One of the more interesting concepts I’ve seen on the big screen in the past few years was a movie released in 2010 called Inception. The film was directed by Christopher Nolan and starred Leonardo DiCaprio as a professional thief named Dominick “Dom” Cobb, an “extractor”, who performs corporate espionage by infiltrating a target’s subconscious and stealing valuable information from their mind while they are in the midst of a shared dream world. Going into a person’s mind and stealing thoughts is difficult, but Cobb is tasked with doing something even more challenging. He’s asked to go into a person’s mind and “plant” a thought (inception) that will ultimately cause the person to make certain decisions when they come back into the real world. Cobb’s assignment is to break up the energy conglomerate of an ailing competitor named Maurice Fischer by convincing Fischer’s son and heir, Robert, to dissolve his father’s company after his death. Through an elaborate sequence of events, Cobb infiltrates the son’s subconscious where he shows him a fake message from his father telling him to “be his own man.” This thought puts a series of things into motion. Thought planted. Course set. Damage done. The movie gives you the distinct impression that this one thought is now going to cause Robert to make the catastrophic decision to break up his father’s energy company and do things his own way. One thought planted…so genuine…so noble…so personal…so believable, yet so defective. As I watched the movie unfold I couldn’t help but think about the passage of scripture in II Corinthians 10:3-5 where the apostle Paul instructs us, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Paul tells us to take captive every thought because thoughts have power and thoughts have consequences.
So what voices are you listening to? What is your primary voice? In our culture today there are a vast array of voices we can listen to. We can listen to the voices of entertainment, we can listen to the voices of media, we can listen to the voices of peers, we can even listen to the voices of those claiming to be Christian or religious who want us to see and understand a better, more evolved way or we can listen to the voice of God through his word and through his Holy Spirit.
Over the past month we’ve been going through the book of I John as a church to see what the apostle John has to say to us about this subject because we, too, live in a day when it’s hard to know what is true and what isn’t. As a matter of fact, the Oxford dictionary named their 2016 new word of the year post-truth because truth is no longer as important to any narrative as to how you emotionally feel about a subject. So back to John. He is near the end of his life and is living in the city of Ephesus (modern day Turkey) when he gets word of some “inception” trying to take place among the churches of the region. It appears as if some false teachers were introducing wrong ideas about who Jesus is, what He has done, and what it means to authentically be in a relationship with Him. He writes to these churches to help them know the true from the false so they can be grounded in their faith.
This past weekend we looked at John’s words in I John 4:1-6, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” There it is. John says there are many different voices in the world and the one’s we choose to listen to are critical. I’m sure Robert Fischer wished he never would have acted upon the planted information.
Think about it for a minute as we go back to how the original inception or shall I say “deception” took place. In the first two chapters of Genesis we see God creating the world and everything was good. But then in chapter three we see an “extractor” introduced into the story (a different voice) and the serpent begins to introduce new ideas to Adam and Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ You will not surely die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The thing that is interesting about this original encounter is how the enemy engages Adam and Eve. It’s the same way he was engaging people in John’s time and the same way he’s engaging people today–deception. What he said sounded reasonable, it sounded logical, it sounded like it had their best interest at heart, it sounded freeing and empowering, it sounded beneficial, it sounded convincing, it sounded enlightened, it sounded right, but it wasn’t. All it brought to Adam and Eve and the world was death and bondage and confusion and chaos. As I studied this passage of scripture this week I was amazed at how many times in the New Testament we are warned about false voices. Galatians 1:6-7 says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” II Peter 2:1-3 says, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.” Romans 16:17-18 says, “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” And finally II Corinthians 11:3-4 says, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you received, you put up with it easily enough.”
As I simultaneously read these passages of scripture I watched a video of Louis Farrakhan, from the Nation of Islam, talking to a Baptist church letting them know that Jesus was a Muslim, that he (Farrakhan) personally was both a Christian and a Muslim, and that Muhammad was actually Jesus. I listened to him twist scripture and watched as the audience stood and applauded him for his wisdom and insight. Inception. I watched a video of Oprah Winfrey as she talked about how you don’t need Jesus to have a relationship with God. That you can have incredible spirituality without Jesus. That there are millions of ways to find God. I watched then as Christian pastors agreed with her that you don’t need Jesus to have a relationship with God. Inception. And lastly, I read article after article of people who have left the Christian faith over the last few years because of a thought or comment that got implanted in their mind and spirit at some point in their journey. “You know, I just can’t believe in a God anymore who….(you fill in the blank). Inception. They wake up one day never realizing who it was that planted the thought. As the inception team casually leaves the scene undetected they get up and begin to break up their father’s company fully believing they are doing the right thing.
I hope everyone had a great Father’s Day! I know I did as I’ve been blessed with a wonderful father, stepfather, and father-in-law. I’ve also been blessed with an absolutely amazing wife, two wonderful mothers, and four wonderful children. I know, however, this is not the case for everyone. Not everyone in the world today has been fortunate enough to have a great father, or in many cases, any father at all. For many, Father’s Day can bring more pain and unsettling than celebration. This past Sunday I talked about the power of fathers and illustrated the sermon from one of my favorite movies, Saving Mr. Banks. The movie persuasively communicates the power fathers have to define us, and ultimately, how we can finish our stories differently and not be trapped in the prison of unforgiveness and pain that life invariably brings.
First let me give you a little background on the story of Saving Mr. Banks. One of the top films of 2013, it starred Academy Award winning actor Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as renowned author P.L. Travers. For twenty years, Walt Disney had tried unsuccessfully to secure the film rights to Traver’s Mary Poppinsstories, having promised his daughters that he would produce a film based on them. Finally, in 1961, the financially strapped author reluctantly agrees to travel from her home in London to Los Angeles to collaborate with Disney on the project. Her working relationship with Disney and his team is puzzlingly difficult and contentious from the beginning. As Disney says to Travers at one point in the film, “You expected me to disappoint you so you made sure I did. I think life disappoints you Ms. Travers.” Nothing could be closer to the truth as we’ll soon find out.
Travers particularly objects to how one of the main characters George Banks, the estranged father of the children, is depicted in the script insisting that he is neither cruel nor cold. Gradually the team begins to grasp how deeply personal the Mary Poppins stories are to Ms. Travers and how many of the characters were inspired by her own heart-breaking childhood and disappointing relationship with her father, Travers Goff, who tragically died as a result of his alcoholism at age 42. Travers soon discovers that Walt Disney intends to break his promise to her and use animation in the film, something she vehemently opposes as she thinks this trivializes the story. This sets her over the edge and she confronts Disney and then returns home to London calling off the project. To her surprise Walt Disney shows up at her home later that night asking to have one final conversation with her.
In one of the richest scenes in any movie I’ve seen, Walt Disney tells Ms. Travers that he too has his own Mr. Banks to save, only his had a mustache. In a moment of deep vulnerability and transparency he shares about his own painful past with his father Elias Disney who owned a newspaper delivery route that employed a young Walt and his brother Roy. Both boys had to work during the cold winters in Kansas City, Missouri, delivering one thousand papers in the morning and again in the evening. When Walt didn’t live up to his father’s standards, he would get beaten. Walt conveys that he loves his father but has many days where he looks back and is unable to move beyond the pain and hurt of that part of his life. “Rare is the day when I don’t think about that 8-year-old boy delivering newspapers in the snow and old Elias Disney with that strap in his fist and I’m just so tired Ms. Travers. Tired of remembering it that way. Aren’t you tired too Ms. Travers? We all have our sad tales, but don’t you want to finish the story differently, to let it all go and not have a life dictated by the past? It’s not the children Mary Poppins comes to save, it’s the father, it’s your father Travers Goff.” Disney goes on to paint a different picture for P.L. Travers, one where her father and the past are redeemed. Listen to what he says, “Forgiveness Ms. Travers is what I learned from your books. Give her to me Ms. Travers. Trust me with your precious Mary Poppins. I won’t disappoint you. I swear every time a person walks into a movie house they will see George Banks being saved. They will love him and his kids, they will wring their hands when he loses his job, and when he flies that kite…Oh, they will rejoice, they will sing! In movie houses all over the world in the eyes of my kids and other kids, of mothers and fathers of generations to come, George Banks will be honored, George Banks will be redeemed, George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. This is what we storytellers do, we restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”
Finish the story differently. Instill hope again and again and again. What a powerful concept. Walt Disney was able to do it. He was able to move beyond the painful circumstances of his life and not let it imprison him and define him. He wrote a different story. Isn’t this the gospel message in a nutshell? The original father Adam messed up and brought brokenness into his family and every family since. From that time forward every father has failed in one way or another. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be the final statement. We have a heavenly father who loves us passionately and perfectly who can come in and redeem every situation, redeem every failure, and redeem every relationship! Walt Disney had a gift to bring hope through storytelling but God has the ultimate story and the ultimate ability to bring hope and redemption. Because of who God is and what He has done in and through His son, Jesus, we can finish our stories differently! Hallelujah!
Meditate on these powerful verses of scripture in Galatians 4:1-7, “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
Praise God that He allows us to write a different story. Love and appreciate all of you!
Introduced in 1977, the original Star Wars movie quickly acquainted us with a young man by the name of Luke Skywalker. If you remember that first movie, and somehow I believe you do, Luke was living on a moisture farm on the planet Tatooine with his uncle Owen and Aunt Beru when his life suddenly took a dramatic turn. Luke encounters two droids named C-3PO and R2-D2 but is not immediately aware of how they are going to change the course of his life. When R2-D2 goes missing Luke sets out to find him and encounters an old hermit by the name of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke soon discovers that R2-D2 contains an important message from Princess Leia Organa of Alderann asking Obi-Wan to help her defeat the evil Galactic Empire. In a defining exchange Obi-Wan asks for Luke’s help and Luke rejects the offer. You can almost here Luke saying, “Nah, that’s OK. Life is pretty good here on the farm and your deal seems kind of, well, complicated. But hey, thanks for the offer and good luck saving the universe.” What Luke didn’t realize was there was more for him than just leading a quiet life of survival. He was called to so much more but he was also going to have to be willing to leave what was comfortable.
Sound familiar? It does to me. It seems very similar to stories I’ve read in the Bible where ordinary men and women encounter God and he essentially says to them, “I have more for your life. Follow me and watch what happens.” Think about it. God encounters a man named Abraham in the book of Genesis and says, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them. So shall your descendants be.” In other words,Abraham, I have so much more for you than you realize. Follow me. God later encounters a young man named Jacob in Genesis 28 and says something like this, “I have more for you despite your checkered past.” Really God? It’s pretty messy. He encourages a man named Joseph who had been betrayed and sold into slavery by his own brothers and says, “I have more for you beyond these painful circumstances. Just wait and see.” He speaks to a king named David and says, “I have more for you and your family than you could ever imagine. Trust me, it’s big!” Each of them; however, had to trust God and leave what was comfortable in order to experience the more God had for them. And so will we if we want to experience the more God has for us.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been exploring this God of MORE and have asked the question–could God have more for us? Could God have more for you? Do you think God could have more for you even after your greatest successes? Probably. Do you think God could have more for you even after your greatest failures? Yep. Do you think God could have more for you despite your flaws and weaknesses? Most definitely. Do you think God could have more for you even though you might think you are too young, too old, too…you fill in the blank? Yes! I really believe he does because he’s the God of more. We never come to the end of him. Look at how Paul describes God in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
Ok, you’ve convinced me, I believe that God could have more for me. So how do I receive more from the Lord? I believe there are four keys in scripture (FYI-these are not exhaustive nor is it a formula):
1. Are you thirsty for more of God? Look at what Jesus said in John 7:37-38, “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.'” When we are consumed with anything, and specifically the things of the world, we aren’t thirsty for God.
2. Prioritize your relationship with God. In Luke 18:18-25 we see a rich, young ruler encountering Jesus. He had a desire for more but was unwilling to let go of some things in his life like his wealth, lifestyle, and position. At the end of the exchange, Jesus says something profound to his disciples in verses 29-30, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brother or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” Our relationship with God is the most important relationship we have.
3. Ask God for more. Look at what Jesus said in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
4. Be willing to take small steps of faith. Many times in life the seemingly small, insignificant decisions can set the course for our lives. I love what famous artist Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
So what are the small steps you are possibly being asked to take that could bring you into more of God and his purposes? Maybe for you it’s just taking the small step of reading God’s word and asking him for understanding? Maybe it’s taking a step of faith and attending a Bible study or church service? Maybe it’s taking a step of faith to reach out to someone, start a conversation, and reconcile with them? Maybe it’s being willing to share your faith with a person God has been stirring your heart for? I don’t know what your more is or the steps that God is urging you to take. I do know that he is the God of more and he does have more for you. Just as Luke could not have realized the more he would experience by ultimately making the decision to follow Obi-Wan and jumping on a ship called the Millennium Falcon with two unknown characters named Han Solo and Chewbacca, we too will never know the new things God has for us if we aren’t willing to take small steps of faith.
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