Cinderella, Identity, and the Gospel

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?

Why does God allow suffering?

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?

Why Christians should be the least judgmental people in the world

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.

Experiencing God through the Hard times

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.”

What does it mean to be light of the world?

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.

If you would like to take a deeper dive into this topic, check out this series on how to be a light of the world that explores the Sermon on the Mount.

#LiveFully