Why I enjoyed Exodus: Gods and Kings

exodus-poster-1Last week, I went to see Exodus: Gods and Kings. I remember first seeing the trailer for it a few months ago and being instantly intrigued and interested. I rarely ever go see movies in theaters, but I knew I wanted to watch this one. And I’m really glad I did. In fact, I really enjoyed it.

Of course, because Exodus is a retelling of a Bible story and because two other huge films have already been made on the same story (Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments in 1956 and the 1998 DreamWorks film The Prince of Egypt), Exodus has been scrutinized from the very beginning. Especially in the Christian community, people were concerned that director Ridley Scott would take way too many creative liberties with the plot and characters.

Well, Ridley Scott certainly took creative liberties. Even more than the creators of The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt. In fact, Exodus really only followed the main pillars of the Biblical plot: the Israelites in slavery, Moses being called by God to deliver them, the ten plagues, the parting/crossing of the Red Sea. Many of the details were completely different from what we attribute to the real story in the book of Exodus.

But despite all of this, I enjoyed watching the film. I’m really glad I went. Here’s why:

Exodus: Gods and Kings made me think. It presented a story I’ve known all of my life from a completely different perspective. And while this perspective was inaccurate in many respects, it caused me to reconsider my preconceived notions of the Bible that I’ve developed which may not be as true as I once thought they were.

For example, Ridley Scott chose to portray God in the form of an eleven-year-old boy with a very questionable personality. I found this portrayal to be strange and concerning, but it made me deeply consider my view of God. When it comes to Biblical stories like the exodus, I think we tend to see God as a disembodied, deep booming voice without much depth to His character. So seeing God depicted in a totally opposite manner was good for me. It was a good reminder to me that God is so much deeper than we often make Him out to be.

The storyline of Exodus also includes an enormous number of details that are nowhere to be found in the Biblical story. But that made me realize: we don’t know a bunch of the details. In fact, many of the details that we do treat as Biblical fact aren’t that at all. Just as Ridley Scott filled in the holes with his ideas for the plot, so do we Christians. If you go back and read the story in the Bible, you might be surprised to find what isn’t in the story that we all assume is fact. Watching Exodus helped me to think about the human element of the story of the exodus, something I think we often forget. It provided human plot details that may or may not have been true. But either way, it made me think.

exodus-wave-posterSomething I very much appreciated about Exodus was that I never got the impression that this film was an attempt to discredit the Biblical account. Sure, it took a lot of liberties, some of which were not accurate. And yes, it did try to naturalize some of the plagues. And I did disagree with how the parting of the Red Sea was depicted. But through all of that, I never felt as if the creators were attacking the Bible story. In fact, I appreciated and respected the creativity and thought put into the film by Ridley Scott and everyone else.

Ridley Scott is a self-described atheist. But he doesn’t attack the Bible. In fact, throughout the film, despite the inaccuracies, I see respect for the original story. And that is remarkable. I think it’s neat that an “avowed atheist” would create a film of such depth based on the Bible.

After I saw the film, I was asked if I’d recommend it to anyone to see. And I had to stop and think before answering. My answer was this: If you’re looking to watch a Bible story on film, then don’t see Exodus. But if you’re looking to be challenged and to think, then by all means do so. If you enjoy movies of depth that leave you pondering and reflective, then this is the movie for you. And even if you don’t enjoy the story, the cinematography is phenomenal. I almost think it alone was worth my ticket.

I very much enjoyed seeing Exodus: Gods and Kings. It wasn’t what I expected. But it was good. It made me think hard about a lot of elements in the story. So to Ridley Scott, I say well done. I very much respect your work. Thank you for not attacking the Bible, but helping me be intentional about what I do believe.

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More than just a food quote

S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, passed away today. In light of this, I thought it’d be appropriate to take a look at one of his guiding principles. You can find this quote from Cathy in every Chick-fil-A restaurant:

“Food is essential to life, therefore make it good.”

This is one of my favorite quotes, but not just because it’s about food. This quote is more than simply a cooking philosophy; it’s a life philosophy. The idea behind this quote is that we should focus on what we can give people, not what we can get from people. Many businesses have the practice of identifying a need and then making as much profit from it as possible. Something like, “food is essential to life, therefore make as much money as possible from it.”

Now, I’m not saying making money is bad. But imagine just how different our world would be if monetary gain wasn’t the primary goal. What if the goal was to bless others? What if the goal was to make the world a more enjoyable place to live in?

This philosophy has made quite an impact in the fast food industry. Chick-fil-A stores are noticeably different from all other fast food restaurants. And people love it. Normally, when I go to a fast food restaurant, it’s because I need food not because I enjoy going to fast food restaurants. Chick-fil-A is the only exception.

I’ve made this quote from S. Truett Cathy one of my life principles. My goal is to view life through the lens of giving, not getting. I want to love life, not just live life. Cathy wanted food to be more than just fuel for the body, but something to be enjoyed. I want to live that principle out in every aspect of my life. For example, I don’t want to be employed merely so I can make money (although that’s a good goal also). I want to be employed because I love what I do and I know I’m making the world better for others through what I do.

Basically, this philosophy can be summed up like this:

People before things. Others before yourself.

That’s it. People before things. Others before yourself. That kind of philosophy can change the world. S. Truett Cathy did in fast food. How can we do it where God has placed us?

Image courtesy of thecreativepaige.com

Image courtesy of thecreativepaige.com

Let YOUR light shine

In Galatians 2:20, Paul says this: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” Through the blood and the cross of Jesus, our very being, our identity, is intrinsically linked to God. Romans 8:16-17 puts it this way, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” At the surface, this is incredible. And when we dig even deeper into understanding our identity in Christ, it is overwhelming and empowering. Being a Christian isn’t simply about getting right with God. God has made us a part of furthering His kingdom. He has created each of us the way we are for a purpose.

lightbulbRecently, I was thinking about Matthew 5:14-16, where Jesus talks about us being the light of the world. And I noticed something I’d never thought about before. In verse sixteen, He says, to let your light shine before men. And I got to thinking about what that really means, specifically the phrase “your light.” I believe that Jesus here is commanding us not only to bring glory to God, but He’s also implying something deeper. And that is that each of us have a different kind of light. He didn’t tell us to let God’s light shine, but rather our own light. I think this is a reference to our own identity. Each of us are special. Our identity is part of our light. The idea here is that each of us brings God glory and furthers His kingdom in our own special way. God’s work for each of us will be different. But it all matters. Think about your personality, your ideas, your passions, your dreams, your talents, and your gifts. All of that was given to you by God. All of that is your light. Jesus is telling us to let ourselves, who we are, our very identity, be what points others to God. So letting our light shine doesn’t only mean sharing the gospel. It also means honing our talents. Pursing our dreams. Developing our gifts. Embracing who God has created us to be and striving to become that in the best way we can. That is what it means to let our light shine. Because that is when God is glorified – when we use what He has given us to its fullest potential.

Now, how do we achieve this practically? I know for me this is a kind of radical concept that goes against the current of much of what I’ve believed for so long. Here are a few ways we can begin to incorporate this lifestyle into our lives. First, identify your gifts and interests. Are you gifted in biology? Or music? Or acting? Or accounting? Or pastoring? Next, identity what you’re passionate about, what your dream is – what it is that fires you up. Maybe it’s working with kids. Or maybe it’s equipping your fellow believers. Maybe it’s studying and learning more about the world around you. And then find where your gifts and your passions intersect. And then pursue that. As long as you are seeking God’s wisdom and counsel along the way and letting Him direct your thoughts, you can’t go wrong. That intersection is how you can let your light shine.

Is this easy? No. But that’s okay. Because your identity also tells you that God has empowered you to rise to the occasion, to be the person He created you to be. It might be hard, but it’ll be worth.

God created you for a purpose. He created you the way you are for a purpose. He gave you your gifts and talents for a purpose. He gave you your dreams and passions for a purpose. So use them. Puruse your dreams. Develop your gifts. Because through that, you are furthering Christ’s kingdom. Let your light shine!

A Day Worth Celebrating

It’s the 4th of July. Independence Day! The most important day in the history of our nation! But I often feel very conflicted when national holidays like this come around. For me, I get very disillusioned with the concept of celebrating a nation that seems so incredible today, but is broken and full of problems on every other day of the year.

This morning, I saw a friend post on Facebook wishing everyone a happy 4th of July. I had woken up with this disconnect and frustration, but this simple Facebook post got me to thinking. Is today a day worth celebrating? And as I thought, I realized that it most certainly is!

Stop and think for a minute about this country we live in, the United States of America. Sure, there is plenty of room for improvement. But put that to the side that for a moment. Let’s talk about what makes this country great.

  • Freedom of religion press, speech, assembly, etc. This is big. I don’t believe that any other country supports and defends these freedoms and rights to the extent that we do. And the best part is that we can effectively speak out when we believe these freedoms are being infringed on.
  • Opportunity. The U.S. is gold when it comes to opportunity. Social mobility is very achievable in the U.S. With a lot of hard work and the right attitude, you can become basically anything you want in the United States. This is not the case in many other countries.
  • Equality. The U.S. has achieved greater social equality than probably any other country in the world. As Dinesh D’Souza puts it, “The American janitor or waiter sees himself as performing a service, but he doesn’t see himself as inferior to those he serves. And neither do his customers see him that way: They are generally happy to show him respect and appreciation on a plane of equality. America is the only country in the world where we call the waiter ‘Sir,’ as if he were a knight.”
  • Stable political system. Political elections in the U.S. don’t cause riots, unrest, or a big mess, unlike many countries around the world. The fact that an exchange of authority and power can occur so smoothly is a huge blessing.

I could expand on each of these a lot. But I think this illustrates my point. In spite of its faults, the United States of America truly is an exceptional nation, one that we should not take for granted. There is no other country I would want to make my permanent residence.

Is there room for improvement? Oh yes. Is everything in the U.S. perfect? Oh no. Are there wrongs to be made right and abuses to curb? Absolutely. But let’s not forget that the benefits of this nation that we enjoy as commonplace are no small feat. Let’s not take this nation for granted.

Take some time and read the Declaration of Independence. It’s a really cool document that will make you appreciate this country even more. We are truly blessed by God to live in the United States of America. Happy 4th of July everyone!

When it snows…

Snow

I am really ready for winter to be over. I’m ready for spring and warm weather and no more snow! So, you can imagine my reaction a couple days ago when I discovered that the forecast included a decent amount of snow. Right now, I can look out the window and see a good 8-9 inches already on the ground and the snow is still falling.

You could expect my attitude to be a little negative. But actually, I surprised myself this morning when I looked out the window and didn’t find myself frustrated with the snow and disappointed because of the cold weather. Instead, I saw beauty in the snow on the ground and covering the trees. And I was kind of glad it had snowed after all.

To be perfectly honest, this sort of surprised me. I started thinking about why my attitude toward the weather had changed. I realized the reason was because my perspective had shifted.

I know it’s easy for me to desire a certain set of circumstances for my life. It could be the weather, or my plan for the week, or something regarding the people I’m with. And when life doesn’t match those circumstances, I immediately assume that’s a bad thing. In this case, I had wanted the weather to be one way, and it went the opposite. But that didn’t have to define my attitude. I may not have control over my circumstances, but I do have control over what I do with my circumstances and how I view them. In this case, I was able to appreciate my circumstances and enjoy the weather even though it wasn’t what I might have wanted or thought was “best.”

How I look at life will, in many ways, actually define my life. If I choose to be negative when things don’t go my way, then my life will be pretty negative overall. If, on the other hand, I choose to shift my perspective as my circumstances change, I can learn to work with my circumstances and appreciate them for what they are and not get frustrated because of what they are not. Instead of comparing the weather to what to I want it to be, I can instead view it for what it is – a beautiful testimony of God’s creativity.

And next time it might not be something as small as the weather. What will I do when life hands me something unexpected or unwanted? My perspective and my attitude are completely up to me.

It sure is neat how something as small as snow can teach me something that big.

Absence

Darkness. Despair. Silence. Death.

Each of these are not things; they are the absence of a thing. Darkness is the absence of light. Despair is the absence of hope. Silence is the absence of sound. Death is the absence of life.

But would we know that light existed except that it sometimes does not exist? If there was no darkness, would we even notice light? If we never were in despair, would we ever know that hope existed? Too often appreciation only comes after a thing has been taken away. We don’t realize how important it is to us until it’s gone.

Is that the way it should be? What if we didn’t take the things in our life for granted? What if we didn’t wait to appreciate the small things in life until we noticed they were gone? What if we chose to open our eyes and see what we haven’t noticed?

It’s not easy. It might even seem silly. Appreciating the things in life that are always around, the mundane, the small, the seemingly insignificant. It could appear quite odd. If we’d never experienced silence, why would we appreciate sound?  But it’s not silly. We find out just how important something is once it’s gone. But do we want to wait? Celebrate life before death, not just after. Appreciate the people in your life while they’re still here; don’t wait until they’re gone.

We probably won’t ever truly understand the value of some things in life until they’re taken away from us. But we can at least try. We can be intentional about living life with thankfulness and with eyes open. We can choose to not take things for granted.

How would this change the way we live? We’d be more thankful. We’d live with more wonder in our eyes. We wouldn’t waste opportunities. We would be more careful with our resources. But I think the biggest change is that our relationships with people would change. We’d be more patient. We’d love more. We’d care more.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder. But why wait for absence?

Don’t wait. Don’t let absence be the reason you appreciate. Appreciate because it’s here. Even if you haven’t noticed it yet.

Just Because I Can

head buttNo one likes to argue. No one likes conflict. Or at least that’s what we think. That’s what we tell ourselves. But it’s not true. In fact, often we feed on conflict. We like to argue. We like going contrary to everyone else. Why?

God has created humans in an incredible way. We are complex, full of emotion and depth that I don’t believe anyone will ever completely understand. And one of those characteristics is our rebellious side. Yes, we all have one. Even the most compliant person has a part of them that wants to resist. Rebellion makes us feel independent and strong. We’re standing against something. And in some ways, that’s really good. If that rebellious nature is channeled right, it can make us stronger and better people.

Unfortunately, there’s a downside of our rebellious side. When we find that we have the strength and gut to be contrary to others, we then start exercising that just because we can. We feel good being different and strong and independent, so we want more.

Now, this is different from a good healthy critical mind. It’s really important that we are careful about what we believe and what we think. But sadly what can happen is we can move from healthy critical thinking to always looking for a bone to pick. This has happened to me. At times I’ve found myself intentionally looking for problems in what others are saying not because I want to be cautious in what I believe and not because I want to have an intelligent conversation with them, but instead just because I want to find something wrong just so I can be a little rebellious. I want to argue just because I can.

We express this tendency in many different situations. It may be in a dinner time conversation. Maybe a text. Maybe it’s Facebook. In fact, today I was tempted to respond to a Facebook post I disagreed with. But I didn’t. And part of the reason was because I knew that deep down I just wanted to disagree because I could. It wasn’t really because I wanted to engage in a discussion on the issue. I just wanted to be a little rebellious. I might have been right about my opinion, but my motive was wrong.

Let’s admit it, it’s fun sometimes to go against the status quo. It’s fun to shake things up. But don’t let that feed you. Don’t rebel just for the sake of rebelling. Don’t start an argument (as orderly as it might be) just for the sake of criticizing. Have a purpose. And be honest with yourself. I’ve found that sometimes I’ll create a purpose for myself just so I feel good about arguing. Basically I’m lying to myself, telling myself that I have a good reason to be critical and rebel a little, but in reality I just want to argue because I can.

calvin_arguingNo one likes people who are always correcting everyone else. No one likes people who always have to bring up something contradictory whenever they’re in a conversation. Don’t be that person. Choose your battles. Choose the ones that matter, the ones that you actually care about. The ones that don’t fuel your desire to rebel just because you can.

Be the kind of person that people enjoy conversing with because you can disagree respectfully but you’re not out to disagree for the sake of disagreement. Be uplifting. Be encouraging. Be wise in choosing to be contradictory.

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Modesty: A New Perspective

A young woman looking at clothes

Modesty. It’s an issue people have been discussing for years. A lot of years. And we still can’t come to an agreement. Maybe we never will. I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of modesty for quite a while and want to share a completely new perspective on the issue. The focus will be modesty for women, but I believe that what I’m sharing can apply to both genders pretty equally.

So get ready for something maybe a little different than you’re used to when reading about the issue of modesty.

I’ve noticed that modesty has become an issue that’s a whole lot bigger than it needs to be. Here’s what I mean. The Bible makes it clear that purity of heart and mind is just as important as purity of body (Matthew 5:27-28). But a mistake that Christians have made is that they’ve inadvertently employed the power of suggestion to make things a problem that aren’t really a problem at all.

Let me explain. Throughout history, clothing fashions have changed a whole lot. It’s interesting to note that some of today’s styles would have been considered horribly inappropriate a hundred fifty years ago, and styles that were totally fine a hundred fifty years ago are today considered immodest. Why? Just for the simple reason that what society deems acceptable changes over the years. It’s how culture operates. And for us to say that the standards for styles today are better than those from a hundred fifty years ago just doesn’t make sense. For example, at one time in history, exposure of ankles was considered immodest and provocative, while exposure of additional skin elsewhere was completely acceptable. Today it’s the opposite. What was once considered immodest is now considered modest, and what once was considered modest is now considered immodest.

My point is this: it’s not how much skin is shown. It’s not where that skin is. It’s not about the tightness of the clothing. It’s not about any of the things we typically talk about in the “modesty talk.” Here’s what it is about. It’s about attitude and heart. The attitude and heart of both the girl wearing the clothes, and the guy looking at the girl.

In fact, I’m much more inclined to put more responsibility on the guys than the girls. When I see a girl and my mind goes in a direction it shouldn’t, my reaction is to change my thoughts and apologize to God for those thoughts, not to immediately think “wow, her clothes are immodest.” Why?

Because I chose to have those thoughts. I allowed my mind to go that direction. My attitude and my perspective is my choice and my responsibility. I control it. I can make a decision when I see a girl to either think things that are inappropriate and objectify her, or to view her as the beautiful woman God designed. And it’s completely up to me. My thoughts and my mind are controlled by me, not by anyone else.

A challenge I face, though, is that for much of my life I’ve had the impression that certain clothing or styles are “sinful.” But what that did was sensationalize them. The power of suggestion and curiosity is huge. Because I was led to believe that a certain style was sinful, my mind would go there. But as I’ve trained my mind to move away from those thoughts, I’ve been able to view styles not as “sinful” or “not sinful” but instead simply as a style. Guys, our minds are our responsibility. But removing the stereotypes sure would help. As I’ve been able to remove my preconceived beliefs about certain types of clothing, I’ve discovered that they are no longer a stumbling block. The style hasn’t changed. How much skin it reveals or covers hasn’t changed. How tight or loose it is hasn’t changed. But my mind has.

Intention-MattersI do have a few thoughts for girls as well. Because the issue of modesty ultimately comes down to attitude and heart, I think there is some responsibility on the side of the girls as well. I would encourage ladies to consider their motive and attitude for what they wear and how they wear it. Because it shows. I know that might sound strange, but normally it is pretty easy to tell why a girl is wearing what she’s wearing. I can typically tell if she’s looking for attention, if she just wants something comfortable, if she wants to look pretty, if she doesn’t care, if she wants to appear provocative. And that most certainly does factor into the equation. Guys are definitely going to have a tougher time keeping their mind pure if the girls around them are wearing clothing with the intention of getting the wrong kind of attention. So it is helpful for girls to be aware of their attitude and what they might be communicating through what they wear and how they carry themselves.

Also, ladies, it’s good to be aware of the kind of guys you’ll be interacting with. In Romans, Paul talks a lot about being aware of what could be a stumbling block to some. Depending on how guys have been raised and their background (among other things), certain styles could be a stumbling block. That doesn’t mean you should never wear that style, but it may mean not wearing it in certain situations.

Notice that in this entire post, I haven’t said anything about amount of clothing or how much skin should be allowed to be shown or how tight or loose clothing should be or whether one-piece swimsuits are more modest than two-piece suits or how skirts need to be a certain length or anything about necklines or anything like that. That’s because rules just don’t work. The Bible doesn’t make rules. In fact, it has very little to say on the subject of modesty. And when it does address the issue, the focus is primarily on attitude and heart. So who are we to make rules? Also, rules are made to be broken. Someone playing by “the rules” can be super immodest but get away with it and someone “breaking the rules” could be totally modest but restricted by the rules. It’s not about rules; it’s about heart.

To wrap this up…

Ladies, as a guy I would ask you to analyze your heart and your attitude as you choose what to wear. But don’t allow the stupidity of guys to limit you. You are beautiful. You are attractive. And that’s good. That’s what God intended! Guys, let’s take responsibility for our mind and our thoughts. Let’s get our minds out of the gutter. We control what we think. We control our attitude and our heart. It’s up to us. Let’s take some responsibility for what belongs to us and not shove it onto the girls. We are men. Let’s act like it.

If you’re interested in reading another man’s perspective on this, check out this blog post. I can’t speak for anything else on the blog, but thought this post was excellent.

Thoughts on this topic? Share in the comments below!

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Grace

For about the past two weeks, I’ve been out of town helping plan and run a national conference with an organization I’m heavily involved in. One of the themes we focused on was grace. Our guest speaker spoke about the need to give and receive both grace and reconciliation. But grace is hard. Because it means giving something up. When we extend grace and reconciliation, we give up some of our desire for justice. We forgive. We move on. And that’s hard. When we receive grace and reconciliation, we admit we’re wrong. We are humbled. And that’s hard.

But either way, grace is good. It’s powerful. It’s life-changing.

However we can’t give and receive grace without the power of Christ working in us. Grace is a characteristic of Christ. It’s in His nature. We can only give and receive grace because Christ did it first. And now, it’s our responsibility to do the same.

Extend some grace today. Receive some grace today. It will change your life.

A New Year – Embrace Change

Most people don’t like change. Which completely makes sense, because our lives are built around habits. So our reaction to change is often negative and unwelcoming.

But even though we build our lives around habit, life is full of change. Actually, as strange as it sounds, change is really one of those habitual things that regularly happens.

As we head into the brand new year of 2014, I want to encourage you to embrace change, not avoid it. Change isn’t always easy or fun. It might not be comfortable. But change is how we grow and how life becomes fuller.

View change as the opportunity that it is.