Hi everyone, Evan here. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over 5 years since Brian came to me with the idea to launch #LiveFully. I was honored to help and it’s been fun watching #LiveFully grow. Since then, we’ve written hundreds of blog posts and Brian has done incredible work with the #LiveFully book and course.
I’m now excited to share something new that I’ve been working on. After writing more than 150 #LiveFully blog posts, I started thinking more about a unique perspective on the gospel I could provide. Several months of planning, research, trial and error, prayer, and more have led me to today. Earlier this week I did a soft launch of a new website called Embracing Exile, and you guys are some of the first to hear about it.
Now, why on earth would I name a website Embracing Exile? For the full story, you can read the About page. But here is the short answer: As Believers, we are part of the Kingdom of God. Despite this, we’re all living in a world that does not know God. Embracing Exile takes the principles of Jeremiah 29:5-7 and 1 Peter 2-3 and explains what Christian living should look like in a secular world in a thoughtful, occasionally humorous way.
There are three main categories of posts, and each one deals with how we live for God’s Kingdom in a specific area of life – the workplace, the community, and the family. As we often said around #LiveFully, life with God isn’t just about Sundays, life with God fills all.
So I hope you will visit Embracing Exile and consider subscribing. If you do subscribe, you’ll get a free ebook that I’ve spent the last few months writing. It’s called Lead Like an Exile: 15 Leadership Principles from the Book of Nehemiah. Each Principle includes a story from the book of Nehemiah and applies a leadership principle to our modern lives. Nehemiah wasn’t a prophet, priest, or king. He was a great leader with a vision, and he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem when no one thought it was possible. I’ve learned so much about leadership while writing this book, and if you read it, I’m sure you will become a better leader as well.
Once again, thanks for your support of #LiveFully over the years. I hope you will continue to support the #LiveFully movement! And of course, I hope you consider joining Embracing Exile. I’d love to stay in touch.
Over the last year I’ve been taking an improv course. If you don’t know what improv is, then I suggest you watch this excellent example:
Essentially, an improvised performance is one you make up on the spot. There is no script! In order to be successful, I’ve had to learn a lot about effective storytelling. Perhaps the most helpful lesson has been the importance of good characters.
You simply cannot have good stories without good characters. They drive the story forward, their decisions and actions make things happen. They may find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, but the way characters handle those circumstances is what makes a story interesting.
Next time you watch a movie or read a novel or attend a play, pay attention to the characters. You will find that they act according to their nature. We expect Jim to prank Dwight, we expect Sam to help Frodo, we expect Mr. Darcy to pursue Elizabeth. We expect these things because they are true to the character, and yet, those expected actions often find ways to surprise us.
If you did not enjoy a story, I’d bet a primary reason was the lack of good characters. I have experienced this firsthand during improv performances. When I walk onto the stage and jump too quickly into a character that has nothing special or interesting, the scenes drag on and are torturous for myself and the audience. If, however, I spend a little more time developing an interesting character, then the story practically tells itself and is always engaging.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our lives are basically stories, and each one of us is a main character in our respective story. If you want your story to be interesting, then you must recognize the importance of actually being a good character.
Performing an Improv scene
At different times, life will send you challenges and conveniences, pain and joy, trials and blessings. In the book, How People Change, the authors describe how us humans often blame external factors for the way we behave. The reality, however, is that we respond to those external situations in a way that is true to our character.
For instance, I often blame the traffic when it causes me to erupt in anger and swearing. But the cause of that irate behavior is actually in my own heart, not on the road.
The key, then, to being a great character and living an excellent story is a changed heart. This cannot be done in our own power, but only through the work of the Gospel and Holy Spirit.
And so, if you truly want to live a story worth remembering, if you want to live fully, then it starts by spending time at the feet of Jesus. Allow God to work in your heart, to change you and make you more like Him. He is the great potter, the author of life, and His hands will ensure that your story is one worth telling.
Your turn: who is your favorite character in a famous story?
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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 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 God, severing 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
In 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.
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?
Over the last couple years, various stories have popped up about social media and the false reality it portrays. People share the highlights of their life, and nothing more. Not surprisingly, this can have a negative effect. One study actually showed that facebook makes people sadder because we begin to feel isolated and compare our “boring” lives to the exciting lives of others on social media.
There are a couple interesting responses to this phenomenon. One young woman in the Netherlands recently faked an entire 5 week trip to SouthEast Asia. She never left town, she simply redecorated her apartment a few times for skype calls, took advantage of photoshop, and posted everything to social media. She explained her actions, “I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media, and that we create an online world which reality can no longer meet.”
Another viral video dramatized facebook depression rather well in June. It depicts a man going through a rough time. While looking at people’s beach photos, however; he decides to put a positive spin on everything. For instance, when he gets fired his facebook post says, “finally quit my dead-end job!”
Since people are getting sadder, some are arguing that we shouldn’t present highlight reels of our lives. For me, this is problematic for two reasons:
1) I do think we should be more honest on social media, but still, there are plenty of things I don’t want to share with the world. “Clogged the toilet again” probably doesn’t belong on my facebook wall.
2) I can’t control what other people put on social media. I can only control my response.
Instead of criticizing people who are “audacious” enough to post a picture of their trip to the beach instead of a picture of their garden that still has a few weeds, we need a better way to respond to facebook depression*. Here it is:
1) Stop comparing yourself
One of the earliest effects of the curse of sin was comparison. After comparing himself to Abel, Cain actually kills his brother because of jealousy. As was demonstrated with the articles above, this is very problematic on social media. Steven Furtick explains the problem, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
Some people’s highlight reels aren’t even real! Img Source: Zilla van der Born
Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on what God thinks of you. Tim Keller puts it this way, “We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.” Comparisons to other people cannot benefit you, but God’s love can save you, give you value, and change everything.
2) Get busy living
I should probably be more sympathetic, but I don’t understand people who sit at home on their computer all day and then become jealous about other people’s lives. Your problem is that you’re sitting at home on facebook! If you want to have a life of adventure or romance or fun, you will never find it online. You actually need to step out of your comfort zone and out your front door.
We all have dreams, some harder to achieve than others. We all have obstacles to those dreams, some greater than others. I get that – not everyone can travel the world or even run through the park. But our dreams are often more achievable than we think, and our biggest obstacles are often self doubt. 5 years ago I would have said, “it’s impossible to move to New Zealand.” And yet, here I am.
Perhaps I was lucky – our move could have been a disaster. But if I hadn’t tried, I would never know. You won’t strike gold every time, but the more you try to succeed at something great, the stronger your chance of success. So get out, and get busy living.
3) Be inspired
Instead of comparing yourself and feeling bad when you look at someone else’s photos and status updates, why not be inspired? If your friend on social media can live their dream, then you can too. So go for it!
4) Build true connections
Research indicates we are the most connected generation of all time, but also the loneliest. Why? Because we aren’t building true connections. Social media attention is short, we comment and move on without a sound. We need to hear people’s voices, we need to experience people’s touch, and we need to share the good and the bad.
When you spend actual time with people, you learn about their triumphs and their sorrows, their joys and their struggles. We NEED to share our struggles with others – it is freeing and helps us realize we’re not alone. This requires vulnerability and relationships with people in your life who care and will share in the challenges we have.
We often wait for other people to come into our lives and initiate relationships, but we shouldn’t. Start making the effort, go after people and build a true connection. Invite them over for dinner, host a game night, meet up for coffee, listen. Whatever you choose, just remember that social media can never replace authentic relationships.
5) Remember where true satisfaction comes from
Jeremiah 2:13 says, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me,the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves,broken cisterns that can hold no water.“
This is ultimately at the root of our problem. God is the fountain of living waters – He is our true satisfaction. We should run and rest in Him. When we look at social media and become jealous of another person’s life, we’re actually believing their “adventures” are more satisfying than God. We think, “if I had what they had, then I’d be content.” The truth is, those things will never bring us the full life, only God can.
The world of social media is a broken cistern. Don’t let it depress you or make you sad, but run to God. Jesus came that you might have life, and have it to the full. Believe that, and be satisfied.
The moral of the story is this: if facebook is making you depressed, then spend less time on it. Instead, spend that time seeking the Lord, building relationships with people, and get busy living.
*I’m no psychiatrist, and I’m not even a counselor. If you’re experiencing true depression (as opposed to facebook jealousy), I won’t pretend it’s an easy fix. Meet with a counselor, tell family and friends, and know you aren’t alone. There is help!
Last night my wife, Morgan, and I watched the movie Frozen. It’s become one of the biggest films of all time, winning 2 academy awards and earning more than $1 billion dollars globally. It’s a remarkable film, and even as a 28 year old male I still enjoyed this cartoon movie about 2 princesses.
The True Myth
Frozen reminded me of a rather famous conversation between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien. Two of the greatest authors of the 20th century were excellent friends, and Tolkien actually led Lewis to Christ. Both were professors at Oxford, and both were obsessed with myths. Humphrey Carter recounts their conversation in his biography of Tolkien:
“But, said Lewis, myths are lies, even though lies breathed through silver.
No, said Tolkien, they are not.
…just as speech is invention about objects and ideas, so myth is invention about truth.
We have come from God (continued Tolkien), and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming a ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.
You mean, asked Lewis, that the story of Christ is simply a true myth, a myth that works on us in the same way as the others, but a myth that really happened? In that case, he said, I begin to understand.”
Our most common form of myth (or story telling) today is film. Here are a few popular examples that steer us “shakily towards the true harbour” of Christ. (Spoilers ahead).
When Anna’s heart is frozen by Elsa, she can only be saved by an act of true love. Instead of receiving the expected true love’s kiss, however, she sacrifices herself to save her sister. Olaf recognizes this sacrifice as an act of true love, and Anna’s heart thaws and she is saved. Elsa’s fear had caused her to lose control of her powers, but then she realized that love is the solution to her fear.
In the same way, Jesus demonstrated the greatest act of true love by sacrificing himself to save us. Not only that, but 1 John 4:18 says this, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Sound familiar?
2) Harry Potter
Harry has received some negative press from the Christian community, but I think they’re missing a brilliant demonstration of God’s love. Harry’s mom sacrifices herself to save Harry, and her blood protects him throughout most of the series. Then, in the final chapters, Harry willingly goes to Lord Voldemort to die. He knows his death will make Voldemort vulnerable, and his act actually protects the people he dies for. After willingly dying, Harry is able to return from the dead and finish off the evil Voldemort forever.
John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” In the same way, Jesus willingly died to save us and to defeat Satan. His death was not the end, however, as he rose from the dead. His blood has covered us, and now we too can have eternal life.
The world’s most popular superhero has significant parallels to Jesus. A man, not born of Earth, comes and lives amongst us. He has unusual powers and rescues people, inspiring them to greater things. The “S” symbol on his chest means “hope,” and this is what Superman brings to the world. In the scene below, immediately after his father says, “you can save all of them,” notice the posture Superman takes (50 seconds):
This particular film is filled with parallels, and so are the comics. Likewise, Jesus is frequently referred to as our hope, he is our salvation, and (believe it or not) he is even more powerful than Superman.
4) Star Wars
The dark side of the force illustrates the effects of sin in our lives. When Anakin joins the dark side, they say he dies and Vader takes his place. We know this too well about our sin nature, as Ephesians 2:1 says, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Perhaps the most moving scene in the original trilogy, however, occurs when Vader repents, turning from the Dark side of the force to save his son.
In this final scene we witness one of the greatest villains of all time find redemption. It is a clear reminder to us; no matter what our past, we can still be saved by the work of Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-5 continues, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.“
5) Beauty and the Beast
Since I started with a Disney princess movie, I might as well finish with one. The last time I cried in a movie was when I saw Beauty and the Beast in theaters. The year was 1991, I was 5 years old, and this is the scene that did me in:
If this doesn’t remind you of the work that Jesus does in us, then I don’t know what will. 1 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” In this scene, the beast is transformed before our eyes, new life is breathed into his broken body, and he is made new.
It’s all true
This list could go on and on. Films like ET, Braveheart, The Avengers, Lord of the Rings, Signs, The Lion King, the Shawshank Redemption, many are filled with truths that resonate with us on a deep level.
Do you ever watch these stories unfold and wish they were true? This is the brilliant thing – they are! So many of the great stories, the ones that really matter, are all made true in Jesus. He is the real “Superman,” he casts out fear with his perfect love, and he redeems us and makes us a new creation.
He is the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams, he is the embodiment of that which we hold most dear.
I hope you’ll watch stories from now on and look for the “splintered fragments of the true light” that point us home. They are a reminder that we are called to something greater than the mundane. We are called to abundant life, and we find it in Jesus.