Maria Full of Grace - A Review and Thoughts

Last night Lindsay and I watched Maria Full of Grace. After watching Million Dollar Baby (possilbe review coming) on Sunday night with Lindsay's parents, we weren't ready yet for another depressing movie. But at least Maria Full of Grace left us with hope.

I'm not good at telling these things without spoilers. I highly recommend this Spanish language movie with English subtitles. It is a great, albeit depressing, and thought-provoking piece. Be warned - SPOILER ALERT!

The story centers around a seventeen-year-old girl from Colombia who gets pregnant with a boyfriend she doesn't love (although that isn't completely clear - it might just be that he doesn't love her). The girl makes one mistake (usually a result of her being deceptive) after another until she finds herself pregnant, unemployed (apparently she was out of school - I don't know what the school structure is like in Colombia), and desperate.

How desperate would you need to be in order to swallow 62 large grape-sized capsules of cocaine and use your body as a mule to haul them from Colombia to America? Apparently, Maria was that desperate. The story transitions from her struggle as an unemployed, pregnant Colombian girl to her stressful tale as a drug mule. It's a real tense situation (and the main storyline of the movie) that I will leave for your viewing pleasure.

The question I was left with after watching is what does the title - "Maria Full of Grace" - mean. How is she full of grace? What is the graceful act she received? Did she show grace to people? Maybe a little but not enough to say she is full of grace. Then it all came together in my head. At the end, Maria walked in front of a giant Intel advertisement that declared "It's what's inside that counts." All of her mistakes, lies, and deceptions helped bring about a better life for her and her child despite that those actions would normally result in destruction. **SUPER SPOILER ALERT** To her baby, they are what will allow him to become American, which in the movie was portrayed as a great thing that would result in a better life. This horrible and tragic story is filled with grace because in the end it brought about a better life for Maria and, especially, for her baby.

Watch out for the potholes.

Special Introductory Offers - The Deceptions We Use In Evangelism

I was laying on the couch trying to get better. I'm coming down with the flu and am missing the gathering today. This popped in my head as I laid there.

I would love to get DIRECTV. About once a month we get fliers in the mail for their great introductory offer. They always offer something like $30/month for all their channels and a DVR recorder. I could almost swallow that. But then in the fine print it tells me that after the three month introductory period I will be paying around $45 for just the basic and local channels. I hate introductory offers. Just give me a good long-term deal, and I will sign up. I feel that I must be in the minorit in looking at what things really cost because they wouldn't keep using these tricks.

Credit Card companies are kings of the special introductory offer trick. For six months, they will give you a good rate, and they post that good rate in large letters all over their websites and mailings. After six months, they feed you to the wolves. That's usually when the fine print kicks in. Just type credit card offers in your search engine. You won't find a legit offer. Everything will be special introductory offers. In order to find out what the credit card will eventually cost you, you will have to read the fine print. Did I mention that I hate introductory offers?

Then I encounter Christian evangelism. We sometimes use the special introductory offer principle. We act like salesmen pitching a product. We highlight all the positive aspects. And then we move in for the sale. "Become a Christian and all these things will be yours. Love, joy, peace, patience, and a nice house up in heaven." We love our special introductory offer package. We offer it to everyone. We never mention the cost. Did I mention that I hate introductory offers?

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?" (Mark 8:34b-36).

That doesn't sound a like a special introductory offer to me. There is no higher price to pay than giving up one's life, but that is what Christ asks for people to do. It is time for us to take up our cross and hang our selfish selves on it. Christianity is total commitment. It isn't part my life and part the life of Christ. Our life needs to become the life of Christ.

I think Jesus hates special introductory offers.

Watch out for the potholes.

Please, don't call America a Chrsitian nation - Individualism Again

American Christians have the belief thing down. We like doctrine. Doctrine allows us to be completely individualistic in our faith. If our faith is about proper doctrine, then we don't need anyone else. We can be lone ranger Christians. We don't need to live in community with other believers. We don't need to follow Jesus' radical commands to love the poor. We don't need to change much about our lives. We just need proper doctrine. Individualism leads to a life of proper doctrine, not a life of love lived in our workplaces, our homes, our churches, and the communities that we live in. Here are some quotes from an article entitled The Christian Paradox that inspired my thoughts.

Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture.

Just so we're using the same definition when I talk about individualism. From the beginning of the article on individualism at Wikipedia: "Individualism is a political and social philosophy that emphasizes individual liberty, belief in the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence. It embraces opposition to authority and to all manner of controls over the individual, especially when exercised by the state or society. It is thus directly opposed to collectivism. It may derive from a belief in solipsism." My anti-individualism still leaves room for people to make individual decisions in their faith. It is against exalting the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence.

Back to the quote. I think the quote shows how much individualism has permeated Christian beliefs. Individualism is rampant in our culture, and it runs counter to Christianity. We need to make sure that we keep our defenses up. If we don't, we will soon find ourselves falling prey to individualistic thought. We won't find a need to be involved in a church community. We won't care all that much about loving those who aren't as well off as ourselves. It is their fault after all. Individualism is the greatest threat to Christianity in our times because it is so prevalent in our culture and can slowly tear the church and Christians down from within.

I remember the scene in the Count of Monte Cristo where the main character takes little doses of poison in order to make his body immune to it. Sadly, we have been taken little doses of individualism since the day we were born. We think we have become immune to it like the Count was to poison. We think that it runs paralell to Christianity. However, there is no immunity to individualism. We have to either choose to get sucked into it or deliberately live lives that make us radically different in our culture. Individualism runs contrary to the beliefs Jesus taught.

Depending on which poll you look at and how the question is asked, somewhere around 85 percent of us call ourselves Christian. Israel, by way of comparison, is 77 percent Jewish. It is true that a smaller number of Americans—about 75 percent—claim they actually pray to God on a daily basis, and only 33 percent say they manage to get to church every week. Still, even if that 85 percent overstates actual practice, it clearly represents aspiration.

What if we chose some simple criterion—say, giving aid to the poorest people—as a reasonable proxy for Christian behavior? And it’s not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It’s also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden). And it’s not because we were giving to private charities for relief work instead. Such funding increases our average daily donation by just six pennies, to twenty-one cents. It’s also not because Americans were too busy taking care of their own; nearly 18 percent of American children lived in poverty (compared with, say, 8 percent in Sweden).

On the GLCC alumni forums we decided that the measure of church health could be viewed most objectively by viewing a church's budget. What a church chooses to spend their money on as a group will more than likely show what they cared about as a group. You can check to see how healthy your church is by looking at how it spends its money. Does your church love the poor? Does your church stand up against the individualism of our culture or do they involve themselves in the lives of those less fortunate? Every church professes to do those things. Sadly, they don't. Look at your budget. The numbers won't lie. Are you in a church that exalts individualism or Christ?

And I wish that people would stop saying that the United States is a Christian nation. The church has a hard enough time living up to the title of being the nation (or kingdom) of God.

I'm still dwelling on the comments about education from the post I made a while ago. I haven't ignored it. I'm just still contemplating.

Watch out for the potholes.

The God of Now - Love One Another - Instruments of God

Weird. That's all I have to say about my dream last night.

A friend of mine, who is always pushing for me to go back into the full-time ministry, mentioned a church for me to apply at yesterday. I said I would pray about it. I'm always willing to go where God wants me to be even if I've made plans to remain where I am.

Anyway, the dream was about going and giving a trial sermon to them (I love how we often decide ministers based upon one sermon). I had a whole sermon manuscripted and planned. Then when I went in to the singing time, God completely changed what He wanted me to preach.

For what it is worth, here is the message God was leading me to preach in my dream. I never preached it because we never reached the point in the service where I was to preach.

It began with the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-29).

14 "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' 21 His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' 23 His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26 But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

The church in my dream had been blessed in the past, and they kept looking to the past as the golden days, the days of blessing. They were discouraged with their present situation. They were like the man who had received the blessing of ten talents from the king after being good stewards of it. However, upon receiving the blessing of ten talents, they stopped using the talents for purposes of God and started using the talents for their own selfish purposes. Slowly, the talents were not put to use in which they would be multiplied and they were well on their way to becoming broke. God blessed them in the past with more talents because of the good use of what he had previously given them. But when they started to squander God's blessings, the river of blessings stopped flowing. Receiving God's blessing once in the past isn't a guarantee of future blessing. The blessings of God usually come when people are faithful to Him.

"Blessings are on the head of the righteous, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence" (Proverbs 10:6).

"The faithful will abound with blessings, but one who is in a hurry to be rich will not go unpunished" (Proverbs 28:20).

So you want to be a church that receives God's blessing or be an individual that experiences God's blessing?

Then we need to be the people that God wants us to be with what He has given us now. It is too easy to look at the past and observe God's blessing. It's too easy to hope for the future blessing. It is too easy to say that I would use (whatever it is that you want) to be a blessing for God when I'm not using all that I have to bless God now. It is much more difficult to live in the now in such a way that we are instruments of the will of God, bringing about His will wherever we go and with whatever we touch.

Christianity is a great religion of hope and tremendous blessings. I have so many things in my past that God has done, enough things that I could just sit around the rest of my life, share those stories, and enjoy them. The hope of the future perfection is also desirable, so desirable in fact that I could just sit around, share stories about the future perfection, and dream. But God or the past and the God of the glorious future is also the God of the now. He blessed us in the past so that we would continue to use his blessing as a blessing for others. He gives us hope in the future so that we will not get discouraged in the valleys we stumble through but continue to be a blessing with all that we have. If we want to have the impact that God desires for us to have on those around us, then we need to start doing everything we can to be a blessing to others, now.

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another" (John 13:34).

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you...I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another" (John 15:12).

"Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10).

"Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8).

"For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another" (Galatians 5:13).

"And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you" (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

"Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another" (1 Thessalonians 4:9)

"We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing" (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

"1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3).

"24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25).

"Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart" (1 Peter 1:22).

"Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind" (1 Peter 3:8).

"Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).

"For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (1 John 3:11).

"We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death" (1 John 3:14).

The glory days of our life in Christ or the life of our church doesn't have to be behind us or just a hope for the future. The glory of God can be experienced again, now. We just need to live as people who are experiencing that glory. And that means that we use what God has given us to love one another.

Luke 12:48b says, "From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded."

God has entrusted His people with the task of doing His will on earth. He will help us - He will give us strength and nourishment, but we need to do the doing.

"19 But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness." 20 In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. 21 All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work" (2 Timothy 2:19-21).

Watch out for the potholes.

I stand in awe of You - An experience at the gathering - Seeing God through the mentally disabled

Yesterday, I experienced a real touching moment at church. We have a rather large group of mentally disabled people. I'm sorry that I don't know the current politically correct phrase for them: I can't even remember what they were called in my Multicultural Education class in college.

Our church has an altar at the front in which anyone can go forward to pray at during any time of the service. We were in the middle of singing songs to God when one of my friends who is thankfully recovering from some brain injuries caused by a motorcycle accident went forward. Then he was followed by two mentally disabled people. Usually at this point, some of us from the congregation will go up to be beside the people who came forward and pray with them. One person did. He was one of the most loved mentally disabled people in our congregation. He went up and prayed with each of them. For some reason I was deeply touched. I don't know if I have relayed that well.

The song that was playing at the time was I Stand in Awe by Mark Altrogge. I don't think I'll ever be able to sing it again without seeing this experience in my mind.

You are beautiful beyond description
Too marvelous for words
Too wonderful for comprehension
Like nothing ever seen or heard

Who can grasp Your infinite wisdom?
Who can fathom the depth of Your love?
You are beautiful beyond description
Majesty enthroned above

And I stand, I stand in awe of You
I stand, I stand in awe of You.
Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of You

Revelation 21:1-7
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. 2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God's dwelling is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. 5 Then the One seated on the throne said, "Look! I am making everything new." He also said, "Write, because these words are faithful and true." 6 And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give to the thirsty from the spring of living water as a gift. 7 The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son.

How I long for that day.

Watch out for the potholes.

Individualism, Community, the Church, and Love

I still haven't forgotten to respond to the posts concerning group-thinking and the like. I just don't know exactly what I think yet.

In America, we exalt the individual. I should be worried about myself and only myself seems to be the new American creed. I should be independent and self-sufficient because through them I will receive happiness.

Individualism means "Belief in the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence."

Christianity goes against this definition of individualism. As Christians, we realize that we are inter-dependent - it is unhealthy for us to be independent. We realize that we are part of a body and that what effects my neighbor also effects myself.

Because we are in a culture where individualism needs to be brought down a little bit for that balance to happen, it might appear that I am swaying the other way. I don't mean to come across that way. There needs to be a healthy balance between the individual and community. The focus on the individual shouldn't lead to individualism. The focus on the community shouldn't lead to blind following.

Soren Kierkagaard, who many wrongly perceive as the father of post-modernism, had to teach people to make their faith real to themselves because they lived in a culture where Christianity was the norm. We, being in an opposite culture, need to teach people to make the faith that is real to themselves result in love towards those around them. We need to turn off our televisions and spend time with one another. We need to stop worrying about what is the minimum that God wants out of me to get to heaven and start to concern ourselves about what God wills and live that out in relation to those around us. We need to stop making our faith selfish and make it loving. For so long we have confused our faith with just abstaining from sinful things and not with doing loving things.

God intends for us to be a community, not just lone ranger believers. The individualism of America seems to go against that. In America, we often view the purpose of community in light of how it will benefit me, but that should not be. We need to be an active participant of community whether it benefits me or whether I am just there as a giver. I really don't see how either role wouldn't result in the individuals being involved receiving benefits, but those benefits are not the reason to be involved; they are a byproduct that naturally comes from a Christian life. The fact that our heart is now a heart of love is the reason we are to be involved.

We need to also strike a balance between love and abstaining from sins. Abstaining from sin is still necessary, but our focus should also be on loving others. If that is the case, I believe we will abstain from sin.

Is the primary thing that God wants out of us worship and obedience? Many church traditions teach this (maybe rightfully so) but I seem to think not.

There is a tremendous difference between love and worship. The main thing God wants if for us to know and love him. The question we are left with is how we do that. It seems that Scripture teaches we love God by loving other people. God seemed to be more worried about love than law, even in the Old Testament prophets this was the case. As always, I could be wrong.

Hosea 6:6 - "6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."

Matthew 9:11-13 - "11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."

Matthew 12:1-13 - Also a good section but too lengthy to post here.

Matthew 22:36-40 - 36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, " "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Galatians 5:13-14 - 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

1 John 3:23-24 - 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

1 John 4:20-21 - 20 Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

The whole reason for the law in the Old Testament appears to have been man's failure to genuinely love one another. God was trying to clarify how to love one another and various other things in the laws. If we would just love one another, then Christianity wouldn't turn into legalism. Christianity becomes legalistic when we try to act like we love one another without a heart of love.

Watch out for potholes.