Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Hope of The Hunger Games

I recently got to watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire with some of the youth from our church. The movie and books series it’s based on are very popular among teens and young adults. I myself read through the trilogy after watching the first movie. It’s a very intense series that looks at a dystopian future where children are forced to fight to the death in an arena each year as penance for a rebellion their ancestors were involved in some 70 some years prior. One “tribute” volunteers in place of her sister, whose names was drawn at the annual “reaping.” The books and movies follow her story.

In the first book, this girl, Katniss Everdeen, manages to survive during the Hunger Games along with the male tribute from her district. He is so in love with her that his sole goal during the games was to keep her alive. When it comes down to them as the final two, they opt to take suicide instead of killing each other. When their plan becomes apparent, the government decides to name them both as winners rather than leave the games with no victor.

However, the seeds of rebellion are sown, and many in the districts begin rising up. The government tries to use Katniss and her beau as propaganda to calm the situation, but it ultimately backfires on them and she and the past victors of the Hunger Games are considered a threat to the authority of the Capitol. Enter the 75th annual Hunger Games.

Many people were surprised to hear that we were watching this movie at a “church function.” To some extent, I agree with the concern, which is why I required permission slips for all teens under 17. Yet the books and the movie are wildly popular, and I wanted to address that.

After we watched the movie I asked the teens what they thought of it. Most said it was “good” or that they enjoyed it. A couple guys said they thought it was too predictable. I then said, “It’s appalling.” I don’t think they were expecting that. I continued, “Still, if you suspend your moral judgment, it can be fun.” That quote doesn’t come from me, but from one of the characters in the film describing a government-sponsored party celebrating the victors. I explained to the students that the whole concept behind the films is indeed appalling. It’s not a story that you want to hear because it’s “fun.” It’s the opposite of fun. It’s traumatic. The movie takes you into the mind of the main character as she experiences flashbacks, night terrors, and psychological torment and trauma. The only way to say this movie is “fun” is to suspend one’s moral judgment as that character in the movie said.

Yet this movie has a strong appeal to youth, and I don’t believe it’s because they are all sadists, finding enjoyment in the suffering of others. I believe it’s because, to some small extent, they can identify with the main character’s confusion, fear, and desperation, and somehow they hope to overcome. Like Katniss, they find out that they must react to events that are greater than they and beyond their control. Just when Katniss thinks she can manage the situation and achieve some semblance of order and control, something else happens that she must react to. Everything she does is a response. Young people can identify with this.

Teenagers go from hearing “You can do anything and be anything” to discovering things like “minimum GPA,” “four year commitment,” and “course not offered here.” Life starts to get scary towards the end of high school when they discover that the supposed “freedom” of adult life offers a lot of limitations. They wonder if they can afford to go to college, but fear that they can’t afford not to. Some look to the military as a way of going to college, but find out that full-time work and full-time school don’t often go together, and there’s that “X-year commitment.” Those who do go to college find themselves limited by the degree they pursue. Changing course after advancing towards a specific degree isn’t always feasible time-wise or financially. Everyone wants a job they love at a desired pay rate. Everyone wants to find true love and to live somewhere as good as or better than where they grew up.

They fear. They doubt. They wonder how well they can cope with these fears and doubts. They wonder if they can overcome or if they should despair of finding peace and happiness. So when they see a character like Katniss, they wonder if she will move past her insecurities. They wonder if she will always be afraid or if she will find some semblance of normalcy and order in her life. They root for her because they are rooting for themselves. In the midst of all the fear and heartache, they want to believe that it won’t always be that way.

In the second book/movie, Catching Fire, we see Katniss descend into despair. She lives her life out of fear. As the story progresses, she is blindsided by the fact that there are other forces at work beyond the Hunger Games. There is a resistance. There is a hope. That hope is most clearly visible in Peeta, her fellow tribute. Peeta loves her. He wants to protect her. As Katniss sees Peeta again and again risk his life for her, willing to die for her, she begins to get a glimpse at something that will come to light in the last part of the story: there’s something bigger worth living for. There’s something bigger worth dying for. Living by fear may preserve your life in the short run, but living by hope preserves your soul in the long run.

We who believe in Christ know what it is to live by fear. That characterized our life before knowing him, and continues to dog at us even now. But in Christ we have a hope that cannot be taken away from us. Our hope springs eternal. Perhaps as we follow Katniss’s story we can learn from Peeta’s hope, and when we look to the gospel of our salvation, we can chose to hope too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

¿Incitas a tus hijos a pecar?

«¡Ay del mundo por las cosas que hacen pecar a la gente! Inevitable es que sucedan, pero ¡ay del que hace pecar a los demás!»
—Mateo 18:7
Hace tiempo un padre me explicó por qué miraba películas con escenas de sexo gráfico junto con su hijo joven. Dijo que sabía que su hijo iba a ver tales películas y suponía que sería mejor estar allí con él para poderle hablar acerca de lo que estaban viendo. Él pensaba que era buen padre. También he conocido a personas que lleven sus hijas al doctor para conseguir una receta para pastillas que previenen la natalidad y después les compran preservativos. Dicen que es muy ingenuo esperar que tus hijas jóvenes no tengan relaciones sexuales, así que les quieren ofrecer la mayor protección posible. Estos padres piensan que son buenos padres.

En realidad, son malos padres. Cuando invitamos a nuestros hijos a ver imágenes pornográficas o a usar preservativos, les estamos comunicando que no tenemos ninguna esperanza de que ellos sigan el camino de Dios y les estamos tentando a pecar. La carta de Santiago 1:13 dice: «Que nadie, al ser tentado, diga: “Es Dios quien me tienta.” Porque Dios no puede ser tentado por el mal, ni tampoco tienta él a nadie.» Satanás nos anima a probar el pecado. Dios nos urge a huir de ello. ¿A quién más parece el padre que invita a su hijo mirar una película con escenas gráficas de sexo?

Jesús, quien era (y es) Dios en la carne, sabía que los seres humanos van a pecar por causa de naturaleza caída. Aun así, tenía una advertencia para todos nosotros: «¡Ay del mundo por las cosas que hacen pecar a la gente! Inevitable es que sucedan, pero ¡ay del que hace pecar a los demás!» Esta advertencia aplica especialmente a nosotros como padres. Somos la influencia más poderosa en la vida de nuestros hijos. Si les incitamos a pecar estamos transgrediendo el llamado alto que Dios nos ha dado.

Por mi parte, mi deseo es enseñar a mis hijos a conocer la Biblia y seguir los caminos de Dios. Sí, ellos van a pecar, y cuando lo hacen quiero recordarles de la gracia, perdón, y justificación que se les ofrece el evangelio. No quiero ser tropiezo para ellos. Ni tampoco quiero incitarles a pecar. Es una cosa advertirles de los peligros del pecado. Es otra cosa mostrarles cómo pueden hacerlo de una manera para minimizar las consecuencias. Ante Dios el pecado es pecado y no podemos minimizar eso. Y eso es lo que importa.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Ents and the Church

“Where is Entmoot?” Pippin ventured to ask. “Hoo, eh? Entmoot?” said Treebeard, turning around.” It is not a place, it is a gathering of Ents…
—J.R.R. Tolkein, The Two Towers
In Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Ents are a tree-like people who take care of the forest. As the story unfolds, the Ents are drawn into the conflict between good and evil, supporting the good side and leading an attack on an enemy stronghold.

The passage above occurs when Treebeard tells his new hobbit friends, Merry and Pippin, that they are on their way to the Entmoot. The Entmoot is not a place, but a gathering of Ents. That’s not too far off from the church.

Too often we think of the church as a structure with a fixed location. In reality, the church is not a place, but a gathering of believers, to borrow Treebeard’s words. This has profound implications for how we live and act as a Christian community.

For one, no one can be a believer and not be subject to the church. Some people faithfully gather every weekend, say, “I go to [blank] church,” and have good friendships with others in the congregation, yet don’t want to officially join the church. Maybe they have sin in their lives they don’t want to give up. Perhaps they disagree with a point of doctrine or practice. It could just be that they want to maintain their privacy. But church membership and mutual accountability isn’t limited by a membership card and a vote of acceptance. The “one anothers” of the New Testament don’t limit themselves to official church members, but extend to anyone who call himself a brother in Christ. By gathering together with a group of believers and calling yourself a believer, you are opening yourself to the encouragement, support, instruction, and rebuke of other believers because that’s what it means to be a believer who gathers with the rest of the church.

Second, the health of a church depends not on programs and financial statements, but on relationships and God’s word. Thus, my main concern in deciding on which church to attend should not depend primarily on whether there’s a good band and a decent children’s ministry, but on how the church members live in community and whether or not they are faithful to the teaching of the Bible. Sure, we should be concerned about music and children, but not over and above matters of mutual love and biblical faithfulness. A community of believers that loves each other can improve over time in programs, but a disconnected community of believers who love their programs will not likely add mutual love or biblical faithfulness anytime soon.

This weekend when gather with the church, look around you. See the faces. Are you part of a community of believers, or merely stopping by a place you call “church?”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cuando la Vida te da Limones...

El fin de semana pasado fui a comer en un restaurante mexicano. Bebé una limonada y chupé la cuarta del limón para desenchilarme (un remedio que funciona bien). No sé si ese limón costó más a ese restaurante o no, pero aprendí hoy que el precio del limón ha subido más de 150% en México.

El artículo que leí dijo «El limón es actualmente más caro en México que en España, Estados Unidos, Australia o Italia. La subida es aún más absurda si se tiene en cuenta que México es uno de los principales productores de limón persa del mundo, un fruto que además es básico en su gastronomía».

El precio del limón ha subido tanto por causa de plaga, inundaciones, y la violencia (los carteles demandan dinero de los agricultores). El artículo sigue: «El alto precio del limón, un aderezo obligado para muchos mexicanos, ha causado que en los restaurantes se sirvan pequeñísimas porciones para acompañar la comida, que en el norte del país escasee la limonada… y que en bares del DF se sirva menos la michelada: una cerveza preparada con limón y sal.»

No importa cuán “avanzado” sea el país, cada economía y civilización depende del sector agricultor para existir. En tiempos antiguos, y hasta en ciertas regiones del mundo hoy en día, plagas, inundaciones, sequías, y la violencia podían causar más problemas que una escasez de la limonada.

Cuando los asirios conquistaban una tierra, sembraban sal en los campos para que nada pudiera crecer. Una sequía o unas inundaciones tenían el poder que elevar o humillar a un reino entero, dependiendo de si sufría la calamidad o no. El faraón de Egipto se convirtió en el hombre más rico del mundo a causa de una sequía muy grande que duró siete años (Génesis 47:15-22).

Tiempo después en la tierra de Judá, el profeta Habacuc se dio cuenta de que Dios iba a castigar a su país a causa de sus pecados. Pidió que Dios tuviera misericordia de ellos, pero al darse cuenta de cuán grande es el pecando ante Dios, decidió confiar en vez de criticar los caminos de Dios. Dijo en 3:17-18: 
Aunque la higuera no dé renuevos, ni haya frutos en las vides;
aunque falle la cosecha del olivo, y los campos no produzcan alimentos;
aunque en el aprisco no haya ovejas, ni ganado alguno en los establos;
aun así, yo me regocijaré en el Señor, ¡me alegraré en Dios, mi libertador!
Que nosotros también confiemos en el Señor, aun cuando las cosas no vayan como queremos, porque él no defraudará a los suyos. ¡Él es nuestro libertador!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Give Mostly to the Local Church

The local Christian radio station is gearing up for its annual (or semi-annual, I forget which) pledge drive. In a matter of days the station hopes to get enough donations pledged to cover most of its operating budget for the year. That’s no small feat!

With many non-profit organizations appealing to our generosity, I’d like to advocate for the one non-profit every Christian should support more than any other: the local church. Before you write me off as a greasy, money-hungry charlatan, take into consideration that I’m not a paid minister. Of the multiple times I preached last year I was only paid twice, and neither time did I ask for anything. I just believe that the local church should get first position when it comes to our giving. Why? Because the local church is God’s established expression of Christian community.

Hopefully, we’ve heard it said time and time again that the church is not a building of wood and stone, but the people who occupy it. We are one family, brothers and sisters in Christ, living together as a community, as a family. Although I believe that the phrase “charity begins at home” is typically applied in a selfish way to justify our lack of concern for others, we do need to remember that our responsibility to love and care for others begins with our family. Imagine if I left my wife and children to survive on government assistance and the generosity of my family members while I sponsored a whole village overseas to provide food and shelter for them. My wife and children may be well cared for, but I’d still be a deadbeat, regardless of the good I do for others, because I’m not providing for those toward whom I have more responsibility. Likewise, a Christian has more responsibility toward the local church community of which they are a part than to Christian ministries in their city, state, nation, or world. A Christian who gives to support other ministries but won’t give (or won’t give much) to support his local church is a deadbeat.

Part of the reason you have more responsibility toward the local church than any other Christian ministry is because of the relationship you have to the church. God established the local church as a Christian community to carry forth his word and to build up believers. A Christian non-profit ministry isn’t going to hold you accountable or take responsibility for your spiritual wellbeing. The local church does that. I may hear a lot of good sermons online from Desiring God ministries and I may feel the desire to support that ministry, but no one from Desiring God is going to baptize my children if they believe in Christ, rebuke me if I fall into sin, embrace me when a loved one dies, or meet with me to disciple me. It’s a good ministry, and it is worthy of support, but not to the detriment of my local church.

When it comes to the idea of tithing, I think we need to be careful. Although I personally believe the tithe to be biblical, I can’t bring myself to say that it is mandated. That said, I don’t believe I can consider myself to be giving generously if I don’t give at least that much to my local church.

Each believer should think and pray about how much to give, but none of us should wonder whether the local church should be our primary recipient of our giving. As for me, I give primarily to my local church. If I know of a worthy non-profit that I’d like to support, I first make sure to give generously to my local church. Then, if I want to give beyond this, I give to other ministries. If I find that I don’t have enough left over to make as significant a contribution as I’d like, I try to bring other believers together and may even encourage my church to support the ministry. If you’re concerned that the church isn’t giving enough of its money toward worthwhile ministries, consider advocating for a more missions-minded budget and give so the church has more than enough money to meet its needs.

Remember, the church is not less than the sum of its parts. If the church members—you and I—are stingy with our giving, it’s not surprising if the local church is too. The solution begins with you and me. Let’s get to it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

John Knox: Church History for Kids

John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers). By Simonetta Carr. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books. pp. 64. 2014. (List Price $18.00 Hardcover)

Simonetta Carr is a storyteller. Each volume in her Christian Biographies for Young Readers series is written and illustrated to capture the attention of children aged 7 to 12. I didn't have many books on church history growing up, but I'm sure I would have loved this one.

John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, is often remembered negatively. He was quite controversial and very opinionated. One might say that he majored on the majors and on the minors as well. He would not agree to disagree. Yet it was because he majored on the majors that the gospel advanced within Scotland. Carr recognizes this, and she is more sympathetic to Knox. After all, he was human like you and me.

Knox's story captivates because of the many things that happened in his life, from his participation in revolt and rebellion, to time spent as a galley slave, to exile, and to service before kings. The target audience of this book is children aged 7 to 12, although younger kids may appreciate mommy or daddy reading it to them rather than doing it by themselves. My two year old saw it out and asked me to read it to her, and she did like the pictures, so the whole family may even enjoy it. I know I did.

I received this book in exchange for a candid review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

El Cardenal de Colombia y la Teología de la Liberación

Hace unos días apareció en El Tiempo, uno de los periódicos más importantes de Colombia, una entrevista con del cardenal Rubén Salazar. Hay que recordar que este cardenal estaba presente y echaba su voto cuando el cardenal de la Argentina fue elegido Papa de la Iglesia Católica Romana, así que este hombre tiene mucha influencia en su país y en el catolicismo mundial.

La entrevista trató de varios temas como el escándalo de pederastia entre los clérigos, el conflicto entre el gobierno de Colombia y grupos como las Farc y el Eln, un escándalo en el ejército colombiano, la pobreza, la relación entre la Iglesia romana y los ricos del país y dogmas «polémicas».
Se puede enfocar en cualquier de estos asuntos, pero me gustaría hablar de lo que dijo acerca de la Teología de la Liberación. Dijo: «El hecho de que en América Latina haya nacido la Teología de la Liberación es un índice claro de que la Iglesia, aquí, es del pueblo y para el pueblo, que no es una ONG poderosa, rica y alejada, sino que ya está en las barriadas, con los desheredados.»

Aunque la mayoría de las personas no saben qué es la Teología de la Liberación, muchos la reconocerán cuando la describo. Nació en Latinoamérica y recibió mucho apoyo del liderazgo católico en 1968 durante la segunda Conferencia de Obispos Latinoamericanos que se reunió en Medellín, Colombia. Es muy conectado al marxismo y al humanismo y ha sido criticado por el Vaticano por muchos años, especialmente por el muy amado Papa Juan Pablo II.[1]

La Teología de la Liberación se hace más popular entre los pobres en Latinoamérica y hasta ha tenido éxito entre los protestantes también. El problema es que esta «teología» es profundamente equivocada. Aunque todos nosotros venimos a la Biblia con nuestras cosmovisiones particulares, nuestro deseo debe de ser apropiar para nosotros los que la Biblia enseña, no lo que queremos que enseñe. La Teología de la Liberación tiene la humanismo y el marxismo como filtro para entender la Biblia. La Iglesia católica romana—y sí lo admite—tiene la tradición católica romana como filtro para entender la Biblia. Estos dos métodos están gravemente equivocados.

Nosotros tenemos que reconocer nuestros filtros y buscar leer la Biblia conforme a lo que los autores humanos y su autor divino querían comunicar. El apóstol Pedro dijo: «Porque la profecía no ha tenido su origen en la voluntad humana, sino que los profetas hablaron de parte de Dios, impulsados por el Espíritu Santo». En otras palabras, la Biblia tiene significado específico—no significa lo que cualquiera persona quiere. El deber de nosotros no es decidir lo que significa para mí, sino lo que significa en sí.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Love and Suffering are Inseparable

A Loving Life (in a World of Broken Relationships). By Paul E. Miller. Wheaton: Crossway. 2014. 176 pp. (List Price $12.99 Paperback | $9.99 Kindle | $14.98 Audio)

Suffering and love are inseparable. Even sappy romantic comedies and dramas require some level of conflict and pain in order to move the story along to a fairytale conclusion. Yet we are often remiss to put these two concepts together because we either want to avoid this reality or deny it altogether. A Loving Life begins with the reality that suffering is the crucible for love, death is the center of love, and loving sometimes means acting against my feelings.

Paul E. Miller has written a book on love that follows the J-curve of the story of Ruth and ultimately of the gospel itself: downward into death and then upward into resurrection. By looking at the love demonstrated by Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz in the biblical account, Miller describes the kind of sacrifice that one-directional love requires and the hope and resurrection this kind of love produces, not only in the person being loved, but the one doing the loving as well.

Modern-day movies and novels are often more remiss to include the ideas of commitment and love together than they are to include suffering and love, but Miller shows that true love grows out of commitment, not sentimentality or “good feelings.” Commitment breeds love even when the good feelings are gone as Ruth shows by her relationship with Naomi and Miller shows with modern examples from his own life and the lives of others.

I was not expecting the power and force of Miller’s book when I began listening to the audio version. He doesn’t give five principles for creating a sunny disposition, but rather traces out the lines of real love, the kind of love that can cry out to God for deliverance and rejoice in Him when deliverance comes.

I’ve already been applying the book to my own life and using it in counseling others about dying to our own rights and desires, choosing instead to love and trusting God for the resurrection. Highly recommended.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book from the publisher for purposes of review. The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

La Cuaresma

¿Celebras la Cuaresma? La Cuaresma es un período de 40 días antes de la Pascua cuando muchas personas, primeramente Católicos Romanos pero algunos protestantes también, se preparen para celebrar la Pascua. Estas personas normalmente hacen votos, ayunan, o intentan vivir con más autodisciplina.

Lamentablemente muchos hacen broma de la Cuaresma en sus acciones. Muchas personas se rinden al libertinaje el día anterior (Martes Gordo / Mardi Gras). Piensan que si van a pasar 40 días de ayuno o de moderación deben de engordarse de todo mientras que puedan, sea de la comida, el alcohol, el sexo, o cualquier otro vicio que piensan evitar durante la Cuaresma. Pero esto solo los revela como hipócritas porque el verdadero arrepentimiento no quiere nada que ver con el pecado.

La Biblia no dice nada acerca de la Cuaresma, así que el celebrarla y participar en ella es asunto de libertad y preferencia personal. Pablo dijo, “Algunos creen que ciertos días son más importantes que otros. Otros consideran que todos los días son iguales. Cada uno está plenamente convencido de su propio pensamiento. El que da importancia a ciertos días, lo hace para el Señor; y el que no les da importancia, también lo hace para el Señor” (Rom. 14:5-6a, RVC). Así que no recibimos ninguna bendición especial al participar o no participar en ella. Nuestras vidas siempre deben de caracterizarse por el arrepentimiento y la moderación. No se debe esperar hasta la Cuaresma o cualquier otro día para arrepentirse del pecado. La Biblia nos dice en Hebreos 3:13-15:

Más bien, anímense unos a otros día tras día, mientras se diga «Hoy», para que el engaño del pecado no endurezca a nadie. Nosotros hemos llegado a participar de Cristo, siempre y cuando retengamos firme hasta el fin la confianza que tuvimos al principio. Como ya se ha dicho: «Si ustedes oyen hoy su voz, no endurezcan su corazón, como cuando me provocaron.»

Este artículo apareció en mi blog en febrero de 2013.

Honduras, Alcohol, la Ley y Cristo

¿Cómo responde Honduras a una alta tasa de homicidios, que está alrededor de 19 al día, en su país? Con lo que en los estados unidos se llama blue laws [leyes azules], que prohíben el comercio de ciertos productos durante ciertas horas de la semana. Cuando trabajé para la tienda Meijer durante le preparatoria, tenía que trabajar los domingos por la tarde, y uno de mis responsabilidades era la de reponer las botellas de alcohol en las muestras porque muchas personas no sabían de las leyes y tenían que dejarlas en el registro. Era (y todavía es) prohibido comprar alcohol los domingos.

Ahora, en Honduras, no se puede comprar licores por 13 horas los domingos. Según sus cifras, el 20% de los homicidios ocurren los domingos, y parece que una gran cantidad de ellos involucran el alcohol. Aunque la gente puede comprar alcohol antes o después de ese tiempo, la ley quiere limitar la ocurrencia de la borrachera espontánea.

No sé si serán eficaces para disminuir el número de homicidios a números muy bajos, pero creo que estás leyes pueden mejorar la situación doméstico. El abuso del alcohol anda mano en mano con la violencia doméstica—física, sexual, y verbal.

Lamentablemente, las leyes, cuan buenas que sean, no pueden erradicar el mal. Aun en Honduras el 80% de los homicidios no ocurren durante esas 13 horas de prohibición. Desde el primer mandamiento de la Biblia, el de no comer del árbol del conocimiento del bueno y del mal, se puede ver que la ley no es suficiente para prevenir ni lidiar con el pecado. Gracias a Dios, el temor de ser castigado sí limita lo que la mayoría de nosotros haríamos si no creíamos que seríamos castigados.

Lo que más necesitamos es una naturaleza libre del pecado, libre de las “lujurias de la carne”. Esta naturaleza Dios nos da por medio del sacrificio de Jesús. Hay muchos religiosos que piensan que la ley los puede librar del pecado. Eso no es correcto. Quizás encuentran que no hacen ciertas cosas cuando hay leyes, pero eso no hace nada con el corazón pecaminoso. Se necesita una nueva naturaleza que sólo el Espíritu Santo puede crear en nosotros al confiar en el sacrificio y la justicia de Cristo nos será dado. Termino con las palabras de Pablo cuanto a esto:
Con respecto a la vida que antes llevaban, se les enseñó que debían quitarse el ropaje de la vieja naturaleza, la cual está corrompida por los deseos engañosos; ser renovados en la actitud de su mente; y ponerse el ropaje de la nueva naturaleza, creada a imagen de Dios, en verdadera justicia y santidad.
Efesios 4:22-24, NVI