"Every man leaves a lasting influence... that will affect future generations for centuries to come. But let's face it, not all legacies are the same. Some are productive, others are destructive. Some are illustrious, others are infamous... what kind of a legacy will you leave behind? A spiritual legacy is one that money can't buy and taxes can't take away, it is passing down to the next generation what matters most."
Steven J. Lawson

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Aslan's Country

Today, I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which is new in theaters. After the last installment, Prince Caspian, which was huge disappointment, I was hesitant to see another Narnia film if Disney was involved. Then I heard that Disney was out of the picture and over the next several months, I heard nothing but hopeful reports online that the producers were trying to regain what they had lost with the previous film, which was any symbolism that can be found in the book, as well as a sense of childlike wonder that the first film had. All that being said, when I actually saw the movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is amazing how even if people miss the message of these stories, God allows the message to still come through, despite man's efforts to hide the Christian themes within them. Another great example of this is the film Amazing Grace directed by Michael Apted, who also directed Dawn Treader. This film sticks very closely to the book, much more so than Prince Caspian. The beautiful and powerful themes of faith, courage, overcoming temptation, and ultimately, grace and redemption all permeate through the film. This may be my favorite of the film so far, and certainly it was my favorite book.

The most noble of the characters in this particular story is a brave mouse named Reepicheep, who teaches one of the main characters about courage and honor. Eustace, the spoiled and bratty cousin of Edmund and Lucy(who return from the previous story) learns some very important lessons about faith, courage, and honor from this adventurous mouse. During the course of the voyage, each child is tempted by their own sinful desires, and Eustace succumbs to his own greed when he finds a cave full of treasure. As a result, he turns into a dragon, but in the process, learns humility, and realizes he needs Aslan to save him. Instead of looking at Eustace, however, let's look at Reepicheep, because he is the one who reaches Aslan's Country, which is the title of this post.

Reepicheep has all the qualities that I would like to have more of. He is courageous, loyal, hopeful, a fierce friend, and has deep faith. He longs to sail to Aslan's Country, which allegorically serves as the equivalent to heaven. He believes that it truly exists and cannot wait to get there. In the greatest hour of need, Reepicheep is there to fight. He never turns away from danger, but meets it head on. He hopes for the day when he will get to see Aslan again and travel to his country. In the film, there is a great scene where he is singing about Aslan's Country, when Lucy asks him if he really believes that it exists. His answer is "We have nothing if not belief."
I will go ahead and draw out an application from this character. If Aslan's Country symbolizes heaven, then I think Reepicheep helps us see how we ought to be. Do you long for "Aslan's Country" like the mouse? Do we seek to bring hope to a broken and sad world while we are here?

Revelation speaks about heaven and gives us hope for the day of redemption. Chapter 21:4-5 says " He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new." This is a promise. Whatever challenge or trial we face, no matter how sad or painful, we have a great and sure hope that one day, the great king will return to redeem our broken world. The more I think about heaven, the more hope I have and the more I long for it. Do you? This is not the way things are supposed to be. There is something greater coming. Are you hoping in that and longing for that day? As for me, I want to see Aslan's Country...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Adventure and Wild at Heart

Do you remember being told by your mother to go play outside growing up? I do. Before I quit homeschooling in the fourth grade, these words were heard in our house quite often. Perhaps a solid 75%- 85% of my day would be spent outside, playing with my brothers in whatever creative activity we found ourselves. Our imaginations ran wild as we played cowboys and indians, building forts(even an entire "colony" at one point) or having jousting wars on our bicycles. My mom would lock us out on beautiful days where we had no excuse to be inside. The world was our playground, okay, maybe not the entire world, but at least 40 acres of land... Some of my fondest memories are of the many adventures with my two brothers(often accompanied by my older sister as well) having dirt clobber fights, making mud pies in the rain, or playing football before supper.

Though I was weaker than my two brothers, I always did what they did. They were probably more gun-ho than I was, but I loved tramping through the woods and fields with them. I think my love for adventure came from these special times, but also from things that I read and watched on film. My favorite things to read as a boy were historical fiction and nonfiction, biography, and adventure. All of this incensed in me a desire for adventure, but this desire strangely did not really come alive until my senior year of college.

Before I explore that history however, I want to discuss the book Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge, as well as my ideas on both adventure and what I believe being wild at heart means for boys/men. First of all, let me say that I do not believe there is anything wrong with wanting some excitement or adventure in your life. The only problem comes when you pursue it at the cost of your relationships with family, a job, or even your own life, or the lives of others. More important however, is that adventure-lust may be a sign of discontent, or longing which realistically, only Jesus can satisfy. According to Webster's Dictionary, adventure is "a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome." There have been countless accounts of people who, with the lust of adventure driving them, have caused pain to family and friends, spent thousands of dollars, and even lost their lives in pursuit of glory. This is foolish and a waste of resources and life if done with selfish ambition, that ultimately destroys more than it achieves.

Today, I believe that men are looking for some way to make their mark on the world, and adventure sports seems to be a great way to do that. If you are a hopeless romantic like me, you may desire adventure to experience what the great explorers like Shackleton, or others may have experienced as a way to do something in a spirit of heroism and honor, which seems especially void these days. In some ways, I long for adventure because I want to push myself and test my abilities. Of course, there must always be wisdom in this.
Wild at Heart has been vastly popular, but I feel that it gives an unrealistic and even unhealthy view of manhood and puts too much pressure on men who may be reading the book. Eldredge pulls from his own experiences and tries to impose them on young men. He misapplies scripture
to fit it to his view, which is misleading young men down a path of idealistic dreams.

To be wild at heart I think really only applies to us as men in the sense that we are designed in a way that reflects the attributes of God in a male way just as women reflect His attributes in a female way. God has designed us this way. As Christ is the head of His bride the Church, so we are designed to be the head of our family and of our wives. We are the provider and sustainer of our family, as God is to His children. Mothers provide nurture and care to her children, which
reflects God's care to us. God has designed us in such a special and unique way to be mirrors to reflect our Maker. The way we express things or do things may be more physical, but that is the way we have been wired by God.

As a boy, it was a normal day if my brothers and I came back with torn pants, muddy faces, and a few cuts and bruises. We were interacting with one another as boys will: with physicality. Typically speaking, if a boy gets a chance to wrestle in the rain and get dirty will do so, while a girl will probably stay inside and play with her dolls. Forgive me if I have just given in to a stereotype, but I think that this seems to be the common experience of most children. We were adventurous boys who remain adventurous as men, though maybe in different ways than when we were young...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Of Friendship, Sacrifice, and The Tales That Really Matter

Weather always affects my mood. If it's cloudy, wet, and windy, my mood turns either depressive or melancholic. If the weather is cold, but sunny, particularly around this time of year, my mood becomes reflective, slightly depressive, but more reflective. This is especially true around sunset. Maybe there is something in the air or the change in the leaves' color that does this to me. For some reason, other than the fact that I love cold weather, I love this time of year. It seems natural to reflect on your life at this time in the year. As of this week, the weather started out cold and rainy, but has turned to windy, cold, and sunny. And so, this post has been inspired by the weather, thoughts and reflections over the last two days, and The Lord of the Rings.

I have been reflecting and musing over the last two days on the subject of friendship. It brings one great joy(in my humble opinion) to a person when there is sweet fellowship with a dear friend. The times when bonds are made, experiences shared, and advice given, can provide some of the deepest and richest times in a person's life, where human interactions are involved. I believe God made fellowship with friends sweet so that we might get a foretaste of our union with Him in heaven. When that thought is rested upon, excitement fills my heart and I begin to long for heaven just a little bit more. In those sometimes long breaks in fellowship with dear friends, when the desire for fellowship with a person is so intense, then is the longing for heaven made greater. Though you may not see that friend again, we do have the hope of one day seeing them again in glory. I have friends that I have not seen in two or three years and I long to see them again, but even if somehow I don't ever see them again, there is the promise of being reunited in Heaven.

There are five marks of a true friend: Vulnerability, Trust, Faithfulness, Accountability, and Love. True friends are those who see your sin and weakness, but who push you to the cross and challenge you; who truly desire your best, and who love you unconditionally in spite of your brokenness. These true friends lay down their lives for you. This is the kind of friend that I wish to be to others, and the sort that I seek out in people. In Christian vernacular, we might often refer to them as brothers, as they are our spiritual brothers if we are both in Christ. In my own life, I know that I can converse about anything with those that are closest to me. I know that I will not be judged and they know that I will not judge them for anything spoken or done. There is great comfort in knowing this, and in having complete trust with another person. If one of us does cross a line or if we follow a path of sin, each of us expects to be called out and opposed in love by the other person. A true friend will always be willing to speak truth to their companion even if that person does not take it well. Proverbs 27:6 says "Faithful are the wounds of a friend..." Friends are faithful, even when it hurts...

While thinking bout friendship, I thought of famous examples of deep committed friendships. The most famous in the Old Testament that exemplifies Proverbs 27:6 is the story of David and Jonathan. I Samuel 18:1 says Jonathan's soul was knit to the soul of David. Jonathan loved David as his own soul, and even though his father King Saul tried to kill David, Jonathan protected David behind his father's back. Jonathan risked everything for David, and became vulnerable to the point where he actually took off all his outer garments including his robe, sword, and belt, and gave them to David. Jonathan knew that David had been anointed as next king, but instead of bearing resentment toward David, he humbled himself and recognized that God had appointed David as Saul's successor.

Friendship also requires sacrifice. Sacrifice may take different forms throughout the course of a friendship. It may be simply just yielding your wants and desires to the other person's desires. Perhaps it may be giving up your time for your companion even if it is inconvenient. In some cases, it may be actually giving your life for your friend. Jesus certainly fell into this mold when he died on the cross for his friends, that they may have eternal life. Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to be ultimate friend because He lived it out in His interactions with the disciples, giving up His time and energy, and because He went to the cross for guilty sinners so that we might be called His friends.

An example from literature that readily sticks out in my mind, is the relationship between Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings. Sam was as loyal as they come in this epic masterpiece. Sam, who loved the Shire, who was afraid to leave, remained loyal until the quest to destroy the ring of power was complete. He was charged by Gandalf the wizard to never leave Frodo's side, and he took it to heart. Even when through the deceit of Gollum, Frodo believed that Sam was against him, Sam remained true and came to Frodo's aid in a dire situation. Had it not been for Samwise, Frodo would not have completed the quest to save Middle-Earth.

In the end of The Two Towers, Sam makes a speech about the tales the really mattered. He says that the heroes in those stories had plenty of chances to turn back, but they never did. Why were these stories ones that really mattered? Because they had something to teach the audience. Stories where the hero, through his own lust or doubts, would have failed had it not been for his loyal and trustworthy companion, are my favorite kind of stories. Legends often tend to have the characteristic of teaching the audience some valuable truth. Arthurian Legends for instance that tell the tale of King Arthur and is brave knights on a perilous quest, are moral lessons on courage, loyalty, and faith, as well as friendship and brotherhood. Who likes stories with nothing but fluff? The best stories are weighty and have great meaning to them. Even greater are the stories that give us hope and point us to Jesus. Look at the Old Testament, which is full of stories. Each one is a foreshadowing of someone greater than those in the actual story. The entire Old Testament points toward a coming Messiah who would bring hope to a dying world full of brokenness and sin. Modern examples of stories that serve more as allegory are The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. The tales that demonstrate our brokenness, our need for someone greater than us; that point to Jesus, those are the tales that really matter...