A Charlie Brown Christmas

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Peanuts gang gives Charlie Brown a special assignment: Go buy a big, pink, shiny, aluminum Christmas tree for their Christmas play. So Charlie Brown and Linus set out for the tree lot, where they wade through a myriad of gaudy, metal trees to find the only natural tree in the lot, which happens to be pitifully scrawny and prone to dropping the few pine needles still clinging to it. Thus, upon his return, the children berate Charlie Brown for his choice. This inspires him to cry out in desperation, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

Linus responds, "Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about." He then steps out on stage where everyone can see and hear him and starts quoting Luke's Gospel (2:8-14) "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

The children stand speechless. Charlie Brown, with a renewed spirit, leaves the auditorium by himself, taking his little tree with him. Approaching Snoopy's flashy, decorated doghouse, he decides to borrow an ornament for his tree. But the tree bends in half under the ornament's wait. Charlie Brown reacts saying, "I've killed it. Oh! Everything I touch gets ruined." Sulking away, he leaves the tree behind him, still bent to the ground. Then the other children enter the scene. Linus stands the tree upright, using his blanket to support its base. As one, the group transfers Snoopy's decorations onto the tree, transforming it into an attractive, confident looking Christmas tree. Soon thereafter Charlie Brown returns and sees his tree standing there, full and stately. The movie ends with all the children yelling, "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" Then the credits roll as they chime in to sing "Hark! The Herald Angel Sing."


Notice the parallels between Charlie Brown's tree and the Christmas story Linus quotes from Luke's gospel:

--The little tree and the infant Jesus are so small and fragile that they cannot survive without the warmth and support of a simple blanket.

--The little tree and Christ's incarnation are easy to take for granted at first glance, but they represent a spark of genuine life amidst a distracted and inherently artificial world.

--Charlie Brown's tree was the only living tree in the entire lot, while Christ is the Fountainhead of Life for the entire lot of humanity.

--Both the tree and Jesus Christ endure humble beginnings, but their inherent beauty eventually becomes recognizable to average, naked eye.

Sufjan Stevens -- The Transfiguration

(Photo courtesy of Joe Lencioni)

Transfiguration Lyrics:

When he took the three disciples to the mountainside to pray,
His countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came; they were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.

Then there came a word of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade; they fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God, the face of God, covered in a cloud.

What he said to them, the voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come.
The prophecy was put to death, was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision till the time has come.

Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear!
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!


As humans seeking God, our great challenge is to keep the faith. We have been given free will to exercise for good, which is an extremely difficult task, but God created us for this purpose.

On some days Christ might appear to us transfigured, clothing all aflame, with God's voice booming down in affirmation. But much of the time God's face seems veiled, as with a cloud.

The Truth makes so much sense, but who among us has the fortitude to cling to Him despite our endless trouble, fear, doubts and our nagging weaknesses?

We might construct a tabernacle for ourselves, as Peter suggested to God, to shore up our faith. Maybe hardened brick and tradition piled on top of each other would give us a predictable point of reference, in case God's face seems veiled. But this is misguided. Such thinking compromises our mission, which is to live and die for Christ. We are dying already; we can't avoid death. The question is, what are we living and dying for?

We struggle against discouragement and doubt, but not without purpose. Christ Himself is our Edifice. His is a difficult Way in that He does not make room for fleshly compromises. But, if we trust Him to maintain our faith and our daily sanity, then and we won't have struggled in vain.

The fact that God's face is covered in a cloud so much of the time is strategic. This relates to our purpose for existing, which is to seek Him despite our limited perspectives. We will inevitably struggle, but everyone struggles. If we are following after Christ as we go, then we struggle with heavenly purpose.

So, in the mean time, let's keep singing songs that remind us of God's glory such as this one by Sufjan Stevens, especially during those times, as he said, when God seems "lost in the cloud."

Star Wars Episode 1 -- Midichlorians and God

During one of many awkward dialogues in Star Wars, Episode 1, Qui-Gon Jinn takes young Anakin aside to teach him how the Force works. The Force works really well for Anakin because has a lot "Force Genes," also known as Midichlorians. According to Qui-Gon (and Obi-Wan Kenobi) Midichlorians float around in people's body like little tubes of super-Force glue. The more of these pseudo-genetic things you have, the better you will stick to the Force (or the the Force will stick to you).

The fact that George Lucas tried to define the Force in such limited terms continues to offend Star Wars fans today (nine years later), because this was a misguided attempt to quantify something powerfully mysterious that was therefore better left out of any Webster's definition.

The same thing applies to genuine divinity as well. God is unquantifiable--that's part of what makes Him God. Not only is He too big to measure, He transcends even the concept of measurement. He makes Himself knowable through Jesus Christ, but this too is a mysterious phenomenon. Ultimately we will never be able to define Him in human terms, nor will we be able to wrap our mortal minds around Him. This is a good thing; this hints at the fact that He is God.

Star Wars fans respect the Force (even though they know George Lucas imagined it) to the point that they are upset by his attempt to quantify it (him/her?). Thus it is ironic that many, maybe even most, people are offended by God's infinitude.

It is both good and necessary that God is immeasurable by human standards; otherwise he would be excessively limited, or mortal and therefore not worthy. People prefer to impress an excessively human character on God, as if He has room to improve, but this would imply that He is not perfect already, which would make Him less than divine.

People liked the Force as it was before Episode One--untainted by this unsavory attempt at defining it in pseudo-scientific terms. Indeed, the ultimate question for all things -- "Why?" -- must transcend pragmatic phraseology. Science, for example, can tell us how things work, but it can't tell us why. Observing the way things are is a far cry from explaining why things are. Take gravity for example. We can observe the fact that two masses tend to exercise an attractive force on each other, but why? Someone must have invented the concept of gravity... why don't two masses repulse one another? Or electricity at the atomic level, or the fact that water expands when it is frozen... why?

To know God we have to surrender any right we think we have to define Him. He will never fit in a religious or intellectual box. He will always exceed our expectations... and these are all good things. Incidentally, getting to know God is the most effective way to expand our intellect, our faith and our ability to deal with this present life.

Dead Man Walking

Dead Man Walking stars Sean Penn as Matthew Poncelet (the guy on death row) and Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen Prejean (the nun who reaches out the Matthew).

The main theme of this movie is mercy. Sister Helen's desire to show mercy to Matthew conflicts with the parents of his victims, who would like to see him dead. The parents think that bestowing kindness on Matthew is the same as condoning his actions. But this is wrong. They also think that he does not deserve mercy since "he's an animal, not a person." But this is also wrong.

It occurred to me that, because of situations like this, it is useful to involve third parties such as Christian ministers. A man on death row might have a genuinely repentant heart (though this would not excuse him from his death sentence). If he truly desires forgiveness, then it would be inappropriate to wait for the relatives of his victims to forgive him because this might never happen and it's not necessarily their responsibility to forgive him (if they aren't Christian). Thus, it is necessary that a third party show the man God's mercy and, ideally, really mean it (like Sister Helen).

The parents of Matthew Poncelet's victims are taken aback by the fact that Sister Helen didn't visit them first... after all they are the victims. This sentiment is justified on one hand, but on the other hand it is not. Both parties need help. Practically speaking, Sister Helen is more in the right, since the parents can seek out all the counseling they want while Matthew is only able to see whoever goes out of their way to visit him. Matthew also requested a visitation, which, in God's kingdom, carries a lot of weight in itself. The parents did not request a visitation from Sister Helen.

To her credit, Helen takes it upon herself to visit everyone involved, listening and sympathizing with both sides. This is her much-needed job--to show mercy to both parties regardless of who seems more guilty. She does this with the knowledge that one or both sets of parents might hate her for trying to comfort Matthew.

Mercy has to be unconditional, otherwise it would stop being mercy. The fact that we don't deserve mercy is exactly why we all need it.

As I watched Dead Man Walking, I couldn't help thinking of Jesus' words, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" (Mark 2:17). This isn't to belittle the sorrow of those who have suffered a great loss, but rather, this is to Jesus' credit, that He came to be the merciful Third Party that we all desperately need. I don't know what it's like to loose a son or a daughter but, even if I did, it would not affect this general truth that we all need God's mercy.

We all are faced with varying degrees of loss. Thus, another practical purpose for Christ visiting earth: To comfort, heal and restore people on both sides, those who take as well as those from whom something was taken. He is the best One to approach on all issues concerning justice, since He is both the Justifier and the one who will eventually carry out God's justice.

The Elephant Man (1980), starring Anthony Hopkins

Oh yeah,
I know I'm not broken
A little cracked
But still I'm not broken
I wanna laugh
But I think that I'm choking on reality

Please listen to me
There is no such thing as human debris...

-- Bad Religion, "Broken"


The Elephant Man stars John Hurt as John Merrick (the Elephant Man), and Anthony Hopkins as Frederick Treves (the physician who eventually becomes sympathetic with Merrick's situation). I learned after watching this movie that John Merrick's first name was actually Joseph.

Merrick's condition brings to light the best and worst of the people he runs into, from vindictive predators to those who go out of their way to comfort and care for him. For most of his life a greedy circus boss uses him as a lucrative sideshow. This man, as well as those who pay him to gawk, see Merrick not as a human being, but as a spectacle that exists for their entertainment.

Frederick Treves' first impression of Merrick is as Elephant Man, the star of a circus show. Merrick's identity is already established as a public spectacle, so Treves doesn't think twice about subjecting the man to further humiliation, though this time in front of a more scientific audience. But, as Treves continues to investigate Merrick's physical ailments, he can't help looking on his subject with increasing compassion. Eventually Treves becomes Merrick's main advocate. He introduces this former recluse to public life, giving him the chance to win the respect of London's high society. However, even as Merrick gains the respect of some, other predators emerge and expose him to additional public mockery for their entertainment as well as to make a quick buck.

The Elephant Man juxtaposes unbridled cruelty and genuine compassion. This movie reminds me of the fact that the world has a desperate need for morally solid men. Men needn't acquire exceptional strength or intelligence to defend the defenseless; they only need to listen to their consciences. Frederick Treves, for example, isn't outwardly religious or spiritually-inclined, yet he resists the men who try to exploit Merrick's condition.

The Elephant Man also illustrates our inherent inability to see people as they really are. At first glance, people are repulsed by Merrick's appearance. But, when people give the chance, he wins them over with his quality of character.

There also implications here for all of us from a spiritual perspective, though the roles are reversed. Christ can see who (or what) we really are spiritually--twisted, ugly creatures infected with putrefaction and death--but He chooses to look on us with love and compassion, even to the point of healing and restoring us.

Unlike Merrick, getting to know any of us who are distant from God would not lead others to admire us more... though we have learned to art of putting on a good show, we are naturally despicable in the way that counts--in our souls. But Christ goes out of his way to seek us out, give us comfort and eventually save us from ourselves. He is courageous and self-sacrificing for us to offset our fear and pettiness so that we might learn from His example and do likewise.

Midnight Clear -- People Need People

Midnight Clear is a realistic yet hopeful story about a handful of people who are grappling with severe depression and loneliness on Christmas Eve. They feel hopeless and alone in their own particular way until they run into each other and help each other out in their own particular way. The central thing these people do for each other is be there for one another. They squelch their relational neediness by reaching out to one another. Funny how that works, huh?

God built us to need other people, yet we are hesitant to reach out to others. Simply caring for others would benefit everyone, both givers and receivers, so why do we hold back? God gives us ample desire and opportunity to build up mountains of relational wealth, but most of us are too afraid, bitter or selfish to do anything about it.

I have witnessed God working powerfully through relationships for people who are courageous enough to follow Him in this area. He helps us to battle through loneliness and depression, but we also have to maintain a courageous faith. The solutions to all neediness in the world is not far off: All we have to do is step out (with the distinct possibility of failing) and care for others according to Christ's example. If we step out in faith to genuinely care for others and persevere in our efforts, He will lead us along and cause us to bear much fruit. This isn't easy but, like I said, I have seen this work out beautifully.


Luke's Gospel, Chapter 19:

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him because he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. When other saw this, they all grumbled, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."

Luther -- Quick, costly obedience

“Quick, costly obedience”
-- Wolfgang Simson, present-day German theologian

This statement describes a major characteristic of God’s kingdom: If people are under God’s rule, they will do what He says and they will do it quickly.

This is also the best way to get to know God. People who follow Christ’s lead will fellowship with Him on a level that lip-service Christians can’t comprehend. The best way to honor Christ is to do what He says.

So also Luther obeyed Him at every major turn, from the lightning in the road to his lifetime of resisting religious corruption. He grappled with self-condemnation, which was the best thing he could derive from Catholic doctrine. Then he discovered the simple and obvious fact that God must love people and desire their salvation if He sent Jesus Christ to die for them. From there, he put one foot in front of the other to discover a more liberated quality of faith that does not depend on religion tradition. Thus, by the time he re-discovered salvation through grace, not through works, this seemed radical to most people of his time. To Luther, on the other hand, this seemed like common sense.

Though Luther possessed an impressive intellect, his actions were relatively simple: He did whatever he knew best at that time. He had a brain, so he used it. He had a congregation, so he taught them. He knew German, Greek and Latin, so he translated the Bible in to German for everyone to read.

He learned a vast amount of information, which he put to good use, but it was his actions that truly changed the world. His life didn’t alter the course of history and transform the church as people knew it because of his logical arguments, but because He put his life on the line to defend his conscience and the simple truths put forth in Scripture. We can look back on history and see how God honored Luther’s courage by causing his actions to bear much fruit.

Bruce Almighty -- Signs from God

Bruce Almighty illustrates the way that God is ever-present, giving us all kinds of "signs" (literal and otherwise) that clue us in to what's going on around us. Bruce ignored all the signs that crossed his path until his life literally came to a crashing halt. Like most people, he was so distracted by his small expectations for God that he failed to appreciate all the ways God was already interacting with his everyday life.

To his credit, however, at least Bruce acknowledged God's existence... in his own way he asked for God to show up and that's exactly what happened, though this did not work out exactly the way Bruce expected. Thus, Bruce Almighty is a realistic demonstration of how God answers prayer: He shows up in praying people's lives in ways that will grab their attention. Our own stubbornness necessitates drastic action from God, especially when we ask for it.

Toward the end of Bruce Almighty we discover that the homeless man holding up the cardboard signs was God all along. This unassuming man shows up a few times to add some much needed explanation during some of Bruce's most confounding situations. Nice touch.

Changeling -- True Manliness

Changeling illustrates the world's desperate need for godly men.

Morally wishy-washy men sabotage the lives of Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) and her son, Walter. Her husband leaves her as soon as Walter was born because he feared responsibility. Then a man kidnaps and killed Walter. Then the men of the LAPD compound her problem by refusing to do their jobs, practically guaranteeing that no one will ever find him. But Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich) dares to stand up for her. Then a single detective investigates a homicide that his superiors told him to forget about. Finally a well-known lawyer represents her for free, thus helping her win those ground-breaking, legal battles.

Changeling demonstrates the way that women and children tend to be victimized in the absence of morally sound men. It is a dependable phenomenon that men, especially father figures, dictate the world's standards of moral integrity. When women and children are forced to resist injustice on their own, as was the case for Christine Collins and a few little boys in the movie, this inevitably means that men are failing to be moral strongholds that they should be.

The most fundamental thing a man can do to be truly "manly" is maintain his moral integrity. If, for example, every father fulfills his most basic job as a father by caring for his family, then children will grow up in healthier environments and eventually become healthy adults. But fathers who fail to exemplify a decent moral standard for their families not only betray their loved ones, they set a negative precedent for their children, who then pass spiritual dilapidation on to their children.

Another movie, Catch Me If You Can, also demonstrates the effect morally defunct fathers have on their sons. In addition to divorcing his wife, Frank Abagnale (Christopher Walkin) teaches his son, Frank Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) to avoid paying taxes whenever possible. Thus, Frank goes off into the world with little or no idea about financial or social responsibility. He follows his father's example to the Nth degree by not only avoiding the government, but by becoming an international con-artist. At one point in the movie, Frank even asks his father to "ask him to stop" and he will. But his father wouldn't, so he doesn't. Ultimately it was Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), the uncompromising FBI agent (representing the law/justice) who emerges as the father-figure Frank never had, but desperately needed.


The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
-- Genesis 3:12. (Sin's emasculating effects become evident as Adam tries to blame Eve for his deliberate disobedience to God.)

Bruce Almighty -- Effective Prayer

Bruce Almighty stars Jim Carrey as Bruce Nolan, Jennifer Aniston as Grace Connelly (Bruce's girlfriend) and Morgan Freeman as God.

Bruce Almighty makes some surprisingly poignant statements about the God's interaction with human beings. In particular, the movie goes to great lengths to demonstrate how much better the world is when people surrender to His divine know-how. By the film's end we learn that God is infinitely smart and capable; therefore we should trust Him.

It turns out that Jennifer Aniston is a dedicated woman of prayer... who woulda thunk? After Bruce assumes (many of) God's responsibilities, he finds out that most of her extensive prayer life was dedicated to interceding on his behalf. She prayed a lot for Bruce, which led to God showing up in Bruce's life in a way that would transform his perspective and renew his sense of purpose forever.

Thus, something else this movie demonstrates: God answers persistent prayer. This is a bold statement coming from a Jim Carrey movie.

"Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart..."
--Luke 1:8

Bad Religion -- "Sorrow" (caused by our own evil)

What if every living soul could be upward and strong?
Well, then, I do imagine

There will be... sorrow
Yeah, there will be... sorrow
There will be... sorrow
No More.


As of now, our evil desires are causing us all kinds of trouble. If the world was totally devoid of spiritual perversity, we could live without sorrow.

We have economic problems, for example, not because money is evil, but because we (all human beings) are greedy. To offset our greed and work toward an economic solution, the government will probably have to impose stricter regulation on real estate and money market transactions.

Apparently, we can't trust ourselves to resist unreasonable avarice. This is all of us, borrowers and lenders alike. Greedy borrowers who lied on their loan applications to get excessively huge loans coupled with greedy lenders who wanted to make a few extra (billion) dollars by approving these applications has caused widespread bankruptcy and an economic chain reaction that is now bringing down the whole world. All this takes root in the fact that we (all human beings in general) are evil.

If we were all morally flawless right now, all sorrow, injustice and oppression would immediately cease. All we have to do to save ourselves from self destruction is be perfect.

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
--Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:48)

Bad Religion -- "Epiphany"

"Epiphany" comes from Bad Religion's album, The Process of Belief
A new age of reason
Brain treason to trick the mind
What good is searching

If nothing's there to find
We arrive at this place

Of no return my brothers
Only to discover that our minds have led us away

So far from the painful truth

Of who we are


What's right is wrong

What's come has gone

What's clear and pure is not so sure

It came to me
All promises become a lie

All that's benign corrupts in time

The fallacy
of epiphany

Come forth bear witness
See the profit from your loss

Beg for forgiveness

Only after you tally the cost

We arrive at this place
Of no return my sisters

Only to discover that our values ran us aground
On the shoal in the sea

Of what we could be



Jesus, our rabbi, will teach us how to function in God's kingdom while we're still here on earth.

Step one: Unlearn everything. Before we can accept Christ as he is, we have to give up everything we think we know about God. Once we surrender our right to define him, he will invade our consciences and expand our limited imaginations.

Apart from Christ, we will never escape the lies we learn to accept about ourselves, the world and God. The fact that we invent religion to replace God demonstrates our natural cluelessness about unhindered spirituality.

Over time our convictions shift, many times imperceptibly. Apart from God, who remains untouched by all forms of corruption, we become distracted. Our good intentions turn into zealous dedication to "alternatives," or forms of godliness that have nothing to do with God.

This is why continuous dedication to Christ is so vital. We are either growing in Him, or we are sliding back into old habits and old lies.

As a church especially, we must keep our spiritual lines of communication open. This is why, prophetic and apostolic ministries are vital to the church's health.

For a while now, the American church has been rejecting prophetic and apostolic movement in favor of feeling safe. We might acknowledge that obedience to God is a good thing, but we would rather feel comfortable. As a church we have chosen tradition over obedience, lies over life and self-indulgence over fellowship with God.

Thus the need for unlearning. Whether we are institutionalized Christians or outspoken non-Christians, we all must unlearn the "alternative" brands of spirituality that we have grown accustomed to before we can learn how to function in God's kingdom. This is a sometimes long and painful process, but it's worth it.

"I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
--Jesus re-teaching Nicodemus (John 3:5-6)

The Apostle (starring Robert Duvall) -- The Good

The one good thing about The Apostle (also written and directed by Robert Duvall) is the way Sonny prays to God when he is in trouble. He does a lot more than what many people would consider "praying"--he goes up by himself to his second story bedroom and rants and raves at God about his troubles. He reasons with God using all the energy he can muster, frequently bringing up the relationship he has to the Almighty. He is respectful, but he also is admittedly angry.

This is a great way to pray. Like any relationship with a regular person, openness is beneficial for our relationship with God.

Tragically, though Sonny is on the right track, he doesn't wait long enough for God to put him all the way on the right track. I imagine, if God had his way the man, he would not have gone off and clubbed a man in the face for sleeping with his wife. I also suspect that, had he done as much listening as he did yelling, he would have developed a more vivacious, genuine quality of faith. Had Sonny waited for God, he would have been able to move forward with his life as a thoroughly reconciled worker in God's kingdom, not a man who uses religion to run from his responsibilities and his past.

The Apostle (starring Robert Duvall) -- The Bad

The Apostle demonstrates most if not all of the detriments being dedicated to man-made religion. According to this movie (and man-made religion in general) it's OK to be in denial of your crimes against humanity and against God as long as you can put on a good enough religious show.

Sonny (Robert Duvall) is a dedicated Evangelist of the "Holiness" persuasion (a derivation of the Charismatic movement). He is so dedicated to his job that he neglects his wife and kids. After a few years, his wife turns to another man for affection--the local youth pastor. When Sonny finds out about this, he clubs the youth pastor in the head with a baseball bat. This lands the youth pastor in a coma until he eventually dies.

So Sonny runs away to another small town. From the get-go, he keeps as busy as possible to escape his unreconciled conscience. Then he starts calling himself an "apostle." As "Apostle E.F." he does the only thing he knows how to do, which is put on an energetic pulpit song-and-dance routine. He is so accomplished in his "Holiness" act that he inspires the local community to help him restore a church building, a church bus and hold church potlucks.

At the end of the movie, the police finally catch up with him. But don't worry... he won't be stopped from putting on one more show. He tells the police to wait until he's done and so, for some reason, they wait. They stand by while he fires up his fledgling congregation for one last time. Then the police take him off to prison for murder. One man from the congregation, Sam, is especially sad because Apostle E.F. inspired him to accept Jesus into his heart.

The Apostle a shameful display of spiritual misguidedness.

In the DVD's extra features Duvall discusses how he observed and the religious shows that his character would later emulate. This is fitting since religious acts can be imitated to the point of inspiring religious people. Such activity might impress the casual onlooker but, from God's point of view, this is egregiously wrong.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."
--Jesus (Matthew 7:21)

Hoobastank -- "Crawling in the Dark"

I will dedicate
And sacrifice my everything for just a second's worth
Of how my story's ending
And I wish I could know if the directions that I take
And all the choices that I make won't end up all for nothing

Show me what it's for
Make me understand it
I've been crawling in the dark looking for the answer
Is there something more than what i've been handed?
I've been crawling in the dark looking for the answer

Help me carry on
Assure me it's ok to use my heart and not my eyes
To navigate the darkness
Will the ending be ever coming suddenly?
Will I ever get to see the ending to my story?


So when and how will I know?
How much further do I have to go?
How much longer until I finally know?
Because I'm looking and I just can't see what's in front of me
In front of me
In front of me


"Crawling in the Dark" expresses the mindset of a sincere, spiritual seeker, which is ideal. Even after we meet with Jesus for the first time, we should never stop seeking Him.

Christ honors sincere seekers by allowing them to find Him. Even after we find him (or he finds us), we will not be able to help desiring to know him more.

Spiritual seekers are in touch with one of the most basic characteristics of being human, which is that we all desire God. This is true regardless of whether we realize that we desire Him specifically. If we seek out the "something that's missing" long enough, we will eventually find Him.

God wants us to ask questions, exactly the kind that Hoobastank asks here: "When and how will I know? How much further do I have to go?" The Psalms are a collection of prayers and songs, some of which beseech God with such insistence that they sound almost cheeky. Take Psalm 30:9 for example,

" What gain is there in my destruction,
in my going down into the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness? "

As Jesus said:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."
-- (Matthew 7:7)

Pay It Forward

"The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."
--Genesis 6:5

"but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more..."
--Romans 5:20


Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) devises a plan to change the world. He calls it "paying it forward." The plan is simple: Bestow a major act of kindness on three separate people on the condition that each of these people go and bestow a major act of kindness on three other people. Each one of these acts has to be "something huge," as Trevor puts it, or something these people could not have done for themselves.

Pay It Forward is a brilliant illustration of grace in action. Grace is deliberate, active, infectious goodness. In a similar way as Trevor, Christ set off a chain reaction by making a few men into agents of God's kingdom. Jesus' condition for receiving His Spirit is also similar to Trevor's condition: Christ-followers must go out and love others extravagantly, with the same fervency that He loved them.

As was stated several times in Pay It Forward, the world is (poo). Or more specifically, humans left to themselves are evil. But heavy doses God's grace, which Christ injects into the hearts of a few unsuspecting subjects, keeps us from annihilating ourselves. If Jesus didn't continually flood the world with his refreshing mercy, we would swim around in our own hopeless puss-pools of evil. Apart from Him, everyone would be dedicated to inventing new forms of evil.

But there is something that offsets our passion for evil... that is Christ's overwhelming passion for God's glory. His grace empowers us to understand that goodness is, in fact, good. As we follow Christ we can learn to yearn after what is good, godly, healthy, praiseworthy and beautiful.


Pay It Forward stars Kevin Spacey as Eugene Simonet (Trevor's teacher), Helen Hunt as Arlene McKinney (Trevor's mother) and James Caviezel as Jerry (Trevor's first test subject for paying it forward).

Fuel -- "King for a Day"

"King for a Day" comes from Fuel's album, Sunburn
Bled the line tonight
Fading as the lies
Lay weeping on the page...
Nothing was saved

Falling at the sight
Photographs of white
Bright grin and sunny days
And all was betrayed

And I think I know
The reason that your light would never stay
And all that's left to show
Are memories now, but I can truly say
I was king for a day

(If you've never heard of this relatively obscure song by Fuel, you've probably heard of their other super-hits: Hemorrhage, Shimmer, Bad Day, etc.)


Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry... The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" ... the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
--Matthew 4


Would it have mattered if Christ had chosen one little indulgence? Doesn't everyone need a quick snack or an ego boost every so-often?

Satan promised him the kind of fleeting pleasure that most people can hardly resist. But there was too much on the line. The tiniest hint of compromising would have nullified Christ's mission to glorify God and save mankind. He could have thrown it all away in that moment, as any average person would have done, but he proved himself. He stayed the Course.

Christ's flawless obedience saved and continues to save us all. His unyielding purity is so exceedingly pure that he makes up for all of our spiritual taintedness.

Christ obeyed God perfectly thereby earning His rightful place at God's right hand. So what do we have to lose by settling for less than perfection?

Every time we choose self-indulgence over obedience to God we trade immeasurable, spiritual richness for a much smaller pleasure. But at least we can look back, after we have lost everything, and quote Fuel, saying, "I was king for a day." Of course, after the fact, this statement is not comforting at all. Saying, "I was king for a day" is the same as saying, "I got what I wanted a while ago... now I am tired, poor and hungry and stripped of every good thing I ever had."

But there is a good kind of indulgence. Even if I die from exposure or starvation, if I am a Christ-follower, then I have filled up on the greatest pleasure in the universe. Even if I never accumulate worldly wealth, I still have immeasurable, unfading riches in Christ. Worldly wealth requires me to keep filling up, buying more... escalating my efforts to get that elusive "buzz."

But Christ is a transforming indulgence. The more I indulge in Him, the more he teaches me how to be satisfied. He is our the only true pleasure; everything else has either failed already, or is in the process of failing.

Bad Religion -- "Skyscraper"

"Skyscraper" comes from Bad Religion's album, Recipe for Hate Come let us make bricks and burn them hard,
We'll build a city with a tower for the world
And climb so we can reach anything we may propose...
Anything at all

Build me up, tear me down
like a skyscraper
Build me up, then tear down
these joining walls
So they can't climb at all

I know why You tore it down that day
You thought that, if You got caught, we'd all go away,
Like a spoiled little baby who can't come out to play,
You had your revenge


God is childish? How much more childish is it to try and build a silly tower up to heaven... If anything, God did those people a favor by stopping them before they wasted any more time and energy on this vain pursuit.

Attempting to bring God down to our level, or trying to lift ourselves up to His level... now that is childish. The fact that God interacted with the citizens of Babel to correct their silliness was, in itself, an act of mercy. In a similar way parents correct their little children with the goal of helping them to grow up.

The fact that God interacts with us at all demonstrates His divine patience.

He takes action to correct our childishness and, like little children, we complain. He leaves us to our own devices and, like little children, we complain. He communicates with us in whatever way we will understand, which, much of the time, is as a parent adult dealing with a spoiled, whiny baby.

I should mention that most of my posts about Bad Religion are positive. Their insightfulness almost always impresses me... except in a few cases such as this song. Also, "Skyscraper" reminded me of a memorable rendition of the Tower of Babel story written and narrated by Jonathan Goldstein of NPR.

"Handlebars" by the Flobots -- It's Good to be Alive

"Handlebars" comes from Flobots' album, Fighting with Tools

I can ride my bike with no handlebars

No handlebars
No handlebars

Look at me, look at me
Hands in the air like it's good to be
And I'm a famous rapper
Even when the paths 'r all crookedy
I can show you how to do-si-do
I can show you how to scratch a record
I can take apart the remote control
And I can almost put it back together
I can tie a knot in a cherry stem
I can tell you about Leif Ericson
I know all the words to "De Colores"
And "I'm Proud to be an American"
Me and my friend saw a platypus
Me and my friend made a comic book
And guess how long it took
I can do anything that I want cuz, look:
I can keep rhythm with no metronome
No metronome
No metronome
I can see your face on the telephone
On the telephone
On the telephone

It's good to live in America. It reminds me that God is good. As a free citizen of the United States, I have tons of opportunity to stop and think about God's goodness.

Living in the U.S. reminds me that people are valuable, or that God values people. The beautiful things and ideas around me remind me that God injects purpose and meaning into His creation. In particular, many of the tendencies that are built into all us point to many of God's divine characteristics.

The world is saturated with God's genius. That people have minds, souls and bodies is genius. That people are created in God's image is miraculous.

We set our minds to accomplishing certain goals. We desire. We are restless. We sing and dance. We explore. We create. Do you see how wonderful these things are?

We have all made mistakes. Even though our "paths 'r all crookedy" there is still a straight and narrow Way. We have made our paths all crookedy, but God has taken action to give us a second chance. He has given us a renewing purpose for living well. From skipping rope to learning new things to loving other people, Christ is our new, all-satisfying purpose.

The little things matter. The little things we do matter.

We all are little people. But we all matter because God said so. Jesus Christ eliminates all doubt.

The Man of La Mancha -- Crazy Good

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my Quest, to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far;
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause!

And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars!


The Man of la Mancha is based on a Broadway musical about the author/playwright/poet Cervantes as he lives out his idealistic ambitions in real life as well as through Don Quixote (the infamous fictional character). Cervantes chooses to see reality "not as it is, but as it should be," a mindset which he immortalizes partly through his public resistance to the Spanish Inquisition, mostly through his fictional alter-ego Don Quixote.

At the beginning of The Man of la Mancha, Cervantes puts on a play that pokes fun at the Spanish Inquisition. To the inquisitors this is the same as poking fun at God Himself, so they arrest him. It's not surprising that the fiery playwright clashes with Catholic church officials since, during that time, the church had reached new heights of religious insecurity.

While Cervantes waits in prison, he tells his story to fellow prison mates by putting on a musical about Don Quixote. They appreciate the fact that he includes them as part of the production. The grubby men and women are skeptical at first but, by the end of the movie, Cervantes wins them over with his creative, idealistic zeal.


Don Quixote (Cervantes) demonstrates the fact that there is a good kind of craziness. Raw idealism might be seen as insanity to someone who has given up all hope that there is any goodness in the world. Then again, a man would have to be mad to sacrifice his own well-being for the good of other people, when those people might never appreciate that man's sacrifice.

Don Quixote is crazy enough to see a castle where others see a run-down inn; he sees adventure in scenarios that would inspire depression in most people. He is delusional enough to see untainted purity in a woman who the world esteems as a whore. He is crazy enough to resist evil in a thoroughly evil world.

At one point in The Man of la Mancha, the priest points out, "One might say Jesus was mad... or St. Francis." This is a astute observation.

"The Jews were again divided. Many of them said, 'He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?' But others said, 'These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?'"
--John 10:19-21

W. (starring Josh Brolin)

"Hey brother Christian with your high and mighty errand,
Your actions speak so loud, I can't hear a word you're sayin'

And I want to conquer the world,
Give all the idiots a brand new religion,
Put an end to poverty, uncleanliness and toil,
Promote equality in all my decisions
With a quick wink of the eye and a god
You must be joking!"

--Bad Religion, "I Want to Conquer the World"


Dubya has landed himself in a place he does not belong. He prays, but he doesn't really listen to God. He has the connections to become the president, but he never was and never will be presidential material. His motivations and ultimately the fruit of his actions demonstrate the fact that he is unsuited to be President of the United States.

Like most people, G-dub never confronts the real issues that weigh him down. Thus, like most politicians, he is content to get elected for no higher purpose than to feel like he accomplished something. For many jobs, this might not be such a bad thing, but for the Commander in Chief, this mindset can lead to worldwide disaster.

It's simple. Know what you're doing and why you're doing it. Said another way: Know yourself. Said another way: Be reconciled within yourself and with God.

There is a big difference meaning well and being well.

G-dub was inspired by what he didn't want to happen. For example, he didn't want his father to be disappointed. He didn't want the sum of his life to be a failure. This is the epitome of an unreconciled outlook.

Dubya's incompleteness as a person makes him an incomplete leader. This has made him vulnerable to the manipulations of his advisers, especially Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Thus, he may have meant well, but his ability to "mean well" was fundamentally flawed. This is why he didn't think through his decision to hurl the U.S. into war even though, from his point of view, it felt like he had thought it through. His undeveloped sense of purpose led to the U.S. into an endless, wasteful, unjustifiable conflict in the middle-east.

George W. Bush demonstrates the fact that, when people force themselves into positions of leadership, bad things happen. There are few who are fit to lead--such individuals don't have to try too hard because they know who they are; they know what they are doing and why they are doing it.


John the Baptist's disciples came to him and said, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan (Jesus) -- the one you testified about -- he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him."

To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven."
--John's Gospel (3:26-28)

"I am the living bread that came down out of heaven" ... "I am the Light of the world" ... "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!"
--some of Jesus' "I AM" statements from John's gospel

Finch -- "Awake"

"Awake" Lyrics:
One devotion, to an empty moment
“Can you stay tonight?”
Silence broken, with words unspoken
Now she’s on her knees

No more feeling so useless
"Can I beg for one more?” she said
Taking with arms wide open
Longing for sleep again

The air is clearing, again we’re breathing
Water turns to wine
The day is tired, the night’s inside her
Now she is alive

No more Feeling so useless,
"Can I beg for one more?” she said
Taking with arms wide open,
longing for sleep again

But now I’m awake!
But now I’m awake!
But now I’m awake!

Keep breathing till you feel something
Take my breath AWAY!


Many people have a defining experience, or a moment of truth, when God meets with them. At such times He plants a new desire in a person's heart and mind to know Him. Anyone thus affected can hardly resist searching Him out, to find out who or what He is.

When we first awaken to Christ, we might miss the spiritual hibernation we just came from... after all this is all we have known up to that point. It's true that being spiritually awake can be more difficult than spiritual sleep, like blood rushing to a limb that had been cut off from the body's circulation.

But despite the pains of being born, including taking our first breath of real air, even amidst all the hardships of growing up in Christ, this is still far better than staying asleep. This is true the way that being alive is better than being dead. Once we're awake to the Truth, it would be unnatural to deny Him. As Finch says, "But now I'm awake!"

"Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."
--Ephesians 5:14

Are You the Kind of Person That Sees Signs?

Signs stars Mel Gibson as Graham Hess (former Catholic priest), Joaquin Phoenix as Merrill Hess (Graham's younger brother) and M. Night Shyamalan as that guy who always shows up in M. Night Shyamalan movies.

Since Graham used to be a Catholic priest, his family and his community are in the habit of looking to him for spiritual guidance. Most people can't help calling him "Father." But Hess does his best to correct them: He is not a priest anymore.

At the onset of the alien invasion, Graham talks to Merrill about why these lights might be showing up in the sky. According to Graham, there are two ways to look at the world: Either God is interacting with our everyday life or everything is decided by chance. When a good thing happens, we can either believe that it was a blessing from God or it was dumb luck.

But Graham's decision to hate God belies his overtly level-headed evaluation. If he really believed that God didn't exist or that things moved along by chance, then he wouldn't be angry at God for his wife's gruesome death.

Graham was in an undeniably difficult situation. It would be almost impossible for anyone in his position to recover from such a crippling loss. Even still, everyone around him looked to him for encouragement, to reassure them that God is still looking out for them. Graham's role in his family and surrounding community, whether he liked it or not, was to lead by faith.

At one point he declares to his family, "I am not wasting one more minute of my life on prayer. Not one more minute. Understood?" He's hurting and no one can blame him. But God's tenacious grace wins out in the end anyway. No matter how Graham tries to cling to bitterness and anger, this is not enough to fend off God's tenacious love.

When his son's life is on the line at the end of the movie, he looks to God once again for mercy. But God never stopped looking out for him and his family, even during that dark hour when he lost his wife. In fact, at the very time that Graham hated God the most, God was setting in motion a chain of events that would eventually save Graham and his family. Graham rediscovers his faith in light of these unexpected circumstances, through which God demonstrated, beyond all doubt, that He is divinely trustworthy.


If you hate God, then go ahead and admit that to Him directly. He can take it. Ask Him to work it out; some way or another He'll make it happen. This is a central reason why Christ visited planet earth, to work out our reconciliation with God.

This is a real-life, sometimes painful process. Most people don't want to give up their self-righteous anger or bitterness, but this is a necessary part of the process. But, like I said, God will work it out.

Finch -- "Perfection Through Silence"

Courtesy of Total Assault

"Perfection Through Silence" Lyrics:
Alone at last
together in a photograph.
Our eyes are always open
devoted to perfection
through silence.

What am I supposed to do?
Should I sit, wait for you?
Listen to me screaming...

This story is old
only to those that have no mold.
The truth can be bought or sold.
But what are we buying?
Nothing but silence.

What am I supposed to do?
Should I sit wait for you?
Listen to me screaming...

Fold the corners,break the silence,
fold the corners just for tonight...
Fold the corners,break the silence,
fold the corners just for tonight...

What am I supposed to do?
Should I sit wait for you?
Listen to me screaming...


Church-goers are encouraged to sit still and wait for the religious experts to do God's work for them. Instead of learning by doing, which is Jesus' style, people sit in pews and fill their heads up with information about Jesus. Instead of learning from Jesus directly by actively following Him, religious people would rather pack away volumes of theory about what it might look like to follow him.

But, relating to God through institutional Christianity is like going on a date to get to know someone at an outdoor cafe in the middle of a category five hurricane. Making spiritual progress within the confines of a man made religion is like driving a brand-new Ferrari through ten feet of mud.

It is safer to maintain a static, mental snapshot of Christ, so that's what many church-goers prefer to do. True, it takes more courage to open ourselves up and know God as He is, but this is far better than trying to keep Him locked up in a glossy photograph, accented by just the right Bible verse, safe and secluded from our everyday lives.

But seekers are screaming for more, and this is a good thing. It tends to be "those that have no mold" who will dare to ask the most pertinent questions such as "Why should I care?" Congregants might ask their leaders, (in Finch's words) "What am I supposed to do? Should I sit, wait for you?"


We will find out every answer after years of unconditionally obeying Jesus Christ. This is difficult, but it's still the best way to live. We will obtain everything God designed our hearts to desire by giving up what we used to think was valuable in favor of learning from Jesus that he is everything our hearts desire.

Body of Lies

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
-- W. H. Auden (quoted at the movie's onset)

Ridley Scott's latest work, Body of Lies, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Roger Ferris and Russell Crowe as Ed Hoffman. This movie makes a case battling terrorism effectively. American bureaucrats are too proud to stop and learn an effective method to battle terrorism, therefore America is losing the War on Terror.

Ask anyone besides the U.S. government and they will tell you that the "War on Terror" is not going well (for either side). Ever since America declared this war in response to 9-11, terrorist activity has been on the rise. In case you thought eight years of bombing and invasions would discourage terrorism, you thought wrong.

It makes sense that military invasion would conflagrate terrorism because terrorism is fueled by religious zeal. Invading and then occupying middle-eastern countries for years on end against the will of those countries legitimizes the terrorists' cause, thus inspiring and more people to join their ranks.

I'm not against resisting terrorism nor am I against just wars. But trying to resist religious zealotry with military force is like trying to make peace with an already angry man by pointing a gun at his family.


So here's how the War on Terror relates to God's kingdom: Jesus Christ already showed us how to fight terrorism.

The driving force behind terrorism and all conflict in general is a lack of reconciliation. The fact that people are unreconciled to themselves, to the world, and (most of all) to God has been causing problems since the dawn of humanity.

Enter Jesus. His secret weapon for disarming the most ruthless, militant, violent aggressors is to take their anger, hurt and rage upon Himself. This is mercy.

Christ's truthful words offended people, so they killed him. He didn't deserve to die, but he died anyway because God sent him for this purpose. By dying for other people, even on a cross, even for people who hated him, Christ gave us the perfect method for battling terrorism.

This doesn't translate very well into government policy but, then again, it was never meant to. God transforms people's lives one at a time, from one heart to another, from the ground up. This is a relational strategy, not a political policy.


On another practical note, Body of Lies should remind us Americans to be careful about the way we as a nation define and react to terrorism. Let's keep in mind that this country was established through a collective act of terrorism against the British government.

Both Americans and the whole world would benefit from a more humble, U.S. foreign policy. Human life, regardless of nationality, race or religious inclination, is too valuable to be wasted on military-hotheadedness.

The Eye (starring Jessica Alba)

"Seeing is believing..." But what if you're completely blind?

Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba) adapts to her blindness by sharpening her other senses. Also, her lack of physical sight leads her to develop a sense of intuition that exceeds that of the average, seeing person.

Sydney's situation demonstrates the fact that sight is not always the best way to take in information. Ironically, relying too much on our sight can hinder our ability to see.


Later on, after she receives an eye transplant to restore her sight. Apart from a drastic change, she would have remained blind.

It just so happens that her new eyes are geared to see spiritual realities, such as when and how people left this world, or how they will leave it in the near future. This ability had nothing to do with the physical constitution of her new eyes, it had to do with the spiritual endowments of their previous owner.

This is far-fetched, obviously, but it is true nonetheless that some people can perceive spiritual realities better than others. Developing an appreciation for spiritual truth is feasible, though the origin of such a priority shift is not necessarily explainable, and it certainly does not depend on an individual's physical constitution.

The ability to perceive spiritual realities is extremely handy. Jesus, for example, teaches his followers to live well in the world all the while appreciating the rules of God's kingdom, which are not immediately obvious to the naked eye. Developing our ability to function within God's kingdom, which requires a spiritual emphasis, empowers us to function better in this physical world.


The idea that "seeing is believing" sounds reasonable enough, but we might easily use this statement to excuse or cover up our lack of faith. Often times this statement really means "when God shows up exactly the way I expect Him to, then I will believe."

There is a right way to expect great things from God. If we know God at all and take Him at His word, then we will expect great things from Him, though, if we really know Him, then we will also fear Him with a healthy sort of fear.

If we are convinced that God is God, then we must also be convinced that nothing is too difficult for Him. At the same time, we should keep in mind that, since He is God, then He knows best. So we should expect Him to show up in innumerable, miraculous ways that are consistent with both of these facts.

This is something we can can only learn about through experience, as we wall beside, live with and follow after Jesus. As soon as we open ourselves up to God fully, then we will know and see and experience Him in full as well.

"Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still have believed."
--Jesus to Thomas (John 20:29)

House: "Needle in a Haystack" (Season 3, Episode 13)

In between diagnoses, Dr. Foreman and the patient in question (a young gypsy named Stevie) discuss their differing life-directions. They are purposeful as well as firm in their opposing priorities. They both acknowledge the dissimilar fruits that their two lives will produce.

Foreman's main goal is to become an accomplished doctor. Thus, his persistent dedication to diagnostic medicine develops his self-discipline and packs large amounts of information into his brain. However, as Stevie points out, Foreman has almost no time or energy left to develop human relationships.

Stevie wouldn't mind working toward a career in medicine, but the deciding factor is his family relationships. He could leave his familial network in favor of the success that Foreman espouses, but he would rather invest in loved ones.

These men are pursuing different kinds of success. So is there such a thing as being successful God's kingdom? What might such success look like?

Everyone who takes part in God's kingdom during their life on earth is advancing their education in Christ. The best way to get to know God is to obey Him all the time. It's worth it. This is the most beneficial education anyone could possible obtain.

Foreman understands that, to be a good doctor, he must become a good doctor. He realizes that memorizing a few facts won't get him there, he has to dedicate himself over years to transform himself into the doctor he wants to be. So also for Stevie, he resolves to do a lot more than call his folks every so often. He intends to be consistently present, living and spending his life with his loved ones.

Both these men are taking action, investing in their goals.

The same principle applies to becoming a child of God. It's a process, a gradual transformation that comes about as we deliberately spend time with Jesus Christ, following Him, obeying Him, enjoying Him. Christ Himself will demonstrate the indescribable richness of knowing Him as we depend on Him over the years, through every life-experience big or small, easy or difficult.

The more people take on Christ's burdens, the better off the world will need. We needs all the PhD's in godliness we can get.

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."
--Jesus to his disciples (Matthew 13:44-46)