The Gospel of Pinocchio

One story I loved as a kid was Pinocchio. For some odd reason I was thinking about this story today, and I started to wonder what the author’s original intentions were with the story. Wikipedia to the rescue!

The author, Carlo Lorenzini, writing in the 1880’s in Italy, did not seem to originally intend Pinocchio to be a story purely for children. Also, it seems he did not have the gospel in mind as he wrote it but rather wanted to promote the need for education and honest, hard work. But I see traces of the Story of God woven throughout this story.

The creation of Pinocchio is a surprising thing. He is made from an inanimate object (kind of like being made from dirt), but amazingly he is moving and talking and self-aware. And stinking naughty.

Right from the start, he acts the part of a brat and runs out on Geppetto, his creator and father. He gets himself in one jam after another. Geppetto sacrifices for Pinocchio, trusts him to make good choices, and eventually goes searching for his lost ‘prodigal’ son.

Pinocchio has begun to make better choices when he sees Geppetto out on the ocean searching for him and subsequently getting snatched up by a great fish. (I don’t understand why Geppetto would assume his wooden boy was lost at sea, but whatev.)

Then Pinocchio has one more major fumble. He goes with some boys from school to Toyland, an alluring, tempting place that turns him into a donkey. He is enslaved and eventually hits rock bottom in a literal sense when he is deemed worthless by his owner and drowned at sea.

The fish naturally eat the donkey flesh off of him, and he is now a wooden boy again. But then he is eaten by the same giant fish that took his father. Being in the belly of a great fish could be seen as an allusion to death to us folk who read the Bible, and so creator and created experience a type of death. Sound familiar?

They are resurrected in the sense that they escape from the fish. Then after some other events, Pinocchio becomes a real boy, and they all live happily ever after.

What I see in Pinocchio is the story between a father and his son. The story of a creator/father who loves his son quite unconditionally and recklessly, risking his very life to be reconciled to him.

I also see the story of a son who rejects a relationship with his father, is disobedient and defiant, choosing to find his way on his own. This son’s journey leads him from one disaster to the next, showing over and over that the son cannot stay out of trouble nor save himself.

The son comes to his senses, chooses the path of obedience, and becomes his father’s son. But what he most wants and needs is still out of his reach. His ultimate salvation is something that must be graciously bestowed upon him by another. His ultimate salvation is real life, becoming a real boy, a new creation. Not until this has happened can this story end.

Or to look at it another way: finally begin.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAeHPtHcZlI]

The Gospel According to “I Am Legend”

There are some movie clips that just resonate with me… if only this was one of them. Oh wait, it is.

If you’ve never seen I Am Legend, you should know this clip is a little intense and also reveals how the movie ends. Consider yourself forewarned. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dksz2R2DKfs]

If you had to pick the character in this scene you most identify with, who would it be? Will Smith’s character is Messiah-like, working diligently, risking everything, and ultimately sacrificing himself to save all that’s left of humanity. We want to emulate his heroism, but we probably identify more with the woman and child he gives the vial of blood to (did you catch him say, “The cure is in her blood”? Too cool.).

But that’s not who we are. If we take these scenes as a parable of the gospel story, then in this story we are the…

 

zombies.

 

I know it’s harsh, but the Bible’s harsh on us, too. Check it:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. (Romans 7:18)

The sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. (Romans 8:7)

When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. (Romans 5:10)

God loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Did you catch the good news in all of that? In case you missed it, here it is again, eerily similar to how the movie plays out:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. (Romans 5:6)

We were are wretched. Completely hideous. And wanting nothing to do with God. Actually preferring He was dead.

Yet God saw sees us as His beloved. Worthy of being saved. Worthy of the effort required to be restored and reconciled. In the eyes of the King of Kings, I’m worth it. You’re worth it.

Even in an apocalyptic zombie movie, that’s beautiful.

Magic Like A Lawnmower

Tonight I mowed my lawn. Although I didn’t finish the entire yard, this should be the last time I mow this year. I wasn’t mowing because my grass is long; I was mowing because it’s easier than raking.

It seems crazy to mow in the middle of November, but I still have a few leaves on a couple trees. Last year, our oak tree didn’t give up its last leaves until mid-March. Talk about your “bitter clingers.”

I noticed Micah watching me from the window, and I wondered if he wondered where the leaves were going as I mowed. I remembered when I was younger, I believe a year or two ago, watching someone mowing a yard full of leaves and staring in wide-eyed wonder as the leaves just disappeared.

It was magical.

Which got me to thinking about what ‘magical’ really is… simply something I don’t understand. It’s not necessarily truly magical, there could be a very simple, logical explanation behind it; but for whatever reason I just don’t get it, so to me it appears magical.

Which of course means our world is full of magic.

There is magic in how television, bluetooth, and satellite radio work; how Justin Bieber ever got so popular; and why bacon is so delicious. There are also magical mysteries in how I can sleep forever if I keep hitting my snooze button but if I don’t set my alarm at all I can’t sleep past 6:30; in how I can plan on being so productive and then discover that it’s past lunchtime and the interwebs have caught me once more in their snare; and in how the hair on my head has somehow migrated to my back.

Magic is around every corner. It is magical how the Red Sea was parted, and God’s people walked across on dry land. It is magical how three guys can walk in fire so hot it kills the bad guys who threw them in. It is magical that these three guys walk out of the fire completely unharmed, and their clothes don’t even smell like smoke! Have you ever been to a friendly neighborhood bonfire that didn’t leave you smelling like smoke?

It is magical how Jesus told a dead girl to get up. It is magical how in Jesus’ hands mud and spit restored the blind man’s sight. It is magical what Jesus did with five loaves and two fish.

And it is magical what Jesus did with my sins. It’s not something I totally understand, but I trust that when He said “It’s finished,” He meant it.

What’s magical in your world?

Eat the Fruit of THIS Tree

Adam and Eve had it good. Then they had to screw it all up. There was just one thing they couldn’t do, just one area that was off-limits, so you’d think they could have not messed it up for the rest of us, right? C’mon guys!

“Don’t eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Don’t do it,” God said. Have you ever wondered why God said that? Did He arbitrarily choose one tree out of the garden, or was there something potently dangerous about this tree?

(Speculative side-note: what if Satan actually planted this tree?)

God placed Adam and Eve on the earth to be his co-regents, to rule the earth while remaining under his rule. They did not originally have any knowledge of good and evil (this is my theory as to why they did not care that they were all nakey; there was not even a hint of shame in their self-awareness). They did not need the knowledge of good and evil; they simply needed to trust their King and obey Him in all things. Which does make things simpler and less stressful… remember the good ol’ days of a carefree childhood?

So their great disobedience was the intentional pursuit of discovering and choosing good and evil for themselves, spurning their Father and His rightful rule, commandeering His reign over their lives.

The sad truth is each of us is Adam… or Eve, if you’d prefer. Every man, woman, and child has stood before that tree, grabbed the fruit and defiantly devoured it, rejecting God’s reign over us, making ourselves kings/gods in our own eyes. We have all eaten of that tree.

But there is a second tree, and a second command to go with it.

We are also familiar with this tree. A sanitized version of it is one of the most popular religious symbols in the world, but there is nothing sanitary about this tree. It is a gruesome instrument of torture and execution.

The tree is the cross, and the command is to eat the fruit of this tree. What is the fruit that hangs from this tree? Jesus Messiah, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus commands those willing to live under His reign to “eat His flesh, and drink His blood.” Symbolically, by taking in the bread and the cup; literally, by fully taking in Jesus and His ways, placing Him in His rightful place as King of our lives.

The fruit of the first tree brought separation, exile, and death. The fruit of the second tree brings reunion, restoration, and life.

The first tree gave us intimate knowledge of good and evil, something too potent for us to handle, bringing chaos and collapse into our lives and rippling throughout all of creation.

The second tree gives us the opportunity for a different kind of knowledge: an intimate knowing of King Jesus… discovering the power of His resurrection, joining Him by sharing in His sufferings, somehow becoming like Him in His death, someday attaining resurrection through Him, and living victoriously with Him forever.

Eat the fruit of THIS tree.

Bizarre Religious Practices

Some religions have crazy weird practices. In one religion, people hook someone up to an electronic device, ask various questions and track the meter’s movement to discover the person’s spiritual aptitude. What if your aptitude is off the charts, but you’re just not a good test taker?

In another religion, a live chicken’s head is twisted around three times, which naturally results in the twister’s sins being transferred to the twistee. Naturally.

Perhaps weirdest of all, and terrifying to think about, is the practice of dropping a one or two-year old child 50 feet off of a building to men below who catch the child in a sheet. This practice is believed to make the child smarter, healthier, and braver. I believe it’s an evil conspiracy thought up by therapists to ensure they have a steady stream of patients as these children grow up!

There are religious practices that make us scratch our heads, and yet, Christianity has some head-scratching issues of its own.

One area that has me scratching my head is how we preach the gospel and get people saved. There are three things in particular I take issue with:

1) Once we’ve persuaded people to “accept Jesus,” we tell them to “repeat this prayer after me.”

We’ve reduced the greatest and most mysterious transaction on planet Earth down to a simple prayer that is repeated once. We’ve reduced the very reason we were created (something you might assume would radically reshape everything about the rest of our lives) down to a one-time prayer that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with this life but will sure give us some nice benefits once eternity gets started.

We’ve reduced being a Christian down to making a one-time decision rather than being a lifelong follower of Jesus.

2) Asking everyone to close their eyes so that new believers can safely and discreetly admit to their decision. 

This reminds me of one of my favorite youth group games… Mafia.

Mafia is one of the best games for Christian young people because it promotes killing. And then lying about it.

The key to a successful game is making sure everyone keeps their identities top-secret. Nothing ruins a game quicker than someone peeking around the room when everyone except the Mafia are supposed to have their eyes closed.

But how is being secretive about your new identity in Christ a good thing? “We’re glad you’ve made the most important decision of your life… and don’t worry, we’ll keep it our little secret!” For some reason I can’t picture the Apostle Paul doing this with new converts. For one thing it’s bad for marketing, and for another the Christian life is to be lived in community for St. Pete’s sake!

Right out of the gate, we’re indirectly communicating the idea that this Christian thing is something to be ashamed of.

3) Using the phrase “accept Jesus” to describe what we do to get saved.

Upon close inspection, this phrase seems backwards and subliminally reinforces the idea that God’s plan of salvation is all about us. I would argue that it’s all about Him.

If you had the opportunity to share a meal with the one person alive you most admire, whether that’s Chuck Norris, Joe Biden, or Justin Bieber, what would you say to them before the meal? “I’ve given this some serious thought, and I suppose it’s alright for you to spend some time with ME. I am willing to accept your invitation to have lunch with you. I accept you.”

(Personally, I can’t imagine myself saying that to Chuck Norris. He’d break me in half and have me for lunch.)

Of course you wouldn’t say that. You probably wouldn’t say anything coherent at all; you’d be mumbling nonsense words because you get to have lunch with your man-crush.

If we really believe Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that one day every knee will bow before Him, how can we have the audacity to say to Him, “I accept you”?

Which brings me to my last point: regarding getting saved (and every day afterwards), do we recognize who Jesus is or do we just focus on what He’s doing for us (in other words, are we obsessed with Him or ourselves)? Do we recognize Jesus as King Jesus? Do we relate to Him as would be fitting for a King?

I can think of a few stories in which the royal person, a king or a princess or a prince, is disguised and out among the common people. And then the point comes when their true identity is revealed. They are recognized for who they are… And everything changes.

Do I recognize Jesus as my King? Do you? Or is He just our Savior?

Pure Speculation

When God questioned Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit, what do you think might have happened if instead of pointing the finger, they had ‘fessed up and repented? Could things have turned out differently?

Alas, we’ll never know. Just some pure speculation.

The Apostolic Gospel Tradition

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
he was buried,
he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
and he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5

A Corporate Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a promising start-up company. The CEO of this company was looking for investors, and a few people came forward who were willing to buy in. Nine months later the CEO asked for more investors, and several new people responded.

A year and a half later the company’s market value had skyrocketed, and the CEO wanted to expand again and asked for another round of investors. This time the CEO raised the needed capital so easily he actually had to turn some potential investors away.

Ten years later, the CEO called a business meeting of all the company’s investors. A couple hundred men and women from all across the country traveled to their common destination, wondering what this meeting was all about.

“This will come as quite a shock to many of you, but in three weeks our company will be absorbed into a large multi-corporation,” the CEO shared with the room of investors. “We are selling the company. We accomplished what we set out to do from the beginning, and our top analysts agree that in a few years there will be much less demand for the services we provide. In addition to that, our current market value has never been higher, and the board has decided it’s the right time to sell.”

“I want to thank you all for believing in us, some of you from the very outset, and I am extremely excited to tell you what I have decided to do when the board sells off our stocks: each and every investor will receive one billion dollars.”

Gasps and murmurs rippled through the crowd. There were mixed reactions. Most were speechless; their investment had not been that large, and they never imagined they could be billionaires. Others seemed confused, and a handful seemed upset.

One man stood up and addressed the CEO: “Hold on a second, I was one of your first investors. The risk I took was way bigger than those investors in the third wave. It’s not fair that they get the same as me. I deserve more.”

A woman near the man also stood and said, “With all due respect, I know I was one of your biggest backers. Why, I gave one-thousand percent more than some of these people! To only be getting one billion after twelve years of waiting… it’s not ethical. And I’m fairly certain it’s not legal. You’ll be hearing from my lawyers.”

“Please wait just a minute,” the CEO calmly said. “This might not seem ethical, but I assure you it is legal. The papers each of you signed when you made your investment had a clause clearly stating that I alone would have full discretion as to the parameters of paying back my investors. The only stipulation was you would receive back at least double your original investment, and I assure you that is the case for each of you.”

“It is fair. Who are you to say you deserve more and another deserves less? Do not forget, this has always been my company. The money you are receiving is due to my hard work, my ideas, my risks; there would be no payday if it was not for me.”

And so, many who felt like they themselves had given so much, were disappointed to only get back what they deemed little; while those who knew they had only given little, were overwhelmed with joy to be receiving so much.

(Based off of Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard Workers, Matthew 20:1-16)

What do you think is the point of the story?

Do you ever find yourself comparing your Christian service and devotion to others’ and looking down on them?

Do you ever catch yourself acting like you deserve the blessings and grace of God?
Why do you think we can be like that?

What does Jesus mean when he says, “those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last”?

The 3 Most Important Words in the Bible

I recognize that the title of this post is bold, and it is somewhat silly to say I definitively know the three most important words in the entire Bible. I recognize there should be an addendum to this title, like ‘IMHO.’

So, in my humble opinion, let me offer what I see as the three most important words in the Bible…

“It is finished.”

The phrase itself is a highly significant one. It’s a statement you might make after wrapping up a term paper, or a major project; or words you quietly utter with relief at the conclusion of an incredibly awkward conversation; or something your Mom might have said at Thanksgiving when the turkey was finally done and it was time to eat.

It is even more significant because of who is saying it. Think about it like this: replay your favorite tough guy movies and their corresponding famous movie lines. Picture John Wayne with his slow drawl, saying, “Go ahead. Make my day.” Clint Eastwood, his hand hovering over his holster, “Ask yourself, do you feel lucky?” The Terminator peering over his 80s sunglasses warning, “I’ll be back.”

Those guys made their lines credible. Try to imagine Pee Wee Herman or Justin Bieber saying, “I’ll be back.” It just doesn’t work. It’s not believable. Sometimes the person speaking is more important than the words being said; the person, by virtue of who they are, gives what’s being said greater gravitas.

But what I believe makes these the most important words in the Bible is not only the words themselves or who said them, but the circumstances in which these words are spoken.

Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man who left heaven and lived a sinless life on earth, is being crucified by his creation. He has gone to the cross willingly, knowing this is part of God the Father’s plan to reconcile humankind to himself. He is taking upon himself the sins of the world, becoming as it were a liar, thief, adulterer, rapist, and murderer. As one theologian put it, “On the cross Jesus became everything that’s bad about us, so we could become everything that’s good about him.”

Right before he dies, he breathes out these words, “It is finished.”

It’s finished. It’s taken care of. You can’t do anything because everything’s already been done for you. But can you believe that?

Can you believe in the finality and totality of Christ’s work on the cross on your behalf? Even when you want to earn it or at least play some small role in getting it, can you just believe? Even when you keep sinning and don’t seem to be progressing, can you still believe?

It. Is. Finished.

Those three words changed the world. They’re still changing the world.

How have they changed your life?

Lessons with Luther

Sometimes it’s good to listen to dead white guys. Such is the case regarding these words on grace and justification from Martin Luther, posted yesterday at Mockingbird. This is an excerpt of Luther’s commentary on Galatians; here he is expounding on the third verse of chapter one:

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The terms of grace and peace are common terms with Paul and are now pretty well understood. But since we are explaining this epistle, you will not mind if we repeat what we have so often explained elsewhere. The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.
The greeting of the Apostle is refreshing. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt.
Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God. The world brands this a pernicious doctrine. The world advances free will, the rational and natural approach of good works, as the means of obtaining the forgiveness of sin. But it is impossible to gain peace of conscience by the methods and means of the world. Experience proves this. Various holy orders have been launched for the purpose of securing peace of conscience through religious exercises, but they proved failures because such devices only increase doubt and despair.
We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace.

It was true then, and it’s no less true today. Rest in the truth of grace today.