Growing In Godliness Blog
Author: Mark McCrary
Reflections on the New Star Wars Movies and a Disturbing Cultural Message
By Mark McCrary
I’ve been thinking about the new Star Wars movies. No, this isn’t a review, a geeky complaint or admonition to watch them. It is a consideration of what they are saying about us as a culture. There’s a spiritual point, so please stick with me for a few minutes.
I remember walking out of the second new movie (“The Last Jedi”) wondering, “Okay… so, who’s the bad guy here?” The one I thought was the bad guy, Snoke, had been killed in the middle of the movie. I didn’t think it was Kylo Ren because while he was sometimes bad, he kinda acted like he wanted to be good sometimes. So, who’s the bad guy?
Why’s it so important to have a bad guy? Because the original Star Wars movies were a morality play. They were good versus evil. In the first Star Wars movie, within the first 5 minutes we were introduced to Darth Vader. He was dark, imposing, barking orders with his deep bass, slightly mechanized voice, lifting people up in the air choking them with the power of the Force… and that was the just the beginning of the movie. Hands down, there were no questions as to who the bad guy was in this movie (and the subsequent original movies). But, there was no one like that in the new movies.
I think—on reflection—that the possible reason why could be of significance to Christians. You see, the original and new movies were made in two very different times in our nation’s culture. In the 70’s (with all its problems), there was still an acceptance of some absolutes; in good and evil; black and white. However, today, absolutes are by and large rejected. Views about right and wrong are more “nuanced.” Rather than black and white, things are more gray and uncertain.
It is true that there is a lot of gray in life. But absolutes, black and white, right and wrong… these are things that can’t be ignored. If they are, it is to our peril. This isn’t just reality; it is biblical.
God is good (Exodus 34:6; 1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 145:9). Not just sometimes, but always. He is perfect, and all his guidances are right (Psalm 19:7-11). Jesus is the absolute perfect physical reflection of this perfect God (John 1:1,14; Hebrews 1:3), and He is the only way to Him (John 14:6).
The Devil is evil (Matthew 13:19)—not misunderstood; not confused. He is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), and to follow Him leads to certain, eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41-46).
There is light and darkness (1 John 1:5-10), and you and I have to choose which one we will walk in. If we choose the light, we will go to heaven. If we choose darkness, we will be lost in hell forever.
Now, I acknowledge I may be making too much out of this. But, importantly, as our culture drifts more into a rejection of absolutes it will be reflected more and more in our entertainment. Followers of God must not have our heads in the sand about this. While I am not suggesting we must abstain from entertainment because of these messages (though some may choose to), I am saying in no uncertain terms that we must be aware of them; and more importantly, aware of the biblical message and its truthfulness. We must stand by that message. Otherwise, we will be spiritually confused and liable to fall for any deception that comes our way (Ephesians 4:14).
Women and the New Testament
By Mark McCrary
Mention the Bible to some people today, and one of the first things they will think of is sexism. After all, it teaches that men are the head of the house, that women can’t be preachers, that they are second class citizens, that sex is only for the man—generally, that women aren’t important, right?
Well, yes and no. It is certainly true that God has ordained that the man is to be the head of the family (Eph. 5:22-29), and He has also determined that women are not to have teaching authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11-12). No Sexual Revolution can ever overthrow these truths. However, most misconceptions and misunderstandings people have about women and the Bible are just that—misconceptions and misunderstandings; and very erroneous ones as at that.
Did you know that women ministered to Jesus and helped Him in his important task? Luke 8:3 tells of many who “provided for Him from their substance.” Women were also the first witnesses of the resurrection (Luke 24:1-10). This is remarkable because in Jewish society, the testimony of women in the court of law had little if any weight.
One of the few named servants in the church apart from the apostles was that of a woman—Phoebe (Romans 16:1). In fact, Romans 16 list the names of a number of disciples in the city of Roman, many of which were women, such as Priscilla (v. 3), Mary (v. 6), Juna (v. 7), Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis (v. 12) and Julia (v. 15). Mentioned as well—though not by name—are Rufus’ mother (v. 13) and Nereus’ sister (v. 15).
Contrary to the view of women in much of the first century society, the teachings of the New Testament lifted them up. Their sexual desires and needs were elevated to the same level as those of men—“Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Peter reminded husbands that they are to view their wives as “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7). To fail to do so, he warned, would hinder a man’s prayers to God. Also, the husband was told to view his wife as a “weaker vessel”—not that she is spiritually weaker, but she was to be viewed as something precious and valuable to him; something to be honored and protected at all costs.
Though the husband is the spiritual leader in the home, there is certainly a sense from Ephesians 5 that even he is submissive to his wife as he leads. Everything he does in verses 25-29 is with her and her well being in view. If she is not bettered because of his leadership, he’s doing something wrong and needs to correct it.
That they are also of the same spiritual value as men is seen in Gal. 3:26-29, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Are women under more restrictions then men? From a teaching standpoint, yes; but from the standpoint of worth and usefulness, she stands shoulder to shoulder and head to head with any man. Her role is not one of leadership. But remember: role is functional; worth is intrinsic. Let’s focus on the worth and value of women found in the New Testament; let’s preach it, embrace it, use it and live it.
God has blessed me with three wonderful and spiritually minded daughters. My prayer for them and all God’s female servants is that they be used—just as any man—in God’s kingdom as He sees fit for His own glory and honor. Such should be the prayer of us all.
What Makes Christianity Unique?
By Mark McCrary
Of all the world’s religions, what makes Christianity unique? Why should it be considered above all others?
Like most religions that revolve around a concept of a singular God, Christianity emphasizes the holiness of God. But Christianity’s take is somewhat different than many others; it is not simply that He is a good God, but His holiness means He is a perfect God - there is no sin in Him. Because He is holy, if we are to have a relationship with Him, we must be holy as well (“…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’”). God is so perfect, in fact, He cannot tolerate the presence of sin. Isaiah 59:2 tells us, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
Such holiness demands that God be just. Unlike the teachings of some religions, He can’t look at our lives and, if there is more good than bad, wave away that bad as if it didn’t happen. It did; and His holiness can’t ignore it. There must be a price paid for those wrongs (“And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22).
But, Romans 3:26 tells us something beautiful: because God is holy, He must be just; to be less than just would make Him less than holy. But—importantly— He is also the justifier (Rom. 3:26, “…To demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”). What makes Christianity unique, ultimately, is Jesus Christ—God coming down in the form of man to pay the price for our sins (Hebrews 9:22) and reconcile us to the Holy God.
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation,” Rom. 5:6-11.
Christianity presents a God who is so holy He cannot tolerate sin. Yet, for some reason He paid the price for our sins through His Son Jesus Christ. Why would He do such a thing? Because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
That’s what makes Christianity unique.
The Power of Two
By Mark McCrary
“If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!” How many times have we heard that? How many times have we said that? Have you ever looked at Luke 10 and wondered why Jesus sent His disciples “two by two?”
One of the things that made the life of Paul so wonderful is the fact he never starred in “The Adventures of Paul the Apostle.” Like the great servants of God who had gone before him—Moses and Joshua, Ruth and Naomi, Elijah and Elisha—he did his work with others. He lived the wisdom of King Solomon, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). He lived “The Power of Two.”
The “Power of Two” in Paul’s life really began with Barnabas in Acts 11, as the church in Jerusalem sent him to Antioch after the “wall of separation” had fallen between Jews and Gentiles. We are told in Acts 11:23 that great things were taking place there. Yet, verse 25 tells us this effective teacher felt, on some level, the need for help and left this blossoming work to find a certain disciple he had defended before the church in Jerusalem less than 10 years before.
Saul joined the side of his old defender, and one of the greatest “teams” in history was formed. Chapters 13-15, spanning a period of some 11 years, show remarkably the “Power of Two.” They traveled together. They preached together. They disputed error together. Together, they left churches in better shape.
What are the lessons preachers and teachers can learn from Paul and Barnabas? First, there is benefit of diversity. Paul, as evidenced in Acts 14:12 and other verses (Acts 13:7, 43, 46; 14:1), seemed to have been the more active orator. While preaching in Lystra, he was believed to be Hermes, messenger of the Greek gods. Barnabas, on the other hand, was thought to be Zeus. F.F. Bruce suggests in his commentary on Acts that he was thus identified because of “his more dignified bearing.” This is, of course, conjecture, but it does illustrate the reality that they were two different men contributing something needed to the same work. Diversity in abilities is sometimes one of the great powers of two. One may have a strength needed in one area of work at a particular moment, while someone else brings strength in other areas and at other times.
There is also the benefit of shared encouragement. How often did Barnabas get tired, yet Paul’s zeal fueled him on? How often did Paul get frustrated, yet Barnabas’ steady temperament settled him down? This is one of our great needs as Christians today—someone to lift us up when we are down; to urge us forward in our task when all we want to do is quit.
Then there is the benefit of shared wisdom. The Bible speaks often of the need of good counselors (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). Paul likely relied upon the “seasoned” advice of Barnabas from time to time. Perhaps at other times Paul’s take on a situation was more accurate and Barnabas benefited. Preachers and teachers would do well to have someone close by for practical wisdom and guidance.
Finally, there is the benefit of a shared harvest. Barnabas left the fields “white for harvest” to make a trip of 300 miles for one reason: he knew two could do more than one. Why is it never recorded that Barnabas became angry over Paul’s more vocal position? When he was considered a “lesser” god than Barnabas, why didn’t Paul get angry? Because they were selfless men, and the harvest was all that mattered. Workers look to the potential of a larger harvest with which to glorify God. What keeps some from never “teaming” with others and discovering the power of shared work is pride and rivalry. How should you feel when another preacher or teacher is thanked for a point well made? Rejoice that the gospel is preached (1 Corinthians 3:5-6; Romans 12:15)! The harvest is our goal, not our place in the harvesting.
What, then, do we learn from Paul and Barnabas? Learn the power of two! Some preachers may preach with another preacher at the same church. Others may find the “Power of Two” in another preacher close by. Some men or women may “team teach” a class. Open your heart to the help of others—and be willing to give it as well.