thought necessary and it isn’t a perfect film, but it features the right amount of charm and Disney magic that can make even the most cynical people smile. Even better, I haven’t seen a movie with so much Gospel truth in a long time. I highly recommend you (and your kids) watch it.

While many moments stick out to me, I’m going to focus on just a few of them. Things might get a bit spoilery here, so consider reading this after watching the movie. That being said, most people know the Cinderella story and so the things below shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

Identity

The film introduces us to a young girl, named Ella. Like many Disney films, she loses both her parents. She is then left with her cruel Stepmother and two Stepsisters. They change her name from Ella to “Cinderella” because of the ashes on her face from all the serving work they force her to do.

Img source: Rotten Tomatoes

Img source: Rotten Tomatoes

Throughout the entire story, her stepmother feeds her this identity, “the ragged servant girl is what you are, and that is what you will always be.” It is no coincidence that her stepmother’s cat is named “Lucifer.”

This identity stays with Cinderella throughout the movie. She frequently questions whether or not a prince could actually love her because she has so little to offer.

“And I’m just a lizard”

The scene that resonated with me the most comes when Cinderella arrives at the ball. She says something to her coachman (who is actually a lizard transformed by the fairy godmother), that goes something like this:

“I’m scared Mr. Lizard, I’m just a girl, not a princess.”

Mr. Lizard responds, “And I am just a lizard, not a coachman. But we can enjoy it while it lasts.”

This exchange works for Ella, who embraces her new identity as a princess, even if it is for just a few hours.

As she walked up the stairs with a huge smile, I was struck by something. We are all just people, unworthy of the glories of God’s Kingdom because of our sin. Despite this, God chose to adopt us all as children, making us heirs in His Kingdom.

Img source: Rotten Tomatoes

Img source: Rotten Tomatoes

But we are not limited to enjoying our new identity as royalty for a few hours. Because of Christ’s work we can enjoy and embrace our new identity for all eternity. Romans 8:14-18 describes it this way, ”

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Take me as I am

When the clock strikes midnight, Ella runs for it. She is afraid that when the prince learns who she truly is, he will reject her. But this is not the case. Instead, the Prince searches the Kingdom to find the woman he loves.

When he finally does, she identifies herself as “Cinderella” She tells him, “I have nothing to offer you, no land or ruling advantage, no dowry or riches. Will you take me as I am?”

The prince is not deterred. He loves Cinderella for who she is and asks for her hand in marriage.

And this is how Christ accepts us. We are tempted to believe that we need to offer God something special before he will accept us. We think “If I were a bit more holy” or “if I do more good works” or “once I start going to church more” then God will accept us into His Kingdom.

But Jesus doesn’t ask us for good works or religious performance. He doesn’t require or money or our land. All he asks is for our heart. No matter where you are or what you’ve done, all you need to do is repent (turn towards Jesus) and believe (that Jesus loves you and can save you).

Happily Ever After

Almost all fairy tales end with the words, “And they lived happily ever after.”

If you’re a believer in Jesus, then those words are not just make believe. There is a Kingdom waiting for us all, and together we shall live with the King and truly know what it means to live happily ever after.

Your turn: Did you see Cinderella? What did you think? Is it ok for a grown adult man without a daughter to enjoy this movie?

I’ve had conversations with many non-believers that go something like this: “I just can’t believe in an all-powerful God with all the bad stuff happening in the world. Disease, murder, hunger; if He is real then why does God allow suffering?”

I would imagine that everyone has asked themselves this question at some point in their lives. Despite feeling incredibly inadequate to answer this question, I am going to attempt to do so in the best way I can. It’s not a simple answer, in fact, I think it requires several answers. The five answers below do not necessarily stand alone, but I believe they can work together to give us peace and understanding about the suffering in this world.

The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh - a site of tremendous pain and suffering

The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh – a site of tremendous pain and suffering

1) God created a world without suffering

Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

God is powerful enough to create a perfect world without pain and suffering. But He also desired for His people to love Him, and love is a choice. If mankind had no choice to love or reject God, then we could not truly love Him. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s love and His way.

As a direct result of our rejection of God’s good ways, we inherited all the bad things. Some of these are a direct result of people’s actions: stealing, murder, and so on. But Genesis says the very ground is cursed because of our sin. Natural disasters, diseases, and death were not part of the original plan, but because of sin they are a regular occurrence.

2) Suffering reminds us that we need God

A couple years ago I met Laura Story, the singer/songwriter behind Blessings. Laura’s husband, Martin, had a terrible brain tumor. They were able to successfully remove the tumor, but unfortunately, there was some lasting damage. He lost his peripheral vision and has a memory deficit.

It was a very challenging event, and it presents new challenges every day. The song Laura wrote is a powerful exploration of the pain and trials in our life. One line that always sticks out to me is this:
What if my greatest disappointments,
Or the aching of this life,
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy.

CS Lewis once said, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This, then, is one of the reasons we still have pain: it grabs our attention and reminds us that true satisfaction can only come from God.

This, then, is one of the reasons we still have suffering: it grabs our attention and reminds us that true satisfaction can only come from God.

3) Suffering works for our good

An entire book could be written about Romans 8:28-30. Most people are familiar with verse 28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It is both frightening and encouraging to know that, for the Christian, all things work together for good.

But I’m not sure we always understand what “good” means. The good that God promises in our life isn’t a better job, attractive spouse, larger bank account, or awesome vacation. When bad things happen, I think our hope is far too often in a tangible gift from God. But God promises something better, and He does so in verses 29 and 30:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What is the good that God has called us to? To be conformed to the image of his Son, and like Jesus, to ultimately bring us into glory. That means God uses all things in our life, including the trials, pain, and suffering, to make us more like Jesus.

4) Jesus can identify with us in suffering

We often forget that God himself has experienced tremendous suffering. It can be easy to get angry with Him when He gets to enjoy Heaven and we have to suffer here. But Jesus took on flesh and experienced all the pain and suffering a human can imagine. He was sick, he lost loved ones, and his death was torturous.

A few verses in Hebrews 2 explains this rather vividly. Verse 9 says, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Continuing in verse 14, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

I find it remarkably comforting to know that we have a God who knows exactly what I am going through. He himself has suffered, and He can offer help and comfort in ways we cannot even comprehend.

5) God will put an end to all suffering

This is the kicker. Without this point, I think I would still struggle to understand why a good God could allow so much suffering. People want to know, why doesn’t God fix everything? The answer is this: God will fix everything. He will bring justice to the people of the world who cause suffering, and He will put an end to all future suffering.

Revelation 21:3-5 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

It was this hope that kept Paul going through his many trials. The guy was beaten, stoned, flogged, shipwrecked, snake bitten, and more. But despite all these suffering, he had this to say in Romans 8:13, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Like Paul, we must also cling to this hope. Our present suffering is a blip compared to the eternity we can enjoy with God. If you are experiencing suffering now, please understand that I have no intention of minimizing your pain. Suffering can be unbearable and long lasting, but ultimately, the glory God has planned for us is so vast that our present suffering is simply “not worth comparing.

#LiveFully

To #LiveFully does not mean you will never suffer. But rather, when you suffer, it means you will seek after the Lord and His peace. It means God will use your suffering to change you into His image. It means you will trust the God who identifies with our suffering. And it means we can hope in the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Your turn: How do you cope with suffering when it occurs in your life?

Ask the average 16-29 year old how they would describe Christians, and one of their first words would be “judgmental.” To say this bothers me is an understatement.  Being judgmental is completely contrary to the very essence gospel, and yet Christians have acted in such a way that it is core to our modern identity.

First, let’s describe what people typically mean when they describe someone as judgmental. Essentially, if you are overly critical of everyone else, then you are being judgmental. This is especially true when you criticize others in order to look better yourself. A classic judgmental statement is something like, “I’m better than you because you ____________, but I ___________.

The Gospel Truth

But the Gospel has no room for this type of behavior. Christianity is unique in its message: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10) and “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

That means it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or Pagan, gay or straight, black or white, Western or Eastern, vegan or carnivore, sober or drunk, all of us have fallen short. None of us are good enough for God’s glory, we cannot meet His standard.

If this was the end of the story, it would be rather depressing. But it is not the end, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We were not good enough, but Jesus is. He died in our place, and we can rest in his work to receive eternal life. Therefore, when God looks at those who believe, He no longer sees the things we’ve done, but rather the work Christ has done on our behalf. It is a marvelous thing, a beautiful gift, and the greatest act of love all time.

Understanding the Gospel

Which brings us to the problem of judgmentalism. If you look down on someone and believe you are better than them because you don’t drink, cuss, or steal, then you have failed to recognize two essential truths of the gospel:

1) You cannot earn your salvation (you’re not good enough)
2) Jesus loves you and earned 100% of your salvation for you

Judgmental behavior is rooted in our desperate need for righteousness. Deep down, we know we cannot measure up to God’s standards. Therefore, we do everything we can to earn His approval and look good. One way we attempt this is to criticize others so that we look better. The only problem is, judging others to make ourselves appear better only leads to self-righteousness.

The truth is, God won’t give you or me His approval based on our self-earned-righteousness. Comparing yourself to others won’t help your chances, in fact, it will hurt them. The only way to receive God’s favor is by depending on the work of Christ. When you do that, you will receive righteousness and salvation as free gifts. You don’t need to prove your value by judging others!

Responding to the Gospel

So instead of being judgmental, Christians should be the most compassionate and caring people in the world. We know we are sinners, but we also know that Jesus is the only thing that has changed us.

Instead of saying, “I’m better than you because _________,” we should be saying, “I get it! Life is hard and you want satisfaction and joy and peace. I’ve tried many of the things you’re trying, but I’m here to tell you, nothing will work as well as Jesus. I’ve experienced his love and his goodness, and there is nothing else like it in the world! He is far more satisfying than drink and sex and money and power. Won’t you let me introduce you to him?”

So let’s start breaking the stereotype. If you want the world to stop viewing Christians as judgmental and hateful, then it starts with you. Preach the gospel to yourself regularly, remind yourself of the truth constantly to avoid the trappings of self-righteousness.

Despite your inadequacies and failures, God loves you more than you can imagine. If you truly believe that, you can’t help but love others.

I recently had the opportunity to help tell the story of two of my friends named Jeremy and Nicole.

I won’t write their whole story here, because you can and should watch them tell it in the video below. But just to convince you to press play, I’ll get things started. To say Jeremy and Nicole have had a challenging few years would be an understatement. When their first son, Toby, was born, they discovered he had something called GRACILE syndrome. He struggled to survive, and sadly they lost him at two months of age.

They also discovered that, because GRACILE was a genetic disorder (an extremely rare one at that), each of the rest of their children would have a 25% chance of having GRACILE. In the video they share about their decision making process to try again, giving birth to a healthy child named Levi. Once more they decided to try, but their third son, Lucas, was also diagnosed with GRACILE syndrome. Despite knowing this 3 months into pregnancy, they chose to carry Lucas to term and give birth so they could meet him, if even for a short time.

It’s a tragic story, but one filled with God’s grace. How they can trust and love God through times like this is beyond me, but perhaps they can help you understand in this video:

It is a great reminder that no matter what you go through, God can grant you peace and offer you His presence. Jeremy put it this way,

“We started out the journey just wanting God to heal Toby. That was it pretty much, that’s who God was in that situation to us. He has to come in and heal. By the end of the journey, we felt like we could see God completely clearly, being right there with us, standing with us as Toby died. We came to know that God was there and that God is good, even in a situation like that.”

In John 8:12, Jesus says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

There are three things I want to point out in that verse:
1) People are walking in darkness
2) Jesus is the light of the world
3) By following Jesus, we can also have the light of life

One of the most exciting things about Christianity is that Jesus calls us to join in his work of redemption and restoration. We can do this is by bringing light to the darkness. Let’s talk about how that works.

light of the world

Darkness

When you think about darkness, what words come to mind? I recently asked some friends this, and we came up with a list: fear, danger, despair, blindness, sadness, sin.

Nighttime can be a scary thing, but in modern times we often feel safe because of electric lights. Imagine, however, going out at night during the time of Jesus. There were no street lights, no police, and danger awaited around every corner. Historian Peter Baldwin described nighttime before electricity as “downright perilous.” There were at least three dangers to the night:

1) No guidance or clear paths: Have you ever walked through your house at night with no lights on? There is a reasonable chance you kicked the bed, tripped over a toy, or worse. Roman cities had tight walkways covered in garbage, stonework, and wild animals. You risked serious injury simply because of the many obstacles!

2) Night was the realm of the criminal: Vandals, thieves, murderers. These were the type of people you might encounter if you left your home in the darkness. Not exactly ideal companionship.

3) People who had something to hide: John Henley described the situation this way: “Those fearful of arrest could move safely under cover of darkness. Lovers could connect, adulterers could couple, prostitutes could work, homosexuals could meet.” In other words, people hid everything they could in darkness.

(Side note – I found an awesome collection of photos with modern cities as if they had no lights.)

Photograph by THIERRY COHEN (click photo for more)

Jesus is the Light

The light of Jesus conquers darkness in every way:

1) It gives us guidance and a clear path: Psalms 119:105 says, “Your word is a light to my feet and a light unto my path.”

2) Sin and danger are overcome: John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Thanks to Jesus, the murderers and thieves are defeated.

3) The hidden ways of darkness are exposed: Ephesians 5:11-13 says, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible.

Most people will be pretty happy about number 1 and 2, we want clear paths and conquered criminals! But what about part 3? All of us have areas of our lives that we would rather not have exposed. It can actually be terrifying to know that Jesus sees everything and exposes everything.

But this fear is good, because it gives us no other option but to run to Jesus. When we do that, he redeems us! Ephesians 5:8-9 says, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” There is hope here for everyone, even murderers, thieves, and vandals.

How to walk as children of the Light

Not only does Jesus proclaim himself to be the light of the world, but he also calls us to be light to the world. He did it in John 8:12, Ephesians 5:9, and also Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

If we want to be the light, then we must start by understanding how to shine the light. Imagine a lightbulb: Its purpose is to shine light, but no matter how hard it tries it cannot generate light on it’s own power. The lightbulb cannot fulfill its purpose until it is plugged into a power source. Once connected properly, however, the lightbulb will automatically shine – it cannot help it.

In the same way, we cannot shine light unless we are connected to Christ. We must seek after him and live in his presence. When we allow the Spirit to work in us while we do things like listening to the Word or praying, we won’t be able to help but shine His light.

From there, it is simple. You must do what light does – overcome darkness.

Bring courage to those with fear.
Protect those in danger.
Kindle hope for those in despair.
Offer guidance to the blind.
Give joy to the sad.
Show grace to the sinful.

The list could go on and on, but it starts with Jesus. Being the light of the world is not a matter of performance, but rather a matter of position. When you place yourself at the feet of Jesus, you will bring hope to dark places like never before.

#LiveFully

There are two popular views of God:

1) God is an angry old man who wants to judge you and give you smallpox as punishment for your sins.

2) God is a loving dude who just wants you to be happy and live your life the way you want!

Jesus presents something different, something better.

Img source: Hans Splinter

Img source: Hans Splinter

In John 8:10-11 he demonstrates his perfect balance. A woman had just been accused of adultery. When Christ calls for someone without sin to cast the first stone, no one steps forward.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

We see a God who shows incredible mercy, but at the same time he calls us to leave our life of sin.

Our culture has become confused about this. Identifying someone else’s sin has become “hateful.” People who do not condemn sin are labelled as lacking conviction.

Jesus however, calls for balance. He is not hateful, nor does he lack conviction.

I love Tim Keller’s definition of the gospel, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Jesus does not overlook our sin. He encountered many people who were clearly sinners. He does not excuse our sin, but rather he identifies it, meets us in it, and redeems us from it. He looks directly at our sin and chooses to love us because of his great love. Through his very own blood he purchased us from slavery to sin. Because of his sacrifice, he will not condemn us when we choose to follow him. He will, however, call us to leave our life of sin. Why? Because he knows our sin will never bring life.

It didn’t matter if Jesus was speaking to the sexually immoral, the swindlers, the greedy, or the profane. His message was the same, and it is the same today for you and me: This life of sin you are living will not satisfy, in fact, it will hurt you. Repent from your sins, believe the good news, and come to me. I will not condemn you, I will forgive you and wash you and make you righteous.

Nobody else in history has offered such balance.

So don’t try to hide or justify your own sin. Don’t trust in your own self-righteousness, and don’t fear running to Christ. Instead, embrace the unique balance that only Jesus offers and encourage others to do the same.

#LiveFully.

Last year, Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling went semi-viral. I recently started taking an improv class where we learned and practiced rule #4 – it outlines a story spine that goes something like this:

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. But one day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. And ever since that day_____.

Pixar

Pixar didn’t invent this spine, it’s been around for a long time. Kenn Adams receives credit for identifying the spine, but the truth is, this has been guiding good stories for thousands of years.

In fact, this can be applied rather easily to the story of the Gospel:

1. Once upon a time…Mankind was placed together in the Garden of Eden.

2. Every day…they experienced beauty and freedom and a harmony with God

3. But one day…Adam and Eve sinned against Godsevering their relationship with Him.

4. Because of that…Pain and sorrow entered the world

5. Because of that…mankind began attempting to solve the broken things in the world. They tried to become like God, greater than God, or creators of God. But nothing worked.

6. Because of that…Mankind grew more distant from God, hurting each other in their quest for satisfaction.

7. Until finally…Jesus was born. He lived a perfect life, and he did what no one else could do. He paid for our sins, and gave us freedom.

8. And ever since that day…We can Live Fully as we await the final return of Jesus, who will finish putting all broken things together.

Why story matters

1) Our need for redemption: There is a reason we love stories that follow this structure – we want people to achieve redemption. We all face trials, many of them because of our own flaws, and we need to see that people can be saved from them. Why? Because we need to know that we ourselves can be saved.

2) Inciting incidents are kairos moments: Stories always include an “inciting incident.” This is the “but one day” section of the story, where normal life gets interrupted. Many times things are going perfectly well for the characters, but the inciting incident changes that. Buzz Lightyear replaces Woody, Carl loses Ellie, or Nemo gets fishnapped. But sometimes, the story can begin with poor conditions – like Mr. Incredible having to work in insurance instead of as a superhero. Either way, the inciting incident produces a challenge and an opportunity, and the way a character responds can dictate the rest of their life. We have these moments in our own life, and I like to call them kairos moments. It is a defining moment in time, when God intervenes and our response can affect our future.

3) It’s fulfilled in Jesus: A few weeks ago we talked about how the best stories are all true because of Jesus. He is the ultimate “until finally” and we need to remember that. Not just for his first coming, but also for his second coming. When we face trials and tribulations (we will), we need to remember that the story is not over until the King returns.

4) It can guide our own story: Life doesn’t need to be boring. Trials do not need to destroy us. Ultimately, every good story involves someone becoming a better person so they can overcome a challenge. When you look at your life like a story, it can enable and encourage you to keep fighting. You don’t need to give up or quit, but recognize that God uses the adversity in our lives to make us more like Him. As our character changes and we trust in Him, we can overcome those challenges and live lives that are worthy of telling.

Your turn: What is your favorite Pixar movie?

Much of the Christian world today has adopted the belief that if you really want to make a difference for God’s Kingdom, then you need to work in full-time ministry. I’ve had so many conversations with young men or women who want to go work for a church or para-church organization so they can honor God with their work.

The idea that you love God more when you work in full-time ministry is simply not true. Just to clarify – there is nothing wrong about full-time ministry and we need people taking on that challenge. But we also desperately need Godly men and women working in the corporate world, the government, the arts, education, and beyond.

City skyline

If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at the Bible. There are many people throughout the Scripture who were not in full-time ministry and yet, they did amazing things for God and his people through their work. Here are a few examples:

1) Abraham

God called Abraham away from his home into a new land, and Abraham went. He was nothing more than a roaming farmer (although a rather successful one). He listened to the Lord and grew in righteousness, and God blessed Abraham by making him the father of Israel and establishing His covenant with him. You can read more of Abraham’s story starting in Genesis 12.

2) Joseph

Joseph was an honest guy who was sold into slavery by his brothers. While in Egypt, he rose from slave to the second most powerful man in the greatest empire on Earth at the time. As a slave, he worked with honor and earned respect from his owner. As second-in-command, he used his skills and love for the Lord to govern Egypt well, turning an oncoming famine into an economic opportunity. He also saved his family (and therefore the nation of Israel) from the famine, forgiving his brothers and welcoming them into his home. Joseph proved that you can honor God with your work, both as a lowly slave and as a powerful leader. Joseph’s story begins in Genesis 37 and carries on through the rest of the book.

3) Joshua

When the people first approached the Promised Land, Joshua was one of two men who trusted God and wanted to invade. 40 years later, when the people actually did take hold of the land, Joshua led them. His military leadership was only matched by his love for the Lord. He was strong and courageous, and trusted God completely. He also led the people towards God, saying “choose this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Read about his story in the book of Joshua (with chapter 1 and 23-24 being some personal favorites).

4) Deborah

Deborah was a judge and prophetess who led Israel well. The people came to her for guidance and decisions. While Judges describes the flaws of most of the leaders, it gives none for Deborah. She pointed the people towards God and helped rescue them from the Canaanites. Read Deborah’s story in Judges 4-5.

5) Nehemiah

Nehemiah is one of my favorite leaders of all time. He was a cupbearer for the King of Persia who united the people of Israel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He guided people with justice and service, spending countless hours getting his hands dirty to help finish building. His greatest project was a construction job, and he gave the people of Israel a cultural center and identity once more. Nehemiah’s story can be found in the book of Nehemiah.

6) Ruth

Ruth’s story is a remarkably humble one, full of normal people showing extraordinary kindness. Ruth was a widow who, instead of returning to her own family where she would be cared for, resolved not to leave her mother-in-law alone. She later met Boaz (a landowner) who also showed kindness. Ruth and Boaz eventually got married, and had a great grandson named David (who would become King). Read her full story in the book of Ruth.

7) Paul

Although Paul started his career as a Pharisee, after he encountered Jesus he became a tent-maker. Granted, the tent-maker planted churches and wrote half the New Testament in his spare time, but much of his living actually came from making tents. This is a great reminder and proof that, even if your full-time job and salary comes from something like tent-making, you can still invest significant time and energy into making disciples and teaching the Gospel to those around you. Read Paul’s story, starting in Acts 9.

8) Jesus

This might be cheating, because Jesus does fulfill the role of priest. Remember, however, that he was a carpenter for years before beginning his ministry. If I were writing the story, I would have started him out as a prince or a priest in training who then goes on to great reformation and spiritual things (kind of like Martin Luther). But instead, Jesus worked alongside his father as a carpenter. And we can be sure that he worked that job with integrity and selflessness, seeking to joyfully serve others through the things he built. His story is told in all four Gospels.

Conclusion

This list could go on to include people like Isaac and Jacob, David and Jonathan, Esther and Mordecai, Joseph and Mary, the Roman Centurion, Lydia, Tabitha, Simeon, and so on.

Again, I’m not saying it is wrong to go into full-time ministry. We clearly need people working in churches and para-church organizations! But we also need Godly people working in the secular world. If no one is there representing Christ, then the world will miss out on the Full Life.

So don’t make the mistake of believing you need to work in full-time ministry to make a difference or to be extra holy. Start making a difference today in whatever vocation God has placed you in. As we can see from the people above, God can and will use you if you work with integrity and for His glory.

If you’re like me, you’re probably getting tired of all the “click bait” titles on your facebook or twitter feeds. You know the types of links I’m talking about. They include randomly long lists and words like blown-away, mind boggling, and faith in humanity restored.

Websites will do anything they can to get you to click through to their site. We even do it here at #LiveFully sometimes (at least I didn’t title this post “You’ll never believe why we’ve become a click bait culture”). These click bait titles, however, have gotten out of hand. So much so, that a twitter user, @SavedYouAClick, now copies the text of these titles and gives simple one word answers to these teasers. It’s kind of hilarious to see how unexciting these tantalizing titles can really be.

Another website, Clickhole, is dedicated to creating the most exciting sounding article titles and filling it with the most boring/obvious content. Here’s an example: 5 iconic movie scenes that were actually fake. It’s no surprise that this site was created by the same people who run the Onion.

The problem with click bait titles is this: when everything becomes special and exciting, then nothing is special or exciting. In order to demonstrate this, I decided to make a video with nothing but buzzfeed and upworthy titles as the dialogue. It’s kind of ridiculous – no one talks like this.

So the question must be asked – why have we become overwhelmed with click bait titles? They obviously work, but why do we click them?

The simple answer, I believe, is that we were made for glory. We want to be blown away, we want to be wowed. We want to see something amazing and praise it.

Made for glory

Isaiah 43:7 says, “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” In other words, God created us to glorify Him. If we do not give Him glory, then we will give it to someone or something else. There is a reason mankind has worshipped gods throughout all of history – glorification of great things is central to our identity. John Piper says it this way,

“What if we asked someone, “Would you want to watch a football game where all the players were no better than you? Or watch a movie where the actors could act no better than you and were no better looking than you? Or go to a museum to see pictures by painters who could paint no better than you?” Why are we willing to be exposed in all these places as utterly inferior? How can we get so much joy out of watching people magnify their superiority over us? The biblical answer is that we were made by God to get our deepest joys not from being superior ourselves but from enjoying God’s superiority. All these other experiences are parables. God’s superiority is absolute in every way, which means our joy in it may be greater than we could ever imagine.”

The reality we are all waking up to, however, is that facts about puppies or pictures of adorable cats will not truly blow us away. In fact, they won’t even come close.

If we actually want to experience something great, then it is best found in God. There are many ways to glorify God, but perhaps these three are my favorite:

1) Look to the Gospel:

Everyone thinks Jesus was a great guy, even non-Christians. We typically forget, however, how awesome he truly is. This is a man who John described with these words in John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

If you want to be wowed, spend some time looking at Jesus. Notice the ways he loves the sinners and the sick, listen to the brilliant things he said, look at the impact he made on his followers, and remember that he died a horrible death so that you might live. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus will take your breath away.

2) Disciple someone:

The last commandment of Jesus before ascending into Heaven is known as the Great Commission. In it he says, “Go and make disciples…” Obedience to God brings him glory, but making disciples offers limitless opportunities to be wowed by God. Why? Because you will see Him change people’s lives.

Perhaps one of the most powerful (and most under appreciated) proofs of God’s existence is the change he works in people. I’ve seen radical change that simply doesn’t happen without God’s work. Discipleship allows us to see these changes, and even be a part of the change. It does not offer any instant-gratification. You won’t be blown-away within 30 seconds and you will need to actually invest time and energy in someone. But the investment makes the work of the Spirit all the more rewarding.

3) See the World:

God’s creation is unbelievable sometimes. It’s almost impossible for me to not glorify God when I see something like this in real life:

Routeburn Track

And while you can see nice photos online, they will never come close to visiting an inspiring place in real life. It will take time, and possibly money, but it is worth it. Sometimes, however, the most beautiful places are the park in your neighborhood or the joy on the face of your own children. The world is full of beautiful places, people, and experiences, but you won’t find them on buzzfeed. The internet is great for ideas, but ultimately, the things that will amaze you are not on your computer screen. Spend time in God’s creation, and revel in His great work.

Your turn: What is your favorite way to give God glory?

Election season is upon us! We actually just had national elections in New Zealand, and political campaigns in the USA are ramping up for this November’s mid-term elections. As these things happen, everyone becomes a little more opinionated.

1 Peter 2:17 has something interesting to say about politics, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

Official_portrait_of_Barack_ObamaIn the USA, there is obviously no Emperor, but if Peter were writing to Americans the last phrase would say “Honor the President.” Most Christians think it’s a good idea to honor people, love the brotherhood, and fear God. None of us are perfect, but we’ll at least try.

When it comes to honoring our leader, however, I think we often fall short. America today has become extremely polarized politically. It seems like there are two groups over the last decade: Those who hated Bush and those who hate Obama. Now, most Christians wouldn’t say they “hate” either of them, but their actions and comments tell a different story.

There is a joke in the South: you can say anything you want about someone, as long as it’s followed by “bless his/her heart.” For instance, a woman might say, “That boy is completely lazy and throwing his life away, bless his heart.” In Christian politics, I think we have a similar rule. We call him liar, snake, tyrant, or even the antichrist and then follow it up with “you don’t have to like the man, but you must respect the office.”

But is calling someone a liar and a snake and a evil tyrant really respecting the office? Is this what God meant when He called us to honor the Emperor?

You might argue back, “but we have (or have had) a really bad president! How am I supposed to honor him?!”

Just to be clear, I’m writing to both sides of the political spectrum. I know Christian democrats and republicans, and both can make the mistake of despising the President. As bad as you might think whoever the leader of your country is (if you don’t today, you might in 5 years), he or she is nothing compared to the Emperor during the time of Peter’s letter writing. In fact, there are several leaders in the Bible who did not deserve honor, but God calls his people to show them honor anyway.

The Crazy “Emperors” of the Bible

1) Emperor Nero: Peter wrote his letter, from Rome, during the reign of crazy Emperor Nero. That’s right, this is the same Emperor Nero who had already murdered his mother and wife, lived a hedonistic lifestyle, and would eventually be blamed for torching 75% of Rome. His response to the accusations? Blame the Christians. He then killed hundreds, if not thousands of believers. His favorite method was lighting them on fire and using them as torches in the city at night.

So when Peter calls us to honor the emperor, he wasn’t referring to a benevolent leader who cared for his people. The Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal had nothing on Nero’s antics, but still, Peter called the people to honor him.

2) King Saul: The first anointed king of Israel was not good. He repeatedly broke the Lord’s commands and wanted to destroy his most faithful servant: David. In fairness to Saul, God did anoint David to take his place as King, but David never lifted a finger against Saul. The King repeatedly tried to kill David, even going to a witch and killing priests who had helped protect the future king.

David had Saul within his grasp. He could have easily killed him and put an end to the madness, and taken his place as King. But instead, David spared his life. When Saul came after David again, he found himself in a similar position, and again David spared Saul’s life. David explained his reason for this: “The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord‘s anointed.

3) King Nebuchadnezzar: Aside from having the craziest name in the Bible, Nebuchadnezzar is also famous for absolutely destroying Jerusalem. He then brought hundreds of thousands of exiles back with him to Babylon, including the now famous Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. At one point he promises to kill all of his advisors because of a bad dream, and later he actually throws Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace because they won’t worship his golden statue (they survive by a miracle).

Despite all this, when Daniel is asked to interpret a dream that will bring judgment upon the King, Daniel does not revel in it. He doesn’t say, “I knew you had this coming! You destroyed my home and tried to kill my friends. Now you’re going to get what you deserve.” Instead, Daniel was actually “dismayed.” Daniel begins the judgment on the King by saying, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies!

Daniel demonstrates a sincere love for the King. He finishes the interpretation of the dream by saying, “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.

Daniel doesn’t want the King’s destruction, but rather his redemption.

How we can “Honor the Emperor”

The Bible is clear – we should honor our leaders. But how do we do it? How can you lift up a man or woman you completely disagree with? Again, the bible offers some good suggestions:

1) Pray for your leader: 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” This one is simple – prayer makes a true difference. I often wonder how our leaders would be different if every Christian prayed for their leader everyday. Not only would it have a positive impact on our leaders, but also on our own life and the nations we live in as well.

2) Desire their redemption: I love Daniel’s example so much. There is a genuine care for the King, and Daniel doesn’t want to see harm come to the King. Instead, he hopes Nebuchadnezzar wil repent and worship the Lord. Paul had a similar approach with the leaders of the Roman empire. In Acts 26 he shares the gospel with King Agrippa, who responds, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am.” 

3) Speak well of them: David never refers to Saul as “that idiot psychopath who will ruin my life.” Instead, he calls him the “Lord’s anointed.” All rulers are established by God, and because of that, they deserve our respect. Next time you feel the need to rant about your leader, look to David’s example instead.

Conclusion:

Do you have to agree with everything a leader does? Of course not. You can even ask him to change his ways or policies (like Daniel). But we must do all things in a way that honors and respects them.

Your turn: There are, of course, other ways you can honor your leaders. What would you suggest?