God and Family

Yesterday, I finished my first semester of seminary. Thanks to so many of you for your prayers. A lot of people cautioned me when I started to be careful not to lose my faith. I’m not sure what seminaries they went to, but my faith has been well served by spending time in seminary.

As I told my wife, I have found my tribe.

Examining passages of the Bible I’ve read before, but in more depth, has really been eye opening. I put off this journey for two years, but after more and more requests to get in churches and preach and not feeling comfortable doing so, I finally decided I need to get serious. I spend a lot of time here and on radio talking about faith issues and I think seminary is helping provide a deeper understanding.

I’m also now more willing to accept invitations into churches on Sunday. I finally feel up to it and competent.

There is one observation from my first semester that I want to draw your attention to. And before I get all sorts of secular outrage, let me be up front that I’m only writing to those of you of faith. And I’ll give you the conclusion before even starting: if you want to build a better America, build a better family. If you want to build a better family, build a better church.

I have concluded, from this first semester, that being a better Christian is, for me, the key to being a better American. If you’ll allow me, let’s go back to near the beginning.

In the sixth chapter of Genesis, we are introduced to Noah. He is found blameless in God’s eyes. Note that this does not mean Noah is sinless. Noah is, in fact, a sinner. But he stands out from the rest of humanity as righteous. He tries to do what is right in God’s eyes with all humanity around him doing what is right in their own eyes.

God tells Noah to build an ark. Interestingly, note that he tells Noah to build the ark before even telling Noah how it is to be used. In any event, God tells Noah to build the ark and pay attention to Genesis 6:18:

But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.

Then look at Genesis 7:1.

Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.

Notice carefully that the “you” is singular. God did not find Noah’s wife righteous. He did not find Noah’s sons to be righteous. He did not find even Noah’s sons’ wives to be righteous. God found Noah righteous and his family was entitled to the blessings and protections because of this one righteous man.

I think there is an overlooked lesson in this. Fathers have ceded a lot in society, but the father needs to be a pillar for his family and the father needs to take a strong role in getting the family into church.

But there is more to it than that. The waters prevailed on the earth for 150 days. During that time Noah and his family stayed in the ark. Too many of us head into church on Sunday and that is it. We live as Christians for two to three hours on Sunday, then head off to NFL games on TV and a life separated from the church.

We need to focus more time on being Christians 24/7/365.

The Lord said, in Genesis 6:7, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” In Genesis 3, it was man who had sinned. The animals and creeping things and the birds did not sin. But man’s sin so polluted the world, God decided to reboot humanity through the one man he found righteous.

Look at the effects of man’s sin. In Genesis 7:11-12, we read

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

This is a complete undoing and disordering of creation. In Genesis 1, God had separated the waters from the heavens. Then the waters, as collected, were separated into land and sea and the waters under the earth. Six chapters later, the effects of man’s sins are to undo all of this. The waters spring up from the earth, the windows of the heavens are opened, and creation itself comes undone. All living things perish save for those in the ark.

And lest any of you have hesitancy on this point, I fully believe this is a literal story, not a metaphor or myth.

We are promised that God will not destroy the world again by flood. But the world will again end, and this time with finality into a new Heaven and a new Earth. The refuge from the sin of the world is now as it was then — the refuge in the ark, or in the church.

And God’s blessings flow through families. We can learn a lot from the story of Noah. We can learn that fathers need to be involved and need to be righteous before God. We can learn that families receive God’s blessings not just as individuals, but as families. Families are so important.

Churches can learn that they must have a vested interest in strengthening families. Instead of spending 100% of their time on Vacation Bible School, churches should have a vested interest in parents having date nights and solid networks of babysitters.

If we want a better America, we need stronger families. And if we want stronger families, we need more churches not just focused on the individual’s path to salvation, but on the family’s path through a fallen world together.

Too many Protestant churches think once we’ve gotten to Christ they can move on. Instead, the church needs to realize God did not seal the door and let the ark drift with Noah’s family in it. God ministered to that family the whole time in the ark. When Genesis 8:1 says God “remembered Noah,” that word choice does not mean Noah and his family went out of God’s mind and then back in to God’s mind, but rather that Noah was never forgotten and left alone.

The church should not stop once a person has come to Christ, but should work to mature the Christian by remembering always the family.

“You’ve found Jesus, so here is what’s next,” should be a mission in churches so that mature Christians from stable God-centered families can go out and minister to others seeking refuge in the ark that is the church in this fallen, turbulent world.

And that, my friends, is the first semester. Thanks again for the prayers.

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The Greatest Story Never Told

It seems the majority of Americans have joined me in realizing what a crappy movie Noah is. Take the Bible out of it. In fact, as my friend Brian Mattson points out, Noah isn’t even based on the Biblical telling of Noah, but on a gnostic fantasy where the serpent was the hero.

Take all that out and Noah was still a pretty pathetic movie. There’s been a 61% drop off in viewership. And that disappoints me.

It disappoints me because Noah could have been one heck of a movie. In fact, there are a number of movies based on the Bible that Hollywood could tell. They’ve done it before. But in the past decade or so, Hollywood has taken the simple ideas of good and evil confronted by complex characters in moral conflict and turned the whole thing around. Now good and evil are complex and the characters are simple and flat. The characters are no longer believable, their situations often not very sympathetic, and the macguffin is no longer relatable.

There are stories to be told in the greatest best seller ever. The biography of St. Paul is one that would be fascinating, if played straight. Here’s a man who grows up deeply religious and committed to slaughtering and persecuting heretics of the faith only to himself convert and be persecuted and killed.

The story of Queen Esther is another that was turned into an enjoyable movie, but it certainly wasn’t a huge Hollywood movie like Noah. There’s the story of Joseph sold into slavery; the story of David; the story of Ruth; the story of John the Baptist; and so many others. The stories are at the same time simple and very, richly deep and meaningful.

When Christians make movies, they tend to be dreadfully low budget, poorly planned affairs. They make their movies largely for their own. The message outweighs the entertainment. The humor is drowned out by the zealotry. Few want to be preached at in the theater. Their movies flop. The few that do well, like Prince of Egypt and Passion of the Christ come from people already of Hollywood, but people willing to give the stories a faithful treatment. Certainly there is ancillary material used to fill the hours. But the core of the story remains true and faithful to the people who faith of cherish the stories.

Hollywood does not like to do that any more. Those who make many of the films have a low opinion of their heartland audiences, too high an opinion of themselves, and a screwed up sense of the world. They cannot tell stories well anymore, which is probably why so many of the great and popular movies that have come out of Hollywood lately have not come from Americans.

But if they just dared to embrace the material, there are some rich, rich stories to tell from the Bible. After Noah, however, I am not sure I want Hollywood anywhere near these great stories still untold on the silver screen.

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A Few More Thoughts on Noah

I get that some of you like art house Euro sci-fi movies. Not me. The scene where Noah is explaining the history of the world and shows silhouettes of people killing each other from tribal men Roman centurions to red coats fighting yankees to the world wars was just silly to me.

I did not go for a Christian film or a Biblical film. I just went to be entertained knowing they had to do something to turn two chapters of the Bible into a two hour movie. I didn’t care, but I didn’t find it entertaining except in how hysterically dreadful it was.

Here’s the thing though — many of the positive Christian reviews of the movie read like the ugly kid who is excited because the cool, cute kid just looked their way. What cheap dates.

Go see the movie if you want. Some friends of my enjoyed it. One says he enjoyed it without liking it. It was way too art house for me. I’d prefer Evan Almighty. The rock monsters were pretty bad ass though.

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Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

“[W]e might should consider burning at the stake any Christian leader who endorses this movie.”

I don’t get all the claims of radical environmentalism in Noah. I saw it last night. I did not draw out of it the environmentalism. In the movie, Noah took the position that all mankind had corrupted the earth with sin and God intended to wipe them all out. Noah presumed God would wipe him and his family out too once all the animals were saved. Sure, Noah was a vegetarian and the bad guys are meat eaters who do to the earth what Saruman did, but I don’t really see the whacked out radical environmentalism. It’s more thematic of man’s sin polluting everything.

The film is a remarkable display of special effects. It is also one of the funniest comedies I have seen in a very long time. Aronofsky deserves a great deal of praise for turning a serious subject into a non-stop laugh fest of techno-electro music, orchestral scores, blasting special effects, and even rock monsters.

Therein lies my chief problem with the movie. The advertisement campaign tried to ease Christians’ nerves that all would be well, artistic license was taken, but the movie would be faithful to the story. If they hadn’t tried to con Christians into the movie, I wouldn’t have a problem. It was a pretty awesome sci-fi spectacle complete with Ent like rock monsters, a super powered Methuselah, glow in the dark space alien Adam and Eve, and Hermione Granger. “God” is never mentioned. He is referred to throughout as the “Creator”. I get that a director has to fill a two hour movie based off of a couple of chapters in the Bible, but holy cow!

The premise is pretty straight forward. Noah descends from the line of Seth. The serpent in the Garden of Eden shed its snake skin, which had magical properties that flowed from father to son. As Noah’s father was about to pass the magical powers off to Noah, Noah’s father is attacked by Cain’s descendent, killed, and Noah runs away. Cain’s descendent, soon to be King Cain, takes the snake skin unaware of its magical properties.

In flash back we see that Adam and Eve were glow in the dark space aliens who became fully flesh once Eve bit into the fruit.

I am not kidding.

Noah grows up and — herein is a problem — somehow in the barren wasteland in which he lives has found a wife and has three sons. He has a wicked cool dream that convinces him he must seek out his grandfather, Methuselah, who lives in a mountain, because the Creator is going to destroy the planet.

Noah and his family cross a Mad Max line wasteland of rubble, pipes, skulls, and destruction. They save Hermione Granger, but are attacked by Cain’s kinfolk.

Noah and family rush past a mountain of skulls and are attacked by giant rock monsters. The rock monsters hate people. Turns out they are fallen angles who decided to take care of Adam and Eve once the “Creator” cast them out of Eden. To punish them, the Creator covers them in lava making them rock monsters. They protected Cain’s folks until the people turned on them. Only Methuselah with his magical powers and flaming sword could protect the rock monsters from men. The rock monsters are rock like Ents, but behave like the green space aliens in Toy Story. They always look up and sing “the Creator” instead of “the Claw”

I am not kidding.

In any event, a good rock monster helps Noah and his family find Methuselah. There is no explanation for why Noah has left the green area of his grandfather for a harsh, volcanic desert. But there you have it. Anthony Hopkins … errrr … Methuselah lives in a cave up a mountain. He invites Noah to tea, giving Noah hallucinogenic tea. Noah learns he must build an ark in the barren wasteland that has no trees anywhere at all.

That’s okay because Anthony Hopkins … errrr … Methuselah has a magic seed from the Garden of Eden. Noah and the rock monster plant it.

I am not kidding.

The next day, the bad rock monsters show up to take the good rock monster away. But the magical seed sprouts a fountain in the middle of the ground. As the water flows from it, trees shoot up. Everywhere the water touches new green life sprouts. Noah realizes God has given him the trees to build the ark.

So the rock monsters build the ark.

It’s okay. They have multiple hands so they can strip branches with one set of hands while sawing and hammering with other hands.

I am not kidding.

Eventually, Ham gets horny and lusts after Hermione, who is in love with Shem. But Hermione is barren so she won’t sleep with anybody. Ham wants a wife for himself because he gets tired of spying on Shem and Hermione’s heavy petting in the forest.

When King Cain shows up to fight Noah for the Ark — attracted by all the trees and water — Ham goes in search of a wife of his own. Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins … errrr … Methuselah uses his magical powers on Hermione to make her fertile. She in turn immediately chases after Shem, strips and rips off Harry Potter’s Shem’s clothes, and they have sex right there under the trees.

I am not kidding.

Ham finds his own girl in a mass grave. She’s still alive.

I am not kidding.

It starts to rain, everybody runs back to the Ark, King Cain decides to attack, Ham’s girl gets caught in a bear trap, Noah lets the girl die in a stampede of people, and the rock monsters start beating the hell out of the humans.

The humans overpower the rock monsters, each of whom explode in terrific fashion as their angelic fallen selves rocket back up to Heaven forgiven.

I am not kidding.

Water bursts forth from the ground, everybody drowns, but King Cain is able to climb the scaffolding, use an axe to hack into the Ark, and hide himself known only to Ham.

Everybody dies except the folks on the Ark. They have managed to get all the animals to sleep with incense that does not also put themselves to sleep. Noah then announces they too will die. Hermione announces she is pregnant. Noah announces he will kill her kids.

Noah has decided even his family must die because all mankind is sinful.

Shem builds a second ark/raft for himself and Hermione, but Noah has magical glowing rocks that he can turn into fire. He burns up the mini-Ark as Hermione goes into labor.

I am not kidding.

Ham and King Cain kill the unicorns on the boat, splatter the blood on Ham, and Ham runs up to his dad before Noah can kill his grandkids. Ham says the animals are awake eating each other. Noah runs downstairs, King Cain attacks Noah, Shem attacks Noah, Ham stands back watching them kill each other, and the boat hits a rock.

I am not kidding.

King Cain gets injured, Ham finishes him off, Shem is knocked out, and Noah races upstairs to kill his grandkids — twin girls.

Hermione Granger convinces Voldemort Noah she needs to sing the Weasley twins a lullaby to get them to stop crying before Noah spears them in the head. They go quiet, Hermione cries, the Noah decides to kiss the kids instead of killing them.

They all get off the boat, Noah moves out and retires to the beach, grows grapes, and gets drunk and naked in a beach cave. The oldest and youngest kids cover him up and Ham just glares, still bitter than Dad let his potential wife get stampeded over by Cain’s clan. Ham, it turns out, has taken the magic snake skin from King Cain, who had taken it from Noah’s dad way back when.

I am not kidding.

Ham packs up and leaves to be alone forever. Hermione convinces Noah that the Creator picked Noah so Noah could decided if man would die out or continue. Noah sobers up, heads up the mountain to play footsie with his wife in the dirt, then reactivates the magic in the snake skin and passes the magic on to his twin granddaughters.

A big rainbow bursts forth and the movie ends.

I am not kidding.

I laughed my butt off the whole way through. You probably just want to wait till it is in Netflix. Not sure it is worth it for anyone who takes the Bible seriously. I expect the left hail it as a breakthrough with a great new interpretation. Rachel Held Evans will probably hold repeat viewings of it to discuss the feminist implications of this Biblical account, which is no doubt more faithful than the original version.

If the producers had framed this movie as a “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” allegory, that’d be one thing. But to say it is faithful to the Book of Genesis is just pandering with a lie on the end.

I’d wait to see it if I were you. Also, we might should consider burning at the stake any Christian leader who endorses this movie. The book is always better.

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