One Preacher’s Take on NOAH (The Movie)

Warning: Before you read this, you should know two things: #1, this “review” contains SPOILERS, so if you plan to see the movie, you may want to hold off reading it.

#2, this is just one man’s opinion. I am not writing on behalf of our church staff. After being asked by several people my opinion of the new Noah film, I decided to give it a look. These are my thoughts on the controversial film:

 Noah (1)

I should begin this “review” by making a confession: I walked into the theater to see NOAH with a biased attitude. I expected to like the film.

Yes, I heard the warnings from my Christian brothers and sisters, who for the past month have complained that Darren Aronofsky’s retelling of the flood story did not accurately reflect the Biblical account found in Genesis. Yes, I read reviews from people I trust who confirmed those warnings. But through it all, I suspected that NOAH would do more good than harm, and I looked forward to watching it.

After all, very few movies can retell a story, whether from a book or from a historical event, without taking some liberties. Even if Aronofsky changed some details for dramatic effect, I reasoned, the overarching story would tell itself – God’s judgment of a wicked earth, His mercy shown through Noah, and the beautiful opportunity to start again. It’s a “can’t-miss” story. (Besides, I love special effects!)

That was my attitude when I went into the Wynnsong 12 last weekend. I felt differently when I walked out again. Sure,  there WAS a lot to like in this movie – fine acting jobs, an entertaining story line, and breathtaking special effects, to name a few – but in spite of that, I left the theater feeling both surprised and disappointed. Why? My disillusionment had nothing to do with the much-criticized characters Aronofsky wrote INTO the story: Methuselah, “the Watchers”, the evil vigilante that stowed away on the ark. My chief complaint, the one that nullified all of the film’s positives, concerns who was written OUT of the script. Somehow, Aronofsky managed to tell the story of Noah without including God.

 noah

Allow me to clarify. God WAS given a “bit part” in the movie. Referred to as “The Creator”, He is the one who spoke the world into existence (via Big Bang and evolution), and He is the one who gave Noah a mysterious vision to inform him about the impending flood. Trees that grow for the ark and animals that stampede to its shelter are also attributed to His provision. But that’s it. Outside of those initial vague dreams, God never communicates with Noah, even when Noah begs. He never shares His plan. He never communicates hope. He never explains to Noah WHY he has been chosen to build the ark. And He should have, because the major thrust of the movie explores what happens when Noah is left on his own to figure out God’s purposes.

You see, as a result of God’s silence, Noah feels defenseless and confused. He compensates for his defenseless state by enlisting the help of fallen angels(!), who have been mistreated by God and want to get back in his good graces. These angels take the form of “rock monsters”, reminiscent of the Ents in the Lord of the Rings saga. They do the heavy work in the ark building project and protect Noah from the violent crowds. In one dramatic scene Noah informs a bloodthirsty mob, “I am not alone!” But it was not God whose presence gave him confidence. It was these fallen angels!

That is the answer to Noah’s defenselessness . . . but there is no way to overcome his confusion. In a strange twist to the Biblical account, Noah spends the entire 40 days on the ark convinced that God has called him to finish the job of eradicating the human race, which means ensuring the death of his own family. Obviously, that creates conflict with his fellow passengers, especially when Noah learns that his daughter-in-law is pregnant. This sets up a tense, emotional “waiting period”, a near mutiny by Noah’s family, and a dramatic scene where a crazy-eyed Noah snatches the twin babies and prepares to plunge a knife through their newborn bodies.

And where is God in this moment? Frustratingly aloof and silent. As Noah’s daughter-in-law later explains, the Creator chose to put the human race in Noah’s hands and allow him to decide whether it deserved to continue. God pretty much stayed out of it. That’s why Noah, wracked with guilt at his inability to satisfy God’s thirst for blood and estranged from his understandably disillusioned family, leaves the ark at the first opportunity and retires to a cave, isolated, drunk, and depressed.

 noah 2

I usually appreciate teachers who are willing to “humanize” the characters in Scripture. So often, we allow them to remain “flat” on the pages, celebrating their successes while ignoring their struggles. In Noah’s case, we can be sure that he wrestled with doubt and uncertainty. I’m sure he did argue with his family and question God’s direction. I appreciated how the film captured the agony his family must have felt as they sat safely on the ark while the people outside screamed in agony. Noah was a real person, with real doubts, and his task was a difficult one.

But to understand the story of Noah, you must remember that it is about more than a man who built a boat. His story is inseparably  intertwined with God. Genesis describes the rapid deterioration of God’s creation – “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). God alone had a right to judge His creation, but in the midst of his anger, He showed mercy to mankind. He called Noah – not to save the animals, as the film-version of Noah so brazenly explained – but to save us. From the day sin entered the world, God declared that man would be reconciled to Him, and through Noah He kept that promise alive. This, then, is the story of God – His justice. His mercy, and the lengths to which He was willing to go to keep hope alive.

That’s where Aronofsky got it all wrong. By painting Noah as a misguided religious zealot struggling to obey a strange, distant God, he missed the heart of the man Genesis describes as the most righteous on earth. And by painting God as a disinterested, aloof Creator, He ripped the heart from God’s redemptive story. In fact, he did the very thing he condemned Cain’s descendants of doing in his movie: he took something holy and divine and brought it low. In his quest for box-office gold, he mined the heart out of a sacred story and mixed the remainder with mysticism, environmentalism, and a strong dose of humanism.

As a result, I have changed my original prediction. I think this movie does more harm than good. Then again, maybe I should have anticipated that all along. Instead of relying on Hollywood to pass along sacred truths and then criticizing their ignorant attempts to do it, let’s take this 0pportunity to remember the responsibility God has given us. Then let’s follow Noah’s example and obey His call.

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The Fingerprint of God?

When I was a child, my family used to take walks in the woods near our house. One of my favorite parts of these woods was a small creek that flowed through the center. The creek had sandy banks, and many times we would find animal tracks embedded in the wet sand. We would look for those – they were treasures – and everytime we found one my brothers and I would shout for my father to come and examine them.

“What are these Daddy?”

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Looking back now, maybe I should have been suspicious that he always had an answer. Whether or not he actually knew how to differentiate between a raccoon track and a fox track and a deer track I’m not sure. I do know this, though – there were plenty of wild animals living inside of our woods. I never saw them – they stayed hidden in the daylight – but I knew they had been there. They left evidence of their existence in the sand by the creek.

Here’s why I shared that story: In our day of skepticism and doubt, many people question the very existence of God and His activity in the world. They argue that since we can’t see God with our eyes, faith is weak and misguided. But I would argue that while faith is necessarily believing in what our eyes can’t see (Hebrews 11:1), God has not left us without evidence. On the contrary, He has left tracks, or fingerprints throughout his creation that make point towards Him. We just need to look up and notice them.

Here’s how Paul described this in  Romans 1: 19-20 – For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

In other words, God has revealed himself in His creation, just like an artist reveals himself in a work of art.

There is so much to say on this subject, but for now I just want to share this video. I found this on Youtube and really enjoyed it. Give it a watch -it is only a few minutes – and then look around and see where you can see the fingerprints of God.

 fibonacci-sequence-golden-ratio-phi11

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5 Ways to Deal With Cantankerous People

No matter what arena of life you frequent, chances are you have regular contact with difficult people. They could be customers, or co-workers, or employers, or neighbors, or acquaintances or church members, or even random strangers. No matter who they are, when someone in your life becomes hyper-critical or spiteful or surly, it can take everything you’ve got just to avoid being charged with aggravated assault.

Young businessman holding card with a angry face on it isolated

As Christians, we know that Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, but if you’re like me, some days that seems like one the His toughest teachings. How can I demonstrate love to someone who is sending my blood pressure through the roof? Fortunately, the Bible goes beyond abstract instruction and gives practical instructions on how to achieve something that seems impossible.

 Here are five principles, taken from the New Testament, for dealing with cantankerous people:

1)   Measure Your Words (James 3:1-12)– Words that explode from your mouth in moments of anger or frustration are rarely helpful. Instead, they generally do great damage. So take a breath, get control, and guard your tongue. Sometimes that means telling that “thorn in your flesh” of a person to come back in a few minutes after you have collected your thoughts. Remember, the same tongue that speaks words of division can also speak words of understanding and reconciliation. Instead of allowing your tongue to become a victim of a bad moment, use it to transform the moment into something productive.

2)   Focus on the things that matter most (Philippians 1: 15-18) – In the book of Philippians, Paul gave a glimpse into some dysfunction inside of the early church. Apparently, a group of Christian teachers did not like Paul, and they used his imprisonment as an opportunity to simultaneously slander his reputation and advance their ministry. Paul was not pleased (obviously), but he kept his eyes on something bigger. While these preachers criticized Paul, they continued to preach the Gospel. In light of that, Paul was able to reflect, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

In your dealings with difficult people, can you find a larger goal on which to focus? “This person drives me crazy, but at least _______ is true.” Find something about the person or his/her work that is positive and celebrate it. I know . . . that may be difficult . . . but find something. It’s there.

3)   Be willing to give up your right to “win” (Matthew 5:38-48) – In our culture we love to hyperventilate about our rights, and there are times when we must fight to maintain them. In your dealings with cantankerous people, however, sometimes the only way to win the war is to surrender some of the battles. This can be ridiculously tough, because it offends our sense of fairness, but keeping peace requires compromise! If you are willing to surrender your right to be angry and your right to be “right”, you can diffuse any difficult situation . . . and maybe even turn it around for good.

4)  Watch out for pride (Philippians 2: 1-11) – If you think about it, the only person you can control in a conflict with another person is yourself. You have no input into how other people treat you, but you do have the ability to control your attitude. Unfortunately, the “control panel” for your attitude is often guarded by your pride. That’s why, when he confronted a conflict in the Philippian church, Paul suggested that the key to unity is humility. “. . . in humility value others above yourselves,” he instructed, “Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (verse 4). Sounds impossible, huh? Of course, Paul goes on to remind the Philippians that that is EXACTLY what Jesus did for us! (Ouch!)

5)    Pass along what God has given you (Philippians 2:1-2) – This really is the crux of the New Testament’s teaching about dealing with others. God calls us to be channels of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Have you been encouraged by Christ? Encourage others? Has He shown you compassion? Show it to others? Does He give you mercy when you deserve judgment; forgiveness when you deserve wrath; reconciliation when you deserve estrangement? If so, pass those same gifts along to those around you.

In Romans 5:8-10, Paul reminded the Romans that while they were enemies of God, Christ died for them. He loved His enemies. He prayed for those who persecuted Him. Yes, He willingly fought some battles and even put some difficult people in His place. But even more often, He demonstrated restraint and mercy, and in doing so, gave us an example to follow as we deal with those cantankerous people in our own life.

Enemies

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Radio Podcast: A Map For Kids During Those Middle Years

While I have been away from writing this blog for the past six weeks, some exciting things have been happening. At the end of October, Ambassador-International started shipping my new book, “A Map For The Middle”. The book was written as a way to offer guidance to kids in those treacherous middle school years, and to offer a tool for parents trying to survive kids who are at that “precious” age.

book cover

Two of my three children are in middle school right now, and I wrote the book as a way to springboard conversations that I needed to have with them: conversations about difficult subjects like popularity, insecurity, sexuality, stress, and more.

You can order the book the book through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, among others. (You can also email me and I will send you a personalized copy).

To get a feel for the book, I invite you to listen to this interview I did with Luann Prater at Encouragement Cafe. She does an EXCELLENT job – she would be a great person to follow regularly – and I appreciate the opportunity she gave me to talk about this new project.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW:

radio_mike

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Why I Do Not Fear The Future

Have you felt afraid this week? Have you read the headlines reporting wars and gridlock and stripped freedoms and financial gloom and felt your courage melt? Have you suddenly noticed the world in which your children are maturing and found your strength waning? Have you looked to the future and experienced the panic of the unknown?

This world is a scary place! (Thank goodness it is not our permanent home!) But since we are going to be here for a while longer, let’s start this week by reading Psalm 46 and reminding ourselves why we do not have to be afraid. Do you remember how it goes?

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,     the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations He has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire. 10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Now go back and re-read verse 2. Even though the earth gives away; even though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea; even though the mountains quake with their surging, “We WILL NOT fear!” Why? Because God is our fortress!

God is not caught off-guard by the things that happen on this planet. Wars and crisis are nothing new to Him. He has seen it all before. And even though He allows us to continue to make a mess of this world, He promises to stay with us as we travel through it. And one day – one glorious day – He will make things right down here once and for all.

Let’s stop right now and thank God that even though we don’t know what the future holds, we know who holds the future!

For more insight on this Psalm, be sure to check out this terrific devotion written by Charles Swindoll.

courage

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Encouaragement For A Change: Balcony Or Basement?

The book Passionate People (by Keith Miller and Bruce Larson),  describes two kinds of people — “basement people” and “balcony people.” Which one are you?

“Basement people” are defined as “discouragers”. No matter what is happening, they always have a negative comment ready. They love to point out your flaws. They refuse to see beyond your shortcomings. They focus on the walls of impossibility around them rather rather than seeing possibilities on the other side.

Basement people drag us down to their level.

In contrast to basement people stand “Balcony People.” These are those folks in life who cheer us on no matter what. “You can do it! “I believe it you!” “Don’t give up” When we get tired, they lend us strength. When we fall down, they pick us up.

Balcony people lift us up to their level.

The best thing about the difference between the basement and the balcony is that we can choose where to stand. You and I have a choice – we can be people who drag others down, or people who lift others up.

As you ponder where you have been standing, here is a picture of a “balcony person” in action. This video was taken before a 2003 NBA Playoff game between Portland and Dallas. The girl in the video, an 8th grader named Natalie Gilbert, was chosen to sing the National Anthem . . . but to her horror, as she sang, she forgot the words to the song. It seemed like a moment of failure that would stick with her forever . . . until Maurice Cheeks, the head coach of the Trail Blazers, walked over, put his arm around her and helped her with the words. They started singing together, and soon the entire crowd was singing along.


What a beautiful act of encouragement from someone who stands on life’s balcony, lifting people upwards.

Lord, help me to be a balcony person for someone in my life today!

P.S. Here is an ABC News interview with Natalie:

balcony

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Just For Fun: Learn to Argue Like A D.C. Congressman!

As I write this, our two groups of elected officials in Washington, DC are in the throes of more bitter arguing. Don’t you wish you could argue as proficiently as them?

Now you can. Just find an “Aruging Clinic”, like in this classic clip from Monty Pyton’s Flying Circus. Just 5 minutes, and you can argue like a pro!

Enjoy!

argument clinic

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