Growing In Godliness Blog
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).
A Man Guards Her Safety and Her Honor
The Protector Role
One flesh means that woman becomes part of the man she marries. Her life is as valuable as his life. He is to guard it and protect her with his life. When Jacob took his family from his father-in-laws house, he was told that his brother Esau was coming to settle a score. The first thing Jacob did was to move his two wives and family out of harm's way. He made sure that they were out of the line of fire and he went to face Esau alone.
Boaz protected Ruth's reputation by having her leave the threshing floor before light so rumors would not erupt concerning her character. A man protects the reputation of the woman he loves. He should not live with her or sleep over with her. This damages her reputation.
Joseph upon hearing of Mary, the mother of Jesus , was with child sought to put her away quietly so that she would not be stoned for fornication (Mat 1:19) Each of these men had a deep sense of responsibility towards the woman in their lives. They were aware of their obligation to protect her heart, her body, her emotions, and her reputation.
I'm at the end of this brief but important part of the "What every boy needs to know about being a man speech".
Be the extraordinary man good women want.
Faith of Demons
By David Norfleet
The Bible is full of amazing accounts of people’s faith. The 11th chapter of Hebrews alone speaks of those who, motivated by their faith in God and His promises, traded wealth for poverty, exchanged the known and comfortable for the unknown and frightening, and sacrificed that which was precious for a greater relationship with God.
But I would like to think about the faith of another group in Scriptures – the demons. We think about those spiritual beings as our enemies, and rightly so (Ephesians 6:12), but we might not think of them as having belief or faith in God. But Scripture says in James 2:19 that they believe and even shudder. But, what do they believe?
Consider Matthew 8:28-34 and the parallel text Mark 5:1-13. In these accounts we find Jesus is casting out the group of demons self-identified as Legion, but what is revealed within these interactions about their faith is fascinating (Even if their tone is derisive it reveals a level of belief beyond what we would normally ascribe to these beings.).
- First, I would note how they identify Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Son of the Most High God (Mark 5:7). By identifying Jesus as the “Son of…” they are recognizing a fact the gospels make abundantly clear, and that Jesus is God.
- But that is not the only revelation concerning their faith in their use of this title, consider that they recognize the Father as “Most High.” In Hebrew that is El Elyon or God the Highest. What that means is even the demons recognize God’s preeminence.
- Furthermore, they recognize there is punishment, they are subject to it, and Jesus has the authority to execute this judgment. Note the question they ask in Matthew 8.29, “…
Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29).
- But these demons realize and believe in another aspect of God’s nature and that is that He is merciful. Note their plea in Mark 5: 10 “And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.”
Let us look yet further into the beliefs of these evil spirits. Not only did they understand who Jesus was, that there was punishment, and God was ultimately merciful, they also understood and were able to recognize that God had a means of salvation. While traversing the city of Philippi to the place of prayer, a slave-girl with a spirit divination, spoke concerning Paul and his companions, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:16-18).
This set of beliefs was not merely cold and lifeless to these demons, but resulted in a response whether of their own volition or not. Note the account in Mark 3: 11-12, “Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’”
Are you astonished to the degree that the demons believed? Does it startle you to think of their body of belief? And yet, James describes their faith as incomplete, barren, and lifeless (James 2:14-26)
So, what is the point? There was something lacking in their faith. James says in James 2:22 that works (actions/obedience) completes, finishes, and brings faith to its intended goal. If we want a faith that is complete, alive, and useful it must go beyond that of demons and include our obedience to be justified before God.
Journeying With Jesus
By Matt Hennecke
Have you ever noticed the number of journeys spoken of in Scripture? We have Abraham’s journey from Ur to Haran to Canaan and on to Egypt and back. We have the exodus story as Israel journeyed from Egypt to the promised land. We have the many evangelistic journeys of Paul. In fact, the more I think about it the more I see the entire Bible as a travelogue – a book of journeys. In some cases, the journeys are physical as people travel, sometimes as captives – as when God’s people went into Assyrian and Babylonian captivity – but, perhaps in more cases, they are journeys of discovery as people learn about their sinful selves and a loving God seeking their redemption. It’s not surprising, then, that God’s people are often referred to as wayfarers, weary travelers, or pilgrims inroute to a heavenly City.
Amidst all of the stories of journeys described in the Bible, there is one that surpasses them all. It is the longest, the most arduous, and difficult journey ever undertaken. It is a journey without maps or mileage that lasted for 33 years. Of what journey do I speak? It is Jesus’ journey of humility from heaven to earth and back again. It is a journey that reveals his heart of humility. The story of his journey is told in Philippians 2:3-11. There Paul writes. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped….” Then Paul tells us the stages of Jesus’s journey of humility when he says Jesus 1) emptied himself, 2) took the form of a servant, 3) humbled himself, and 4) then died on a cross.
Has there ever been a longer more challenging journey? Jesus was (and is) God, but he travelled to earth and went from the very highest place to a tomb. Thankfully his journey wasn’t over, for then “God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Here's the thing. The journey Jesus took is similar to the journey faithful Christians should be taking. We are to empty ourselves, become servants, be humble, and die to sin so we might be servants of God and exalted by Him. How’s your journey going? When the path ahead seems unclear, be sure to consult the road-map frequently (your Bible) and always consider the Pathfinder (Jesus) who showed us how to find our way Home.
Why the Prophets are Crucial Reading for Christians
By Brock Henry
If we are to be like Jesus, we must know the prophets like Jesus.
Based on the number of prophets Jesus quoted and the number of times He quoted them, it seems safe to assume that Jesus spent significant time studying the prophets. Contrary to our shying away from them, Jesus apparently immersed Himself in the prophets.
Why are these ancient texts so crucial, though? Why should we (and why did Jesus) spend so much time in them?
The overarching answer lies in the text of Ephesians 2:19-20: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone…”
If Christ is the cornerstone of the building of which we are living stones (1 Peter 2:5), then the apostles and the prophets are the foundation on which the building is grounded. The prophets undergird the very structure in which Christ is the defining feature.
Therefore, the prophets are not incidental to who we are as Christians; they are foundational.
Consider, though, two additional reasons for us to dive deep into the messages of the prophets: First, they teach us about God, the Creator. Second, they teach us about ourselves as created beings.
Here are three crucial lessons the prophets teach us about God:
God is faithful. We will wander away from God, but He will never wander away from us. “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
God is patient and long-suffering. In large part, God repeated the same messages over and over to His people, because He wanted to give them time to repent and to come home. “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them” (Jeremiah 7:25). God has demonstrated a willingness to endure significant rejection and great personal agony in order to give people continued opportunity to come home.
God is willing and able to punish obstinate sinners. God is merciful, yes, but He is also just. And a just God punishes those who willfully refuse to obey. “For I solemnly warned your fathers...yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart; therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant…” (Jeremiah 11:7-8). If we are punished by God, we will deserve it, and it will be in spite of the fact that He provide us with ample opportunity to repent.
Second, here are three crucial lessons the prophets teach us about ourselves:
We want to go our own way even when it’s not in our best interest. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way...” (Isaiah 53:6). And as we know from the Proverbs, our own way can lead us straight to disaster: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
We are not sufficiently wise to direct our own steps. No matter how much we think we know and understand, we do not have sufficient perspective to appropriately choose a path for ourselves. “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Insisting that we have sufficient wisdom to direct our own steps is equivalent to a blind man insisting he has sufficient sight to drive a car.
Our thoughts and ways are infinitely lower than God’s. Because of our insolent pride, our egos may be as high as the heavens, but our abilities are not. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
To recap, the prophets are crucial to us as twenty-first century Christians for at least three reasons:
They are foundational to our Christianity.
They teach us about the Creator.
They teach us about ourselves as created beings.
But, let’s finish where we started...with Jesus (and us).
If we are to be like Jesus, we must know the prophets like Jesus. He knew the prophets, because He studied the prophets, and He studied the prophets, because they were important.
In the end, though, Jesus studied the prophets not simply because they were important, but because they were central to His very mission: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
If that is the case, we must study the prophets then, because Jesus is central to our mission.