Do You Believe

“Do You Believe” is the story of twelve people and how their lives intersect.  Some of these people are followers of Jesus Christ – they believe – and some do not.  Some who do not believe come to believe.  Some who do believe have their faith impacted by those who do not believe.  The story ends with a dying man miraculously coming back to life and a voice over narration that lets us know God is at work in all our lives and it’s up to us to believe or not.

I truly love the concept of this story; however, the complexity of telling twelve different stories at the same time takes its toll on the authenticity of the events depicted.  Much of what we see is only a caricature of the real world and fairly unrealistic.  As a result, you may be pulled out of the story and left unfulfilled.  My suggestion is that you watch this film with the understanding that it is not “real life” but a concept of the intricacies of our world and how God is working in each and every one of our lives on a daily basis.  If you watch with that point of view, and with those lowered expectations, I believe this film will have a powerful deep impact that will touch your heart.

There is some good acting in this film from Mira Sorvino, Sean Astin, and Delroy Lindo who plays my favorite character in the film – a street preacher.  This is a darker story about how difficult life can be; punctuated by the understanding that God is ultimately in control.

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Reborn to be Wild

Ed Underwood, pastor of the historic Church of the Open Door in Southern California, became a Christian in the late 1960s as a result of the Jesus Movement.  Starting sometime in the late 60s and continuing into the 70s, young revolutionary minded Christians began spreading the Gospel outside of the institutionalized church, on the streets, at concerts, on the beach and wherever young people were hanging out.  If you were around during the Jesus Movement you will remember it was difficult to go anywhere without encountering what became known as “Jesus Freaks.”  This derogatory term later became a badge of honor for these committed, on fire for Christ, young evangelists, as their numbers increased and they began building their own churches.

In his book, “Reborn to be Wild,” Ed Underwood describes the Jesus Movement in engaging detail and concludes it was in fact a true revival, “a powerful movement of God sweeping through a culture, accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and deep awareness that your life counts for Christ,” which we have not seen the likes of since.  But what happened to those revolutionary believers and why don’t we see any dramatic evidence of the Jesus Movement today?  Of course, many of these new believers went on to work in ministry; but revival – that powerful movement of God sweeping through our culture – diminished long ago.  In fact, the Christian church in America is on the decline today and Ed longs for those glorious days of revival.

“Reborn to be Wild” tracks the aftermath of the Jesus Movement by carefully considering how it dissolved into what we have today.  What’s compelling about Ed Underwood’s assessment of the Jesus Movement and revival is his considerable knowledge of the Bible and the way he pulls the reader into a deeper understanding of Biblical truth.  When Ed points out that to rekindle revival we need to bring Jesus back to the center of our lives and focus on His Grace by way of our faith in Him, it’s not only a logical point of view; it is well supported by the Word of God and developed in a manner that opens up a clear understanding of our mission as followers of Jesus Christ.

I highly recommend reading “Reborn to be Wild” to uncover cover a clear Biblical perspective of revival and how every follower of Jesus Christ is called into service.  You will come away with a renewed focus on Jesus and His love for you and my prayer is that you will also come to realize how important you are in the Body of Christ.  God is counting on each and every believer to participate.  This book will help you understand exactly what your role is to be in God’s master plan.

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What does God Want from You?

You can’t serve God if you don’t know what He wants.  Is it more church?  Is it more family?  Is it more volunteering?  Is it more faith sharing?  When you look at your life, how much consideration do you give to God along the way?  We can all do better I’m sure; if only we can find room in our schedule.

 Joshua 22:5 (NASB)

“Love the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and keep His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Is this World Pushing You Around?

A lot of us have a list of things we intend to do for God that might center around helping more at church or becoming more active in a local aid organization.  We may even have a list of friends or family members who we’ve been meaning to talk to about Jesus, or visiting church, or just have a conversation about spiritual things.  Unfortunately, life gets in the way.  It could be work, school, grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, staying in shape, shuttling the kids around, or trying to figure out how to get that special someone to take notice.  Chances are this world has you going in circles trying to keep up with keeping up leaving you very little time for anything extra.

Romans 12:1-2 (NASB)

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Leave the World Behind

The truth is God is not asking for any more of your time.  God is asking you to take Him with you every step of the way. Central to the teaching of Jesus is the concept that a loving heart is more important than anything else (1 Corinthians 13).  When you act out of sincere love, you can do no harm.  If you take your loving heart with you to the grocery store, to school, to work, and even when you go out to mow the lawn, you’ll be armed with a tool that will help you find ways to serve God wherever you are.  Serving God is not as much about making time as it is about changing your mind.

Take this moment in time to separate yourself from this world and center your focus on your loving heart.  Whatever you have to do next, start from that center of focus.  When you step forward with a loving heart you are serving God no matter what you are doing

John 13:34-35 (NASB)

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Your are God’s Greatest Hope

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Risen

“Risen” is the story of a Roman Tribune, essentially the captain of the guard, an officer in the Roman army, who is tasked with making sure Jesus is dead after his crucifixion.  After making sure the dead body is sealed in its tomb, the Tribune walks away leaving two guards posted over- night to make sure no one tampers with the tomb and steals the body.  When the tomb is found empty the next day, the Tribune is of course in deep trouble.  His life now depends on finding the missing body and those who somehow carried it away.  The Tribune’s investigation uncovers the story of the resurrection of Yeshua, and in his effort to discredit this tale and uncover the truth, he comes face-to-face with the living Messiah.  Now a changed man, the Tribune helps the disciples make their way to Galilee where they are once again to meet with Yeshua.  The Tribune again encounters Yeshua in Galilee and witnesses him performing miracles as well as his ascension into Heaven.  In the end, the Tribune does not stay with the disciples as they go on to preach the Gospel, instead he goes his own way, in the opposite direction of Rome, seemingly in a search to find his new self after his amazing experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing this story told from this completely new perspective.  There are a few things I could quibble with in this interpretation, but for the most part I found it to be a very well-told story that did not intrude on my own understanding of the Gospel.  Here and there some of the dialogue was frankly a little silly, however, not often enough to spoil the rest of the film.  Overall this is a well-made movie – superb acting, beautiful camerawork, great directing, costumes, sets, special effects, and music.

There is a fairly graphic battle scene at the beginning of the movie and some other gruesome stuff at the crucifixion, as well as some graphic scenes of decomposing dead bodies later in the story.  These realistic depictions of the time only serve to make the story more believable to me, but I can understand how some might see it as unnecessary – to be fair – it is tasteful graphic violence – not over-done.

I don’t know that I’m really interested in seeing more stories conjured up from the peripheral characters in the Bible.   It seems to me that runs the risk of fictionalizing what for me is a true story; however, in this instance I found the journey an intriguing “what if” scenario.

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Reimagining Evangelism

Believers in Jesus Christ have been given the precious gift of eternal life and I think we all want to share that gift with others; however, here in America the Gospel has been so twisted and distorted most unbelievers have developed a substantial defense against any Christian thought and some are flat out hostile toward what we consider Good News.  The word evangelism feels outdated and conjures up images of big tent revivals and door-to-door salesmen style preaching that simply doesn’t work in our modern world.  Many Christians have come to the conclusion that sharing their faith is not something they are called to do in an overt fashion and instead have resigned themselves to simply letting God’s light shine through their daily activities without ever calling any attention to the Bible or our Savior’s work on the Cross.

I don’t believe there’s any question that God wants us to share our faith at every opportunity and by that I don’t mean stopping everyone on the street and reciting scripture.  Opportunity is the key word.  God places opportunities in front of us from time to time.  Unbelievers close to us hear God’s calling and become open to His message during certain times in their life and if we are keeping our eyes open and our sensibilities tuned to this kind of situation, we should be ready to minister to them in a meaningful way.

In Rick Richardson’s book “Reimagining Evangelism” we discover a new approach to faith sharing.  This new approach is designed to fit nicely into our modern culture and moves an unbeliever toward God voluntarily rather than by coercion. In the old style evangelism we were taught more or less a sales tactic that involved a pitch and hard sell path toward closing the deal.  Richardson’s new paradigm pulls us away from this sales model and turns us into travel guides.  Rather than dwelling on judgment day, we focus on traveling through life with God on your side.  Instead of focusing on who’s in and who’s out, we look at who’s traveling toward God and who’s traveling away from God.

I see this technique as a chance to allow unbelievers to seek out the Cross rather than holding it up as an obvious missed opportunity they have foolishly neglected.   People today want to find their own way and “Reimagining Evangelism” allows that kind of discovery with gentle guidance in just the right measure.

Richardson does a great job defining his process in several different scenarios and offers all the detail you’ll need to adapt this well thought out new style of faith sharing.  You’ll come away from this read with a new perspective and an open mind toward your ability to minister to those in need around you.

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Step Two – Know the Word of God

Once you’ve been introduced to God and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, your next step in serving God is to spend quality time with Him – in the pages of the Bible.  If you’ve never read the Bible from cover-to-cover, now is a good time to start.  A detailed study of the Bible will reveal a more complete understanding of your own journey through life.

Cultivate a Close Personal Relationship with God

I’m certain you’ve read passages from the Bible that spoke to you in a profound way.  You may have also noticed that a passage that had deep meaning for you the first time you read it has a deeper and even more profound impact in subsequent readings.  If we accept the idea that all the authors of the Bible were inspired by God we have to conclude that the words found therein are not merely sentences and paragraphs – they are the thoughts of God – they are the Words that God wants us to hear.  If God personally handed you a Bible and told you, “I want you to read this,” what would your reaction be?  I’ve got news for you – this is exactly the case.  God has made the Bible available to you and He is waiting to see what your reaction to that gift will be.

Hebrews 4:12 (NASB)

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

 

It’s a Long Journey that’s well worth the time

While I believe there is value in simply opening the Bible at page one and reading straight through to the end on your own, the truth is you will gain far more insight if you take the journey with a respected teacher.  You should start with a good study Bible that includes introductions, footnotes, cross references, maps, and other tools that will help you paint a clearer picture of what you are reading.  I’m not going to go into a long discussion about the various translations; I know there are some who are devoted to the King James Version, and that’s fine; however, it will be much easier for most to read a version written in modern English.  My preferred translation is the New American Standard Bible, which is what you will see used here.  The NIV version is the most popular modern English translation and if that is what you’re familiar with, I’d recommend staying with that translation.

Another resource you can use to help you understand what you are reading is The Bible Project video introductions.  These well-crafted videos offer a brief synopsis of every book in the Bible and are a great tool to get you pointed in the right direction.  In my view, the best teaching of the Bible verse-by-verse is the Thru the Bible commentary by Dr. J. Vernon McGee.  Unfortunately, Dr. McGee’s commentary only comes in the King James Version of the Bible, but along with his detailed teaching, that translation becomes easily understandable.

Audio Bible

Finally, another option you might want to consider is an audio version of the Bible. There are two wonderful audio Bibles I can recommend.  The first is the “The Bible Experience” which features the voices of Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Blair Underwood, Denzel Washington, and many others.  The second is “The Word of Promise” which features the voices of Jim Caviezel, Richard Dreyfuss, Gary Sinise, Marisa Tomei, Stacy Keach, Louis Gossett, Jr., Jon Voight, and others.  Both of these audio Bibles have beautiful musical scores, and well-crafted Hollywood style sound design that brings the text to life.  You can find samples of both versions online.  Listen to each and then select the one that works best for you.  You can’t go wrong with either production.  The Word of Promise features the New King James Version of the Bible and The Bible Experience uses the TNIV (Today’s New International Version).

The truth is, some parts of the Bible are extraordinary and other parts are tedious and boring – such is life – but it all fits together for a reason.  Read the Bible.  Discover the reason you are on the journey that is your life.

How to Start Your Study of the Bible

Foundational Bible Teaching

Bible Study and the Miraculous

The Purpose of Bible Study

Bible Study about Prayer, Hope and the Church

2 Timothy 2:15 (NASB)

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

Step Three – Fellowship

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Satan and His Kingdom

I’ve studied the Bible for many years and during that time I’ve also searched to find a definitive work on the devil.  If we honestly believe there is a God we must accept his adversary as also being real.  That being true, a case can be made that Satan should be number two on our list of most important beings to study and understand.  Know that Satan’s most potent tool is deception and you can be certain he doesn’t want you to believe he exists.  Satan doesn’t want any publicity and he’s quite happy with the cartoon characterizations and misinformation that abound.

Unfortunately for Satan, author and pastor Dennis McCallum has written a book that exposes the Devil and all his schemes.  “Satan and His Kingdom:  What the Bible Says and How It Matters to You” is truly a master work that uncovers the truth about Satan based solely on what is written in the Bible.  McCallum stays away from the extremes and sticks to what the Word of God tells us about our enemy and develops a clear strategy to fight this spiritual war.  By walking through the Bible and identifying all the recorded information about Satan, McCallum has developed a superb record of how Satan operates both inside the church and outside the church and most importantly how Satan operates inside of you and me.

This book is a must-read from my perspective.  McCallum does a fantastic job providing appropriate references and notes and organizes the material in an easy to follow progression that allows the reader to build a solid understanding of who Satan is, his role in this world and our lives, and what we need to do to stand up against his deception.  I highly recommend you pick up a copy of “Satan and His Kingdom” and get a firm grasp on who the enemy is and how to fight the spiritual battle waged against you every day.

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Miracles from Heaven

“Miracles from Heaven” is the true story of a young family in Texas who have a 10 year old daughter, Annabel, who contracts an incurable bowel disease, making it difficult for her to eat, constantly bloated, and in pain most of the time.  The young girl’s mother fights hard to get the best medical care for her daughter and through sheer determination obtains an appointment with the leading specialist.  Unfortunately, the treatment from this renowned authority is unable to help Annabel.  The best he can do is make her life more comfortable.  The chances of an early death are high.  There seems to be no hope for Annabel.  One day, when Annabel is playing with her two sisters she decides to climb a tree, something she loves to do but hasn’t done for a long time because of her illness.  Thirty feet up in this tree, along with her older sister, a branch gives way and Annabel falls inside the large hollowed out trunk all the way to the bottom.  After a rescue that takes several hours, Annabel is flown to the hospital in a helicopter breathing but unconscious.  The emergency doctor who treats Annabel is shocked to discover no bruising, no broken bones and no concussion from the thirty foot fall.  In the days that follow the accident, Annabel’s bowel disease goes into remission – she miraculously gets better.  After being examined by the leading specialist she is pronounced cured of her incurable disease.

Seeing children in pain is hard for me and this movie is essentially two hours of a sweet young girl in agony.  Personally I would have rather seen the illness and recovery dealt with early in the story leaving the rest of the film to develop the reasons why some will believe this is a miracle and some will not.  For me, that’s the more interesting story – and less painful to watch.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy the movie.  The payoff is worth the trip for the most part.  This is a well-made film with quality acting, directing, and overall production.  For those inclined to discount the miracle of Annabel’s recovery as nothing more than an unexplained remission of symptoms; the film offers a final speech by Annabel’s mother, who makes the case that whenever we experience acts of love from strangers we are experiencing a miracle from God.

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Are You Praying Too Much?

A large part of serving God is staying in contact with Him through prayer.  Your relationship with God depends on good communication.  We need to construct our prayers in a way that pleases God and not in a way that irritates Him.

Turning on the Power of Prayer

We’ve all heard stories of miraculous events following a sincere effort to petition God through prayer.  I’ve personally experienced the power of prayer in my life and I’m sure you have as well if you’ve been a follower of Jesus Christ for any period of time.  There is no question in my mind – God hears prayers.  Of course the question we all have is why do so many prayers seemingly go unanswered?  Why does God respond in such a powerful way on some occasions and not lift a finger in others?  We can only surmise God has a greater good in mind when He makes a decision to pass over our prayer request.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB)

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

How to Stay Connected with God

As a follower of Jesus Christ your life should be a constant conversation with God – pray without ceasing.  The only way possible to pray too much is when you stop doing everything else and just pray.  God wants you to do your part.  If you’re going to pray for a better job, say amen while you send out a barrage of resumes.  Take action.  Prayer is meaningless if it’s not backed up with action.

When Jesus was asked how we should pray, he gave the Lord’s Prayer as an example (Luke 11:1-4; Matt. 6:9-13).  The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to recognize God as our loving Father, in time He will rid us of evil, He is our provider, He offers us forgiveness which we are to model in our lives, this life is difficult but He is always with us, and ultimately we will live in eternity with Him in peace.  That’s the essence of God in one quick prayer.  That should be the image of God we hold in our heart as we communicate with Him every minute of every day.

While our ongoing conversation with God through prayer is ultimately a direct connection to our Lord, it is also a chance to evaluate ourselves.  We need to ask ourselves why we are praying.  What have we done do resolve our situation?  What alternative outcome should we be considering?  Are we open to moving in a new direction if that is God’s will?  Connecting with God through prayer is also an opportunity to evaluate our own efforts and make necessary corrections.

Philippians 4:6 (NASB)

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

The Way of the World is Not the Way of Peace

The Way of Peace

Heaven is for Real

“Heaven is for Real” is the true story of a rural church pastor, Todd Burpo, who also has a garage door business and serves on the local volunteer fire department.  When his three year old son Colton undergoes surgery for a ruptured appendix, he has an out of body experience which he interprets in later months as a trip to heaven.  Todd finds the boy’s story hard to ignore because of the difficult-to-explain details Colton describes.  Others, including Todd’s wife and members of his church congregation, are clearly skeptical and are more inclined to believe Colton’s experience was merely a dream. Todd’s support of Colton’s visit to heaven experience becomes a distraction and threatens to end Todd’s leadership as the local pastor; however, a radio interview brings in a large crowd to hear the details of Colton’s trip to heaven, and Todd’s explanation that we all experience heaven through acts of love brings a renewal of faith in his community.

I have to admit I’m one of the skeptics that are more inclined to believe Colton’s experience was in fact a dream based on images and events from his own life manipulated by the drugs he was on and his own imagination.  I have not read the book so I can’t comment on how well this material was adapted for the screen.  In spite of my skepticism, the story of these events and how this family dealt with the situation was an interesting one.  I found Todd’s sermon at the end of the film to be a satisfying conclusion – essentially setting Colton’s experience aside and confirming heaven is for real based of the love we experience on a daily basis.

Unexplained events like this happen all the time and I don’t think we should ignore them.  This is a well told story of one such seemingly miraculous experience and I’m glad I spent the time learning how this family dealt with the circumstance.

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