Since Jesus Passed By

workcamp_9462cA number of years ago while part of a work camp in Durham, North Carolina, I was assigned to work with a group of young people on the house of an elderly African-American woman. Before even meeting her, I was informed that she was a cancer survivor who had adopted her two granddaughters. I decided that I was not going to get to close to this woman. I was going to be there for the young people and minister to them. That, I had decided, was my purpose that week.

Why?

This mission week was in June 2001. Dad had died from prostate cancer in April 2001.

In my still grieving mind, I did not want to get close to someone who had cancer, because losing that person to cancer was too hard. Distance was my approach.

And so, on Monday morning, I fulfilled my approach. I worked hard. I answered the youth’s questions. We got started on tearing up a rotten floor and starting to build a frame for a concrete slab at the end of the wheelchair ramp. At lunch time, the crew gathered in the homeowner’s bedroom, where she had camped out while we ran around the house doing our thing. The youth wanted to include her in our lunch and our midday devotion.

I quietly slipped into the room, grabbed a piece of pizza, and settled in the corner. The homeowner said, “There he is! There’s the pastor!” I was taken a back at first. This was a time in a life when I was struggling with my call to ministry – never mind ordained ministry. It would be seven years before I would graduate from seminary and thirteen years before I would be fully ordained in the United Methodist Church.

I did not see myself as a pastor. Yes, I worked in the church. And yes, I got to go on mission trips as a part of job. And yes, I occasionally led worship. But, I did not think of myself as a pastor.

I was quick to correct the homeowner that I was not a pastor. I was just a youth leader.

She was quick to correct me. “This morning when you walked past me, I felt the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus passed by.

“In me??” is what I was thinking to myself. I thought for sure she was mistaken. There was no way that the Holy Spirit was moving through me to the point that she could feel it.

By the end of the week I had worked out of the stuff I was hanging on to regarding Dad’s death. I had reclaimed the hope of the resurrection and what that means as a person of faith. I had come to terms that God was indeed calling me to ministry. Yes, even me. And even though it would take me a few more years before I was completely comfortable that God was calling me to ordained ministry, this summer in Durham I accepted the call on my life.

Jesus passed by.

I was overwhelmed that someone I had never met before had sensed the Holy Spirit in me. And yet, that same person was the one who pointed me in the direction that God was calling me. God was at work in me, and while I believe that God wasn’t going to give up on me, this homeowner was a signpost directing me toward God’s call instead of away from it.

Sometimes we expect to see Jesus pass by like we would a parade. There is great anticipation. There is the grand marching band preparing the way. There are the preparatory floats getting us excited. And then, at the end of the parade, there is Jesus!

Most often, I think, we come upon the parade after its passed by and we feel disappointed because we missed it. We missed the excitement and the fun. But what I’ve learned over the years is that Jesus doesn’t pass by with all that fanfare. But, instead, in unexpected ways.

Jesus is the stranger at the gas station telling you your tire is flat.

Jesus is the child who runs up and gives you a hug.

Jesus is in the random acts of kindness done by neighbors for each other.

Jesus is the random phone call you receive asking you how you are doing.

Jesus is the friend who takes you out for coffee when they know you’ve had a bad day.

Jesus is the dog who loves on you no matter what.

Jesus is the young person who preaches to her friends by her good works.

Jesus passed by.

Because He Lives

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

risen_8008cI have sung the Gaither-penned Easter hymn Because He Lives countless times. About fourteen years ago, the hymn became deeply personal. It took on a whole new meaning when my father died on Easter Sunday, April 2001. It changed the way I understood Easter and the resurrection.

And then one day I’ll cross death’s river;
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain -
And then as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He reigns.

It is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we have a hope to face tomorrow and whatever it may bring. It is because of this resurrection that death is not a big deal, because not only do we know the One who holds tomorrow, but we know the One who holds eternity.

The past few days as I’ve been pondering the reality that I will be a dad in January. As such, I’ve been thinking about this hymn in a different way.

How sweet to hold our newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance,
This child can face uncertain days because He lives.

A week like the one the world has seen where everything seems to have gone crazy, causes just a bit of worry about brining a new baby into this world. A world filled with terror, hate, war, violence, injustice. And the list goes on.

Planes being shot down. War breaking out . . . again. Politicians debating the livelihood of immigrant children. Drive-by shootings on a daily basis. Corruption in government and in churches. Education systems struggling to provide the best for its children, and some barely surviving.

When you look at all of this, how can you not wonder, “How can we have a baby in this?”

But then we remember that we are people of faith. And while we may not live in a restored universe, we live in hope. A hope grounded in the promise that God has given through the ages, “I am with you always.” Just as Jesus was with the lame man as he ran through the streets, Jesus is with us. Just as Jesus was with the Samaritan woman as she spread the news about the Messiah, Jesus is with us. Just as Jesus was with Martha as she weeped the death of her brother Lazarus, Jesus is with us. Just as Jesus was with Peter as he stepped out of the boat to walk on the cool water, Jesus is with us.

And because Jesus is with us, we have hope. A hope that assures us that God has this. A hope that tells us that all of this sorrow and tragedy we see in the world is not a part of God’s plan. A hope that tells us that in the midst of an unrestored universe, God is working in us and through us to work all things for good.

And we have this hope, because Christ lives.

 

Planet of the Apes (1968)

planetofapesadvancehestonWhen it was released in April of 1968, it was not well received by many critics. However, Planet of the Apes would go down as a classic sci-fi film. Charlton Heston is George Taylor, an American astronaut who, along with his crew, crashes 2,000 years in the future on an unknown planet. Everything on this planet seems to be turned upside down. In this strange land, apes rule, and humans are hunted, caged, and enslaved.

At first, Taylor is injured and unable to speak. He tries various things to get the apes to understand that he is as intellect as they are. It is Zira (Kim Hunter) who sees something special in Taylor. At first it is evolution. She and her fiancé Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) want to study Taylor to see how humans are evolving. The dialogue, with intent, is similar to conversations humans have had about studying apes. After they get to know Taylor, a theory that was being forgotten returns to the surface. Cornelius’ archeological studies suggest that humans existed on the planet in a more civilized society than apes currently do.

It is perfect and brilliant commentary on the modern human condition. In the beginning of the film, in one of Taylor’s speeches, he says, “Does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox that sent me to the stars, still make war with his brother?” A question, no doubt, theological and philosophically debated in 1968 in the midst of a war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement. The effects of which were not lost on the film’s crew. Michael Wilson rewrote the original script by Rod Serling (the ending was the only contribution of Serling’s that Wilson kept). Wilson, like so many during the 1950s in Hollywood, was blacklisted for allegedly being communist. The Cold War and the changing tides of culture and thought and its effects on society hit close to home.

Final Scene - Planet of the Apes

Nor is it a surprise the role of nuclear destruction (a great fear of the Cold War) plays in the film. Taylor’s longing for a war-free world is only met with a world destroyed by war. The iconic ending, with Taylor on his knees in the sand, yelling, “Damn them! Damn them all to hell!” reveals the truth. Don’t be mistaken, Taylor is not referring to the apes, but the humans he left behind. Taylor has not been on an unknown planet. He has been on his own, war-torn planet where everything has been turned upside down.

1968 was a turbulent time, as well, for people of faith. Many were trying to reconcile being at war for so long. Others were struggling with new laws of desegregation. Suddenly lives where changing, and not everyone was handling it well.

Since the beginning of time, religion has played a significant role in societies. It is appropriate that Planet of the Apes includes this as part of the story. The sacred texts, though only talked about and not seen, are a character in the film themselves. Dr. Zaius (Defender of the Faith and Minister of Science) and the others are the ape versions of Pharisees. While watching the film we know that Dr. Zaius is wrong in what he is doing.

And yet, how often do we do the same thing?

Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) and others like him, do their best to dissuade Cornelius and Zira from following these loftily ideals of humans being intelligent. They call upon the sacred scrolls to reason why the humans should stay in their place and things not change.

When we are scared of something or uncertain about changes in society, we use our sacred texts to justify who is considered “us” and who is considered “them.” The scriptures become security blankets for why we do not welcome those who are different from us. Planet of the Apes warns us against this narrow thinking. Dr. Zaius clearly understands that there is a truth and a reality beyond the boundaries of their land. It is safer if everyone believes what they have been taught. Only danger awaits them when they step outside the boundary. It could be argued that because Dr. Zaius knows about the destruction of humanity’s civilization by humanity, that they do not want to repeat history. That they want to be smarter than the humans and not make the same mistakes, and so they hide behind their religion.

It is safer when we hide behind our sacred texts.

As Christians, we follow a boundary crosser. We follow a Messiah who stepped over the social lines of division. Jesus sat and had lunch with the tax collector. He talked to the Samaritan woman. He touched the lepers. He healed the blind and made the lame to walk. All of those who were different and (sometime literally) isolated from the rest of society. It was taught that Jews and Samaritans did not interact. Jesus broke that “rule.” It was taught that you avoided lepers and bleeding women. Jesus broke that “rule” on both accounts.

And Jesus did so with love.

Planet of the Apes could have easily been a silly film about apes on Earth. Instead, it is filled with cultural commentary about the world in which we live and could live. And though the film has a few moments that are clearly reflection of the 1960s, it is a film that is ageless. Its message of peace over war, unity over segregation, balance of religion and science, is still a message to be heard today.

VBS 2014 Ponderings

DSCN2128Last week was Vacation Bible School at Peakland United Methodist. It was my second VBS at Peakland, probably my 34th since birth – maybe 35th because I wouldn’t be surprised if I was at a VBS while in the womb. I’ve been pondering that this VBS was probably one of the best VBSs I’ve ever been to.

Perhaps it was the 100 children in the building.

Perhaps it was the close to 45 youth and adult volunteers who made it happen.

Perhaps it was the amazing curriculum from Group Publishing: Weird Animals.

Perhaps it was the excitement of putting loose change in a water-filled pool for Heifer International.

Perhaps it was the coordination across the generations in the various mission projects throughout the week.

Or perhaps it was the endless message of the gospel: Jesus loves you.

Every day during the week we were reminded just how much Jesus loves us. Even though we are left out, are different, don’t understand, do wrong, or are afraid, Jesus still loves us. We were often reminded of that love and that grace throughout the week. Even though we aren’t sure we want to be at VBS and scream and kick and hide under the table, Jesus loves us. Even though we hit our friend while on the playground or be difficult with our adult leaders, Jesus loves us. Even though we get really upset when we lose a game and stomp our feet, Jesus loves us.

Perhaps it was reading the blog posts that some of our adult and youth volunteers wrote about VBS. It was clear that there was a joy that moved way beyond the children to the volunteers as well. Perhaps it was leading the Bible story station with Pastor John. We took turns. I would go from telling the Bible story to 5-6 graders, to 2nd graders, to young 4-year-olds. The young 4s were the only group that did their Bible story in the “jungle” (also known as the Narthex). They listened – I mean – listened – to the stories and asked questions. They were engaged and willing to participate in the storytelling.

dscn2541-2Perhaps it was the willingness of so many of the children to let me wash their feet during one of the Bible stories (based on John 13). Even though they didn’t understand, they were okay with it. And even though I had to wash my hands a number of times that day to get rid of that “I just touched feet” smile, it was okay. Because something spiritual, something holy, had happened. We were being Christ-like.

And perhaps that’s what made this VBS so special. We were all being Christ-like. Yeah, we had fun with the puppets and the playground. We had fun making stuff – but most of that stuff was for other people, like our friends at the Williams Home or L’Arche. We saw some really weird animals, but at the same time we learned that its okay to be different, like our friend Ray who brought some of his weird animals for us to see. I saw children patiently and humbly help their classmates who were different adjust and remind them of what was going on. I saw adult and youth volunteers take special care for those children who needed a little bit of extra attention during parts of the day. And I saw parents, filled with hope, pick up their children and rejoice with them when they learned how much money they had raised for Heifer International.

It was a good week – it was an amazing week! And after a week or so of rest, we just might start planning next year’s VBS.

 

The Perfect Wave (2014)

The Perfect Wave At a time when movies like God’s Not Dead and Heaven is for Real have motivated movie goers – both evangelical and progressive – comes a film from South Africa: The Perfect Wave. It is billed as “more than a love story.” The film is based on the real life events of Ian McCormack, who is well known as an atheists turned born again Christian. In fact, the story that the film portrays is a story he has told to millions of people around the world.

Scott Eastwood (son of Clint) plays Ian as he skips around the world including Australia, Indonesia, and Africa, in search for the perfect wave. Ian is portrayed as a somewhat selfish 24-year-old not concerned with his mother’s charity work or anything to do with the church. His family, on the other hand, are devout in their spiritual life and in their care for others.

Out of the blue one day, Ian decides to sell his car and tells his mother (Cheryl Ladd) that his going on his dream trip in search of big waves. He keeps a journal of the different waves he surfs on along the trip. Even though she cannot convince him to stay home, the mother has a bad feeling – a sixth sense, if you will, that something is going to happen to Ian. She makes no bones in telling people that she has heard the voice of God – there is a scene or two where she describes the occasion – as such, her Holy Spirit sense may have some weight to it.

Ian and his best friend set on this journey. As he searches for the next best wave to ride, he realizes that he is searching for something more. “I’m chasing something,” he narrates, “that’s more real than this.”

What Ian is in search for is love. It is the story of a young man’s love for surfing. It is the story of a faithful mother’s love for her son. It is the story of young men and women falling in love. And it is the story of persistent love of God. For the most part, the film is about Ian’s desire to find the perfect wave. Everything else in life seems to not matter as much as that perfect wave does. Then, after a relationship breaks up, the film takes a turn toward the deeply spiritual. Ian has a near death experience. After being pronounced dead, Ian experiences not only the love of God, but the voice of God. Who knew a jelly fish sting would have such an effect?

While the film has a few rough edges in its writing and occasionally in its acting, it is a solid family film. It is not, however, a film that will be attractive to the “unbeliever.” But perhaps, that is not the point. Perhaps the filmmakers want the mostly Christian audience to experience Ian’s story in a new way and then feel compelled to share it with others.

Perhaps.

The film gets points for not beating the audience over the end with Biblical “truth.” It is open just enough for people to come to their own conclusions – meeting them where they are in their relationship with Jesus Christ. The film, for a brief moment, suggests that a person can be spiritual without being religious. Were not for the relationship Ian developed with a spiritual woman, he may not have had the Paul-like blinding light Jesus experience that he did.

For a complete listing of cities where the film is playing, you can click here.

 

 

Richmond Mission: Day Four

On Thursday, the mission team worked with Hands Up Ministries in Richmond. I found out about Hands Up from my friend Debbie Ireland, who is a board member. Hands Up Ministries was founded by Cassie Matthews and her husband JT. I first met Cassie through Richmond Metro Work Camp which was a week-long mission experience I participated in as a youth and then later took youth in my youth group to. I have always known Cassie has a servant. In 2007, as she tells it on the Hands Up Ministries website, something began stirring in her as she was volunteering that it was possible to do more. In 2008, after getting involved in job training and other transformational projects, Cassie and JT started filing the 501©3 so that Hands Up Ministries could become a non-profit. You can like them on Facebook and see their stories and pictures.

Our group worked on a number of different projects. One group worked on painting Ms. Janet’s front porch. One of the standards at Hands Up Ministries, is that you can receive help if you are willing to help yourself. The paint that we used was paint that Ms. Janet had purchased and she was out there painting too!

The painting crew with Ms. Janet
The painting crew with Ms. Janet

Another group spent time with Mrs. Hall, an elderly woman who had just lost her husband a few days before we arrived. Mrs. Hall loves plants! Debbie had gotten over $100 worth of plants donated by Home Depot and the group that worked at Mrs. Hall’s planted them in pots.

The planting crew with Mrs. Hall
The planting crew with Mrs. Hall

Across the street from the Hands Up base is a basketball court. At times the game gets loud, and usually when that happens, the police arrive and the game is shut down. The young men playing are no longer allowed to be on the basketball court. Hands Up, through many donations, including a basketball net and pole from VCU, was able to pour its own court. One group worked on removing the wooden frame that was used to pour the concrete.

David removing the frame for the new basketball court
David removing the frame for the new basketball court

Logan used a weed-eater to trim around the fence and community garden. Some moved rocks that would be used for a flower garden near the basketball court. And another group went to Home Depot to get supplies to build a Little Free Library.

Logan weed eater
Logan using the weed-eater

We were thrilled to have lunch provided by Sarah’s Aunt Nancy. After lunch, we packed up and headed back to Trinity for what was becoming a daily nap time. A stop at Starbucks and a couple of U-turns later, we got on I-95 to head to Petersburg for the final night of the Jedi Academy VBS. The outdoor game activities were water games. It was tough saying good-bye to all the kids. We had gotten just as attached to them as they did to us.

Sarah and her Aunt Nancy
Sarah and her Aunt Nancy

After VBS, Blandford UMC held an ice cream social for the VBS volunteers, which was loads of fun. The adventure, however, did not stop there. The rental van’s right tire – the same right tire that was “fixed” a few days ago – had gone flat once again. Jacob at Blandford let the group hang out at the church and watch a movie, while we waited for Bill, the Building Manager from Trinity UMC, come rescue us in their church bus. It was a long night, but we were all thankful for Bill and the hospitality of Trinity UMC for taking care of us. It was a good reminder that serving is a two-way street. While we serve, we need to be open to being served.

 

Richmond Mission: Day Two

Our motto for the week is becoming: “Every day is an adventure.”

After dropping off the team at Good Shepherd United Methodist in Glen Allen, I took the rental van to the shop the rental company uses to have one of the tires looked at. I watched for a few minutes, went inside and came back to find this:

IMG_1418

I went back inside for a bit, and then came back outside and found this:

IMG_1419

The mechanic found a nail in the tire and replaced it with a new tire.

The group worked at Good Shepherd United Methodist this morning. One crew cleaned their hospitality House, where they allow families to live for a short period of time as they transition. The previous family, however, left unannounced and when they did so, left the house in quite a disarray of dirtiness. There were dirty dishes in the sink at least three weeks old, used diapers, rings of dirt (or more) in the tub. It was a mess! The group that worked on the house was faithful to getting it clean and spotless, as well as loading a pick-up truck full of trash.

Other teams helped organize a craft closet and cleaned Nursery toys. Later the group moved storage cabinets into a storage room, after moving everything out of the room.

Good Shepherd provided an incredible lunch, sending with us sodas, homemade cupcakes, and other treats to snack on. Everyone has been very generous with feeding us so far. We will not go hungry! After returning to Trinity, just about everyone took a nap. It was a quiet hour and a half.

Tonight, we returned to Blandford United Methodist Church for day two of Jedi Academy VBS. This was the site in the van on the way:

van - sleep

Tonight we talked about Thomas doubting and how we have the power to choose to believe. We continued to have fun with the children of Blandford, singing songs, doing Jedi Yoga, crafts, and games. The greatest gift the team is giving is loving these children unconditionally.

This was the site in the van leaving Blandford, giving testimony to the power of doing God’s work:

wide awake

Richmond Mission: Day One

The group shook, rattled, and bumped in the 15-passenger rental van to Richmond today. The team is staying at Trinity United Methodist Church. We arrived to bountiful lunch provided by one of the United Methodist Women circles in the church.

A welcoming dessert at lunch today.
A welcoming dessert at lunch today.

After a time of gathering, explaining, and pondering, the group headed to Blandford United Methodist in Petersburg for a Vacation Bible School. Rev. Jacob Sahms put together a pretty awesome VBS called, “Jedi Academy.” Using the theological themes found in the Star Wars films, the children will discuss and explore what it means to be a Jedi.

In addition to singing, and hearing about Jesus being tempted, the children made their own light sabers from pool noodles, and played games outside. The group had an awesome time tonight with the children at Blandford and look forward to the rest of the week. Here are a few scenes from tonight:

The Ten: Honor Your Parents

Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, Common English Bible)

The Ten - jasoncstanley.comEvery Sunday my mom goes to a local nursing home to visit with her mother. Some days she knows who Mom is, some days, she’s not so sure. Some days she is warm and comforting. Other days, she is cold and violent. My grandmother suffers, as so many older adults do, from dementia. More than 5 million Americans live with the disease, in its various expressions. It is the sixth leading cause of death, and affects one in three senior citizens. (For more about dementia, visit alz.org.)

Honor as a verb means to “regard with great respect.” It is a wide range of a definition, leaving it quite open for children to find ways to honor their parents. Scholar Terence E. Fretheim suggests, as others have, that the commandment is intended for adult children. In a time and age when care for the elderly has become a major focus for some many families. Nursing homes. Social security income. Health care.

We are called to honor our aging parents.

Mission KidsIn the Jewish tradition, age was something to respect. We too often choose to neglect those who are older than us. Like a child who thinks his parents don’t know anything, we treat older adults more like a burden than the treasures they are. This past Sunday we took a group of third through fifth graders to a local retirement home for women. We did not have the children sing and do all the traditional things children do when they visit such homes. Instead, they went around the room asked the women questions like, “What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?” The kids got some really awesome answers. One woman shared how she jumped out of a plane when she turned 70. Another shared about growing up in England. The women then asked the children the same question. Everyone enjoyed themselves – both children and older adults – because someone took the time to ask them about their lives and listen.

This is why Mom goes every Sunday to see her mother. Even though their relationship has not been the best, Mom has forgiven and forgives. Even though she doesn’t always know who Mom is, Mom still goes and listens. She tells her about life and bears through her mother questioning where Dad is, even though Dad has been gone now for 14 years.

To honor our parents is to care for our parents through all the stages of life.

Maya Angelou penned some amazing words around this in her poem “On Aging.”

On Aging by Maya Angelou

When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!

When my bones are still and aching,
And my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.

When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tirer don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

The Redemption of Henry Myers (2014)

Redemption of Henry MyersThe Redemption of Henry Myers first aired on the Hallmark Channel in March 2014. It will be available on DVD Tuesday, June 10, 2014. The film is one from new, Christian-based studio EchoLight Studies, founded by former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who was an executive producer on this film. The studio has stated that it strives to not “create sermons wrapped in a movie but to create content that inspires, fascinates and incorporates a strong Christian worldview.”

The film is the story of Henry Myers (Drew Waters, Breaking Bad) who has lived a hard life. This Western opens as so many classic Westerns do, with a bank robbery. The symbolism in the opening scene is remarkable for the direction the rest of the film will go. A man on a horse-pulled cart carrying two pine coffin boxes, opens the boxes to reveal two of the most wanted men in the area. Afterwards, they rob a bank. In the midst of struggle, Henry’s gun goes off and kills a preacher.

Riddled with bad dreams, Henry finally finds himself at the home of the widow Marilyn (Erin Bethea) and her two children, Will and Laura. The family is a faith-filled family, they pray together and read from the Bible each evening. Henry stays away from most of it. But he listens and he ponders.

Jaden Roberts is excellent as the young daughter Laura. In many ways, Roberts carries the scenes she is in. She is the innocent, yet wise girl. She sees beyond the rough exterior of Henry to see his warm heart. And in moments when Marilyn is ready to let him go, it is Laura who reminds her that their Christian duty to care for the stranger.

The images of the Good Samaritan from the gospel of Luke are obvious. Henry is the man beaten and wounded, and Marilyn is the Samaritan who cares for Henry when no one else will. It is obvious because it is one of the Bible passages the family reads together. As Marilyn says to Henry at one point, “Everyone deserves kindness.”

And Henry is not used to that. As he starts to feel better, he helps out around the ranch with an arm in a sling. As he helps Will (Ezra Proch) put up a fence, the two have a conversation about doubt and faith. Will, who has been listening to the Bible being read since birth, doubts that there is much truth to it all. But Henry, who has only been listening to it for a few days, isn’t quite ready to say that it’s all unbelievable.

I typically approach Christian films with some caution. Frankly, deliberately Christian films tend to be bad films. Redemption, however, is not one of those films. It’s a good, clean, family friendly film. And it doesn’t go in the direction you might think it will. At least, I didn’t. I was pleasantly surprised at the twist, and think that it is a better movie because of it. I only have two wishes. I wish that the scene where Henry has his break-down of yelling to God was done a little differently. It was too predictable. The other is that I wish director Clayton Miller used more of Erin Bethea’s acting chops. Bethea is an incredible actress. I did not feel like Miller tapped into all that Bethea could  have offered this film.

Overall, the film is a good film. It portrays the struggle between revenge and redemption. It portrays, not just in dialogue, but through small details that change is possible, reminding us of the promise of new birth.

The DVD is available in stores and on Amazon.com. 

Follow Friday: Susan Irene Fox

I first discovered Susan Irene Fox and her self-titled blog after she started liking some of mine posts. Out of curiosity I started reading her blog. Susan has a way of sharing profound, spiritual thoughts that are welcoming and not threatening. After a twenty-year career as an elementary school teacher, that ended due to a permanent disability, Susan started blogging to get her name out there.

She had started a Bible curriculum projected for grades K-6 called Branches. The blog was to give her an online fingerprint for potential publishers. Ever since then, both the curriculum and the blog have evolved. “The curriculum,” Susan says, “is now a biblical devotional series for families.”  Branches, which is based on John 5:14-15, is currently in the editing stage. Meanwhile, the blog has greatly expanded as “a way to edify, encourage, enrich – and sometimes gently exhort – the Body of Christ,” Susan says. The blog has become, for Susan, a way to abide in the Spirit, while building the Kingdom of God.

As I have lifted the focus off me and onto God, the experience has become rich with new insight. Followers have increased organically as the Spirit has led them. And when just one person tells me the words I write have reached his or her heart, that comment keeps me motivated for weeks, because I have been an obedient vessel.

At times, Susan will post a poem, which is an incredible way to express a gospel truth. “Poetry,” Susan says, “is a rekindled love.” She wrote poetry during high school and college. She would teach grammar through poetry writing. Often, as she writes in her personal prayer journal, she will write poems. She never, however, had the courage to make any of the poems public. With great delight, the poems were welcomed and well received. Susan got a number of reassurance and support for them, including from other poets. She now posts a poem every Sunday – “my small way of praising Him.”

Susan, like other bloggers, will occasionally do a series. Currently she is doing a series on the Beatitudes. Susan says there are two reasons that went into her decision to do a series. “The first,” she says, “is because writing a series keeps me motivated, interested, and educated.” It gives her the opportunity to “dive more deeply into a small amount of Scripture,” and then share what she gleaned from that dive with others. “The second reason,” she says, “is that, as I’m editing Branches, I’m relooking at this living text called the Bible.” Susan says that each time she ponders on the Bible, “it seems to speak differently” to her. These new ponderings lead her into areas she may not have been ready to see previously in her life. “It’s an adventure,” she says, “and I love to follow each new path.”

The topics in the series are the same topics that are included in Branches. The first series was on the Fruit of the Spirits. The series after the Beatitudes will be The Twenty Third Psalm. Each series gives an opportunity to chew and digest small pieces of Scripture at a time.

I was curious to know who Susan reads. Every so often she will quote a Christian thinker and ponderer. When Susan first came to faith, she “soaked up Lee Strobel’s books.” She names her pillars as N. T. Wright, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster and Henry and Richard Blackaby. She also reads Max Lucado, Tullian Tchividjian, Jonathan Merrit, Francis Chan, Phyllis Tickle, David Platt, John Ortberg, Beth Moore, and Tim Keller. But that is just to name a few.

Blogging has its rewards. I wanted to know what the most rewarding part of Susan was from blogging.

The most rewarding part of blogging is the discovery of new things about Scripture from the most amazing blog writers. I have so much to learn as a new believer, yet just this week I was greatly comforted and inspired that I am not unlike all those other “new believers” in the first century – Mary and Martha, Priscilla and Lydia, Titus and Timothy – and I am humbled and enriched to be in such gracious company.

You can read Susan’s blog at susanirenefox.com and you can follow her on Twitter @susanirenefox.