The Doorway to Forever

"I am the Door; any one who enters by me will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." - Jesus Christ

Monday, June 02, 2008

The New Birth

The following is a sermon I preached at a United Methodist church in East Tennessee on June 1, 2008.

John 3:1-15

3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicode'mus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicode'mus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born anew.' 8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicode'mus said to him, "How can this be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (Revised Standard Version)

For those of us who grew up in the church, this may be a very familiar passage. Because it’s so familiar we can miss aspects of its meaning. Therefore this morning I want to take a fresh look at this story to see what we might learn from it.

The first person we meet in the story is Nicodemus. What do we know about him?

Verse 1 tells us Nicodemus was a Pharisee, which means he was devoutly religious. This same verse also calls him a “ruler of the Jews.” In verse 10 Jesus calls Nicodemus “a teacher of Israel.” This implies that he must have been fairly well-known as a spiritual leader, someone who was respected as a teacher in spiritual matters. So from these few facts we can surmise that Nicodemus was no lightweight; he was known and respected as a spiritual leader.

In light of this, the fact that Nicodemus comes to see Jesus at night (verse2) is significant. Some of Nicodemus’ colleagues among the spiritual leadership of the Jewish people were suspicious of Jesus and thought he was leading the people astray. It appears Nicodemus was concerned about what his colleagues would think about him coming to consult this controversial rabbi, and so Nicodemus comes to see him quietly at night.

We can also see, though, that he must have had some level of spiritual awareness, because he tells Jesus, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him” (verse 2). Nicodemus recognized Jesus as a man who had been sent by God. One of the themes in the gospel of John is that Jesus is the man who came down from heaven, and this verse indicates that Nicodemus was perceptive enough to see this.

Jesus doesn’t mince any words with this man. In fact, he doesn’t even give Nicodemus time to ask a question or tell Jesus why he came. Jesus cuts to the chase; He tells Nicodemus he must be “born anew” (v. 3).

The fact that Jesus says such a thing to this prominent religious leader is significant: Even though Nicodemus is a spiritual leader of his people—even though he’s a teacher, and a man of some understanding—Jesus tells him there’s more. There’s more to being a part of God’s kingdom than Nicodemus has yet discovered.

Nicodemus questioned what Jesus meant about being born anew. It would be worthwhile for us to consider the issue for a moment.

You probably know that the New Testament was originally written in Greek and that all our English Bibles are translations of the Greek manuscripts into English. In John 3 verses 3 and 7, where the text speaks of being born anew, the Greek word translated “anew” is anothen.

This word can also be translated “again”. Of course, this is the wording we most often hear with respect to this phrase: “born again”. The idea of being a “born-again Christian” has almost become a cliché. However, we see here that being born again is a biblical idea.

The Greek word “anothen” can also be translated “from above”. So Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to be “born anew”, “born again” or “born from above.” Each of these translations tells us something about what Jesus meant.

“Born anew” and “born again” have similar meanings. We can tell Nicodemus understood Jesus’ statement in this way because of his question in verse 4: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Nicodemus understood Jesus to be saying he needed to be born again.

The translation “born from above” is helpful also, because it helps us know what kind of birth we’re talking about. It’s a birth that’s not merely of this earth, but instead is “from above.” We can interpret this to mean that the new birth is from heaven. We’ll say more about that in a moment.

When we hear Jesus tell Nicodemus “you must be born anew” or “born again,” our response might be a bit like that of Nicodemus: “What do you mean I must be ‘born again?’ How can someone be born once they’ve grown up? Can a person enter a second time into his or her mother's womb and be born?" Let’s take a few moments to consider in more depth what kind of birth this new birth or second birth is.

Our best indication is found in verse 6, when Jesus says: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Here Jesus contrasts two kinds of birth.

First he refers to our natural birth when he says “That which is born of the flesh is flesh….” Every person is born into this world in the natural manner: Parents conceive, the mother carries the baby to term (hopefully) and eventually the mother gives birth to a healthy baby from her womb. This natural birth that every person goes through to come into this world is what Jesus is referring to when he says “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.”

But then Jesus goes on to say that “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Here he’s talking about the second birth, or the new birth. So from this we know that when Jesus says “you must be born again” he’s talking about a spiritual birth. This fits with the idea of being “born from above,” which we talked about a moment ago. When he speaks of “that which is born of the Spirit” he’s referring there to the Holy Spirit. The new birth is a spiritual birth coming “from above,” when a person is born of the Holy Spirit.

This goes along with what Jesus said in verse 5: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Scholars have debated what Jesus means here by being “born of water.” Some say the reference to water refers to the waters of baptism. Others claim Jesus is referring to the natural birth, as we think of when we say that the mother’s “water broke” just before giving birth.

Since Jesus is talking here about what must happen in order for a person enter the kingdom of God, and since he contrasts the natural birth with the spiritual birth in verse 6, I don’t believe being “born of water” here is referring to the natural birth. I think it’s safe to say that the water Jesus mentions in verse 5 is the water of baptism. Jesus is saying that in order for a person to enter the Kingdom of God they must be baptized and spiritually reborn. (Note: We should not take this to mean that baptism is necessary for salvation. But that is a topic for another sermon.)

So to sum up, when Jesus tells Nicodemus “you must be born again” he’s saying to him: In order for someone to enter the kingdom of God a person has to be born in a spiritual sense. They must be born of the Holy Spirit.

To learn more about this idea of being born again, let’s look at another passage in the gospel of John, John 1: 9-13.

9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (RSV)

Here John is talking about Jesus coming into the world. He says that Jesus “was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (verses 10 and 11). But then notice what it says in verses 12-13: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Here we see another reference to the new birth, when John speaks of being “born of God.” John tells us that the way to become children of God is by being born of God.

What the gospel of John is talking about here and in chapter 3 is becoming a Christian. And what we see in both places is that in order to become a Christian a person must be born again.

We have heard talk over the years of “born-again” Christians, but these verses let us know that really there is no other kind. If you want to be a Christian, if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, if you want to be a child of God, says the Bible, you must be born again. Notice it says “you must be born again.” Not you “may” or you “might want to be”, but “you must be born again.” And lest we think Jesus was only addressing this thought to Nicodemus, we should take note of the fact that when Jesus says “you must be born anew” in verse 7, the word “you” in the Greek is plural. So it means “you all must be born again.” (You didn’t know Jesus was a southerner, did you? J) Taking this into account, the full meaning of verse 7 is as follows: “Do not marvel that I said to you, Nicodemus, that you all must be born anew.”

Jesus wasn’t just telling Nicodemus he had to be born again. He was saying that any person who desires to become a Christian needs to be born again.

Why? Why do we need to be born again?

The answer goes all the way back to the book of Genesis. When Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, disobeyed God’s command, and ate of the forbidden fruit, their disobedience caused them to die spiritually. This gave them a sinful nature which also passed to their children and on down through the generations, so that every person who’s ever been born has a sinful nature that separates them from God.

Every person who is born into this world is born spiritually dead. When we come into this world our spirits are dead. That’s why Jesus said we must be born of the Spirit in order to be saved. In order to enter God’s kingdom we have to be born into it via the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit revives our spirit and brings it to life, giving us new life, the life of Christ.

Back in the days when kings ruled the earth, the normal way to become a king was that you had to be born the son of the king in order to succeed to the throne. Kingship was normally passed on by blood through birth.

When we become Christians, we become children of God, who is the great king of all the earth. God invites us to become his children. But in order to do this, we have to be born into his kingdom.

So how does this happen? How do we become born again? Let’s look again at John 1: 12-13. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John says that those who were given power (the Greek word also means “right” or “authority”) to become the children of God were those who “received” him, those who “believed in his name.” This is how we are born of God, by receiving Christ and believing in his name. Let’s look briefly at these two ideas.

First, what does it mean to receive Christ? We must begin by remembering that Jesus is a person. He’s not a concept or an idea or a thought, but a person. Yes, he’s risen from the dead and ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven. But the Bible teaches that Jesus comes to us spiritually and makes his home with us if we love him. Consider these verses from the 14th chapter of John:

18 "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" 23 Jesus answered him, "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.

If a stranger comes to your house, you have a couple of options as to how you will respond to them. You can turn them away, or you can receive them into your home and show them hospitality. If you get to know them well, you may begin to show them love and in a sense receive them in a deeper way, into your heart.

John 1 says that when Jesus came into this world, many didn’t receive him. They rejected him. They didn’t believe he was who he said he was, they didn’t believe or accept his teaching, they didn’t receive him in any way.

The chapter goes on to say, though, that there were some who did receive him. These were the ones who “believed in his name.” In Bible times, someone’s name represented everything they were. To believe in Jesus name is, among other things, to believe in everything that he is. These people believed Jesus was who he said he was. They believed and accepted Jesus teaching. They received him into their homes and into their lives and showed him hospitality and love.

Unfortunately, the idea of believing in Jesus is often misunderstood. The Greek word translated “believe” in the New Testament is the word pisteuo, which really means to “trust” or to “have faith in.”

Too often people think that believing in Jesus is just intellectual assent; that is, merely believing in Jesus as an idea or a concept; believing facts about Jesus—that he was born of a virgin, died on the cross, rose again, saved us from our sins, will get us to heaven when we die, etc. These facts about Jesus Christ are all true, and we do need to believe them.

But when the Bible talks about believing in Jesus, what is meant is trusting in him, having faith in him. Jesus Christ is a living person, more real than you or I. And we can have a relationship with him, just as you would have a relationship with a very special friend; or with a father who loves you and looks after you and watches out for you and has the best advice and wisdom for you. In order to be born again we are called to place our trust in this very special friend, to put our very lives in his hands.

Likewise, receiving Jesus means opening our hearts to him and receiving him, his very life, his very being, into our very selves. Letting all that He is fill all that we are. THIS is what it means to be born again.

And so the question I have for you this morning is: Have you been born again? Have you received Jesus into your heart and life? Have you believed in his name, not just as an idea, but as the Lord of the universe and your closest friend?? Have you invited to Jesus to come and live inside you, to fill you with Himself?

The Bible says that unless a person is born again, they cannot enter the kingdom of God. Simply being born into this earth of natural means is not enough. Every person is born that way. But in order to become a child of God, we have to be born of God, born of the Holy Spirit.

This means God has no grandchildren. Every new person who comes into this world must be born of God themselves. We don’t become Christians automatically, simply because our parents were Christians, or because we grew up in the church. The only way we become Christians is if each one of us personally receives Christ ourselves and puts our trust in him.

Friends, there are a whole lot of people who have gone to church all their lives but have never come to know Jesus Christ personally. They may have been faithful in their church attendance but have never received him. They may even be leaders in their church, just as Nicodemus was a teacher of the Jews, and yet they have never placed their faith in him. To every one of us Jesus says “you must be born again.”

I want to tell you a story from my own life. I grew up going to church. My parents were Christians. They had grown up Methodist, and as a child our family attended the Methodist church. For reasons I won’t go into, when I was about 12 our family became Presbyterian (a fact for which I hope you all will forgive us. J). So my formative teenage years were spent in the Presbyterian Church. I was confirmed in that church and became very active in the youth group. Around the age of thirteen I began to make some conscious decisions to try to live the way I believed God wanted me to live based on the teachings of the Bible.

From then on I was at church almost every time the doors were open. As a teen I tried very hard to live a righteous life. I became a leader and song leader for my youth group, and taught Sunday school on occasion with the younger kids.

In college I continued to serve with youth groups as a leader and during the summers I worked as a camp counselor at our church camp, eventually working my way up to the position of head counselor. I felt like my efforts as a spiritual leader at the camp were well-received, and so I concluded this was perhaps an indication that maybe God was calling me to be a leader in the church. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a pastor, but I felt drawn to some form of church leadership.

So my senior year I decided to go on to seminary. I applied to become a candidate for ministry in my denomination and began applying to seminaries. When I was accepted at Princeton seminary I decided to go there.

After seminary I was ordained as a pastor and served two churches. My years of ministry were filled with personal struggles of various types. I found that the beliefs I had weren’t sufficient to deal with the struggles I was facing. I felt like something was missing from my life, but I didn’t know what it was.

I had entered the ministry in 1991. In about 1996 or ’97 I heard a sermon on tape by the pastor of a fairly large church in Knoxville on this very same passage from John 3 about being born again. As I listened to the tape, I concluded that whatever this experience was of being born again, I had not had it. I didn’t know what it was, but whatever it was, I was pretty sure I had not experienced it. So I began to pray, “Lord, whatever it means to be born again, I don’t think it’s happened to me, but I would like it to happen, so would you bring it about in my life? I want to be born again.”

In 1998 I was invited by some other ministers in the town where I lived to attend a prayer retreat for pastors. There I had a chance to share some of my burdens and struggles with the other pastors, and they prayed for me.

On the third night of the retreat, I learned of some men there who were praying for pastors in a more personal way, and so I sought out these men and asked them to pray with me. As I shared my struggles with them and we prayed, I felt my burdens beginning to lift. I was being released from spiritual bondages and sins I had been carrying around for a long time. It was a wonderful, freeing experience, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room was palpable.

During this prayer time, one of the men turned to me and asked, “Have you ever asked Jesus into your heart?” At this point I had been a pastor for seven years, so the question kind of took me by surprise. I might have been tempted to dismiss it, but because God was working so powerfully in my life, and because I was in such obvious need, I took the question seriously.

I responded that I wasn’t sure I ever had asked Jesus into my heart, but that I had made a decision to serve Him as a young teenager. The man replied gently that this was good, but it wasn’t the same thing. And so he put the question to me again: “Have you ever asked Jesus into your heart?”

I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever asked that exact thing, but I think it’s already taken care of.”

“Well,” he replied, “since you’re not sure, why don’t you take a moment now and ask Jesus into you heart. Then if anyone ever asks you about this again in the future, you’ll know for sure.”

I agreed. I bowed my head, and he encouraged me to say a simple prayer in my own words. So I prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, you know I love you and I want you to be in my heart. And so I ask you now to come into my heart,” or words to that effect.

At that moment, as I prayed those words, I was aware of a benevolent spiritual presence filling my heart with a peace and a feeling of cleanness and joy and love that I have never known before. Jesus Christ had answered my prayer and come into my heart, just as I asked him to!

Later that night, after the prayer time was over, when I went back to my room in the conference center where the retreat was being held, I was filled with joy and excitement and wonder! As I lay in bed that night I found myself asking, “Lord what has happened to me???” As I lay there, the Lord began speaking to my heart about what had happened in my life. Over the days and weeks that followed, as I studied the Bible to find explanations for what I had experienced, I concluded that I had finally experienced this new birth Jesus talks about in the third chapter of John. I had been born again, born of the Spirit.

From my own experiences I’ve concluded that being born again involves a personal encounter with God. It isn’t necessarily something that happens just by being in church every Sunday or by doing spiritual activities like prayer and Bible study. I did all those things and more as an active church member, and as a pastor; and yet I never experienced the new birth through those things alone.

You may find it hard to believe that someone who grew up in church, was active in youth group, went to seminary, and became a pastor could do all that and yet never come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way. But I’ve become convinced there are lots of people who’ve been in church all their lives but have never been born anew. They are elders, and deacons, and Sunday school teachers, and church board members, even pastors, bishops, and seminary professors. They are good, responsible religious people like Nicodemus, but just like him they need to be born again.

Since you all are Methodists, I’ll close with a story from the life of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. (You all probably know this story better than I do, and might be able to correct me on any details I get wrong.)

Wesley grew up in the Church of England, and at the age of 22 made a profession of faith. After this Wesley decided to pursue a career as a priest.

Eventually John Wesley became the leader of a group of Oxford university students started by his brother Charles called the Holy Club. These young men were very zealous in their desire to live a holy and spiritual life, and so they adopted a very strict regimen of Bible study, self-denial, and acts of service. This group later became known as “Methodists” because of the method of spiritual discipline they rigorously pursued.

In 1735 Wesley decided to come to America to be a missionary to the Indians. On the trip across the ocean, one day a storm came up and everyone on board thought they were going to die. Wesley himself was very fearful of death at this time in his life.

During the storm the young preacher noticed a group of Moravian Christians from Germany who remained calm and serene. Wesley was impressed by their faith and concluded they had something he didn’t have, something he wanted.

In Wesley’s own estimation, that first trip to America was a failure. The response to his ministry was not as he had hoped, and in 1738 he returned to England. Once back home, Wesley sought out some Moravians like those he had met on his trip to America, and began attending their meetings.

You’ve probably heard the famous story about how one day, while attending one of these meetings held on a street called Aldersgate, as someone was reading a passage from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans, Wesley felt his “heart strangely warmed.” After this spiritual experience, Wesley’s life was profoundly changed. He discovered a new power in his preaching, as people responded like never before. Eventually a revival a broke out that continued for 50 years.

Scholars have been divided over exactly what the experience was that Wesley had at Aldersgate. Some have said it was salvation, some have said it was sanctification; others have concluded it was the filling of the Holy Spirit. But one thing is clear—after this experience, Wesley was never the same. His life was forever changed. He knew the power of God in his life as never before.

Through my own experiences and the testimony of others, I’m convinced that the new birth, being born again, is a personal encounter with God. If you’ve had it you will know, because your life will be changed.

It may happen different ways for different people. But the point is have you had it? Do you know that you know that you’re born again?

When a baby is born, mother and baby go through a very painful and wrenching process of labor. (Since I’m a man, I’ll never know what this is like in a personal way, but the ladies can tell us). The mother never forgets the labor she went through with her children.

I think it’s the same way with spiritual birth. You know when it happens because it is significant and memorable.

If you have any doubt in your mind that you’ve been born again; if you have any uncertainty as to whether you’ve met and gotten to know Jesus Christ in a personal way, I encourage you to seek to know him personally. If you’re unsure, why not ask Him just to be certain. Tell God, “Lord, I’m not sure I’ve ever had this experience of being born again, but I would like to.” If you’re not sure you’ve asked Jesus into your heart, why not pray a simple prayer asking him to come into your heart and live inside you.

For years I thought the Christian life was me trying real hard to live the way I was supposed to live. Today, even ten years after I met Jesus Christ, I am still learning that living the Christian life is not trying our best to live as Jesus wants us to live. Instead, it’s inviting Jesus Christ to come and live inside us, and letting Him live His life through us.

I encourage you to seek to know Jesus Christ personally. Feel free to ask me about this if you want to know more.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Lost in Translation 5:

(Spirituality on the TV Show Lost
and the Christian Faith)

Part 5: Did Jesus Sin, and
Does It Matter Anyway?

For a television program, Lost deals a surprising amount with the idea of sin. All the characters on the show have a past, and in many cases they've done things they're not proud of, things they're still feeling the negative impact of, actions they're either trying to forget or else wishing to atone for.

As I've mentioned previously, many episodes have centered on a particular individual, taking viewers back into their past, revealing some of the regrets they've brought with them to the island. In many cases it has seemed like events on the island might give the characters an opportunity to somehow redeem or atone for their past actions (although, I must confess that after the Nov. 1 episode, I've begun to wonder how much redemption there really is on Lost.)

While it’s good that Lost presents themes like sin, redemption, and providence (see "Lost in Translation 2: The Concept of Providence on Lost" below), there’s a huge piece missing from the spiritual puzzle presented there. That missing piece is (a sinless) Jesus. Without Christ there can be no redemption. (For more on why Christ is crucial in finding redemption, see "Lost in Translation 3" below.) And in fact, without a sinless Christ, there is no redemption.

If you're wondering whether Jesus sinned or not, the Bible speaks clearly on this issue. The New Testament book of Hebrews states that Jesus was "tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Christ faced all the same temptations we face. The difference is, He didn't give in to those temptations as we are prone to do.

We cannot underestimate how important this fact is. Only a sinless man would have been capable of serving as an acceptable sacrifice to God offered on our behalf to cleanse us from sin. Take away Christ’s sinlessness and you take away his ability to save us.

That’s why Lost’s portrayal of Jesus as a sinner is such an egregious thing (see "Welcome to my Blog" below). For one thing, it’s a slap in the face to the holiness of Christ, to the holiness of God. Jesus was not a sinner. He was and is different from us in that way. And he deserves to receive the credit He’s due for having lived a perfect sinless life. (For more on the importance of holiness, see "Lost in Translation 3" below.)

I understand that the idea of a Christ who was a sinner just like the rest of us is appealing, because it would seem to make Him more accessible. If Jesus was a sinner then we may feel as though we can relate to him better. No longer does He seem like the angry God, out to punish us for our sins. If Jesus is a sinner, then maybe He’ll be compassionate instead of judging us.

The problem is, a Jesus who sinned cannot save us. What good is He to us then? In that case, Jesus was just another one of us. He might be able to relate to us, but He can’t help us. If Jesus was a sinner, then we’re all still in our sins, and therefore still under the wrath of God.

Yet thankfully, thought Jesus was a person like us, he wasn't a sinner but lived the perfect, sinless life, and therefore was a suitable sacrifice capable of being substituted in our place. On the cross He received the punishment we deserved for our sins. Because of this, we're no longer subject to the wrath of God if we place our trust in Him. And this was God’s plan and purpose all along in sending Christ, to provide a way for us to escape the wrath we deserve because of sin. As 2 Cor. 5:19 says,
“…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (RSV) It was God’s plan all along to redeem us and save us from punishment for our sin.

However, if Jesus was and is sinless, and righteous, and holy, then it might seem as though he cannot relate to us who are sinners. How can He possibly understand us? Won’t He be harsh with us?

The Bible addresses this issue. We find these comforting words in the book of Hebrews:

Hebrew 2:17-18 ~
17 For this reason [Jesus] had to be made like his brothers [that is, human beings] in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

And again,

Heb 4:14-16 ~
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Jesus never sinned, but He was made just like us, which means He was subject to temptation, and the Word says He was indeed tempted, “in every way, just as we are,” and is therefore able to “sympathize with our weaknesses”. Jesus is able to relate to our weaknesses and temptations. Yet because He never succumbed to temptation, He is also capable of saving us!

This is the good news of the Christian message, that our sins can be redeemed, because of what Jesus Christ did in his death on the cross and in His resurrection. This is why the fact that Jesus was not a sinner is so important. And yet at the same time, because Jesus was a human being like us, He is able to relate to us in every way. That's very comforting news, I think. Don't you?

Thanks for reading today's blog. My next topic will be: Good, Bad, or Ugly? The Eclectic Spirituality on Lost. Till then, be blessed!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lost in Translation 4:

(Spirituality on the TV Show Lost
and the Christian Faith)

Part 4 - Guilt and Grace

In my last entry about the Nov. 1 episode I mentioned I had more to say on that topic. For those who are actually following my comments, my apologies for taking so long to post this continuation.

The November 1 episode was disturbing in many ways, as I described in the last post. I want to highlight one other aspect I found disappointing as relates to Christian faith.

In this episode we were given a series of flashbacks on the life of Eko, the African drug lord who became a Catholic priest. In these flashbacks Eko's numerous "sins" were detailed, along with the grief and guilt he had carried around in the years since.

At first it looked as if the treatment of Eko's sins might be redemptive from a Christian standpoint. His involvement with the drug trade and then his subsequent murder of some of the leaders of the drug smugglers were shown in painful detail, and we were made to know that Eko had suffered a great deal over these acts. It appeared that at last Eko might have a chance to finally find forgiveness and lay the past to rest.

At the end, though, it all took a bizarre turn. Eko tells the apparition (hallucination?) of his dead brother (who was also a priest when he lived) that in fact he (Eko) has not sinned after all, he only did what he needed to do to survive. I found this twist in the story extremely disappointing, though not especially surprising given the history of the show.

Now please understand: I'm not judging Eko--if I may speak about him for a moment as if he were a real person. Of course, Eko's not real, he's just a character on a TV show. But he certainly could be real. From news reports we know there are many children in certain African nations who've been through exactly what Eko faced as a boy--being forced to kill an innocent bystander in order to satisfy an invading band of marauders and/or to save one or more loved ones. So even though Eko isn't real, he represents a type of person that actually exists. The life situations he's experienced are not a great stretch of the imagination.

That's why I say I'm not judging Eko. Nothing in my own experience even comes remotely close to the horrors he's been through. I can't say I would handle such things any differently than he does.

But for him to say he hasn't sinned because he was just doing what he needed to do to survive misses the point. Eko speaks from a thoroughly post-modern viewpoint when he says he hasn't sinned, and in doing so he makes the same mistake many make today. Many people believe the way to overcome guilt is to redefine sin until one's actions are no longer understood as wrong. Then they think they're absolved. Much contemporary psychology seeks to deal with the issue of guilt in just this way.

The problem with this approach, though, is that it doesn't do anything to actually deal with guilt, which is the result of sin. Really it's only a form of rationalization, which doesn't remove guilt at all, it only buries it.

Our bodies have pain receptors whose purpose is to notify us when we've injured ourselves. Imagine the damage we could do to our bodies if we didn't feel physical pain? What if you broke your leg but didn't feel any different? You might be inclined to go around with a broken leg and never seek medical attention. The pain motivates us to care for our bodies.

Guilt is to our souls what physical pain is to our bodies. Just as pain lets us know we've abused our bodies somehow, guilt alerts us that we've injured our spirits by acting in a way other than we were intended to. This is the way we were made by our loving creator. He gave us a conscience that serves as an early-warning system notifying us that something is not as it should be in our souls.

We would think it was ludicrous to deal with a broken limb by merely redefining what a healthy one is. "Oh, our legs were meant to be broken, and all that pain is just something we can ignore. Never mind the fact that you'll have to live with a permanent deformity, and that you'll never be able to walk again." No, we wouldn't settle for this solution for a moment.

Yet somehow we (post-)moderns have fallen prey to notion that in the realm of the spirit, things are not as neatly defined as they are in the physical realm. This is probably because our bodies are tangible and follow obvious and unchanging natural laws, while things in the realm of the soul are not so predictable. Nevertheless, the same God who made our physical bodies also created our spirits and souls, so it's not unreasonable to imagine that just as our bodies were designed to operate in a certain way, so also are our inner selves.

The Bible is our "user's manual," if you will, given by God to show us how we function in the mysterious realm of the soul. And the Bible lets us know there's only one way to overcome guilt: Admit the sin(s) that caused the guilt, and make a decision to turn away from those behavior(s). One of the letters in the Bible written by the apostle John tells us "If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1: 9, NIV).

To confess sin is simply to admit it--admit we did it (to "come clean" in other words), and admit it was wrong, and to admit these things to God, and if necessary, to any others who were affected by the wrong that was done. My pastor puts it even more simply--he says to confess sin is to "agree with God" about the action.

When we admit our sin to God it's amazing how freeing it is! It's like a weight being lifted off your shoulders! After experiencing this freedom, it's hard to imagine why anyone would avoid admitting their sin to God!

There's one thing that keeps us from being willing to admit our sins, and that's pride. We don't like admitting we were wrong. And we don't like having to submit to Someone Else's standard of behavior.

But confession and repentance (turning away from sin) are the only way to really be free of guilt once and for all. To come clean. Just let it out.

Yet even that wouldn't work if it weren't for the death of Christ. Jesus died in our place to take upon himself the punishment we deserve for our sins, so we wouldn't have to be condemned. This will be the topic of my next blog entry, so please stay tuned.

I'm disappointed that Lost took the all-too-predictable post-modern approach to dealing with the guilt of sin by trying to redefine it. It's so unoriginal, and in the end, completely futile. Perhaps even Eko's bizarre death is a testimony to that fact.

That's tonight's blog. Check you next time.

Monday, November 06, 2006

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming....

After seeing this past Wednesday night's episode of Lost (Nov. 1) I had to interrupt the series I've been writing on the spirituality of the show to comment on this episode. All I can say is, Wow. Or maybe it should be, "Huh??!!?!???" I thought it was very strange (weird would be a better word).

This episode was also related to spirituality. And at first I thought things were headed in a positive direction. At the beginning Ben (a.k.a. "Henry Gale"--someone on another blog jokingly referred to him as "Benry"), the leader of "The Others," marvels that Jack, who is a surgeon, showed up on the island just when Ben needed surgery to remove the tumor on his neck. Ben comments that "if that doesn't show there's a God, then I don't know what does." (Of course, I'm wondering whether Ben really has cancer or is--once again--only playing with Jack's mind. Also, a statement like this coming from Ben is replete with ironic undertones in light of Ben's sinister actions towards Jack and the other castaways captured by The Others. But all that's a discussion for another blog.)

Then later in the episode we're taken once again back into the past of Eko, the African drug lord turned Catholic priest. At first I thought the story was going to move in a redemptive direction here. We're shown more of Eko's past sins (and the characters actually use that word to describe them), as well as the remorse he felt many years. Clearly he's been wrestling with these demons for a long time. Perhaps he's finally going to be able to lay them to rest and find peace?

But then toward the end it all takes a very dark turn. (If you haven't seen the episode yet and you don't want the ending ruined, you might want to stop reading here until you've had a chance to watch it....) Eko finally claims he hasn't sinned at all, he's just done what he needed to do to survive; so he claims he has nothing to repent of.

Next thing we know, Eko is confronted again by the strange black fog-entity that has appeared in a few earlier episodes. The last time it confronted Eko he was able to send it on its way through something resembling spiritual warfare. When the entity appears again this time, Eko tries to rebuke it again as he did before. For a moment I was wondering if this might provide a good example or symbol of spiritual warfare.

But once again, the expected (or hoped for?) outcome was not to be. The black fog-entity grows very large and then takes a shape resembling a huge black hand, picks Eko up, and begins to smash him violently against the ground, until he's finally near death.

So what are we to make of this bizarre twist? Is this supposed to be some kind of judgment on Eko for his refusal to repent? I'm inclined to doubt it, since the show doesn't normally move in the direction of traditional Christian interpretations on spiritual matters.

A friend tells me some Lost enthusiasts speculate that the black fog-entity is actually a man-made creation using nano-technology, and is perhaps being manipulated by whoever is still on the island related to the Dharma initiative. Could be, I suppose....

Then there's John Locke's statement at the close of the episode. Eko whispers something just before he dies, and John leans down to hear it. Another character asks him what Eko said, and John replies, "He said that we're next." This would seem to imply that whatever the fog-entity is, it's an evil force on the island that's out to harm (kill?) the people there. This would put the entity in the "monster" category....

I must say, though, that whether the show's writers mean it or not, to me the black entity seems like a representation of the demonic, specifically in terms of how the devil would like to be viewed--powerful, life-threatening, unstoppable, and arousing fear. Is the message of Lost that evil is stronger than good and will prevail in the end, despite all the efforts of human beings to bring about good?

It's too soon to tell. But I will say I'm starting to wonder. Every time it looks like something good is about to happen on the show, there's a sudden twist and evil happens instead. Think about how many key characters have been suddenly and cruelly murdered so far. Is this what we have to look forward to? Is this the answer the writers have to the mysteries of the show--that slowly all the characters are going kill each other off one by one? Is this what we have to look forward to? As I said, it's too soon to tell. But I'm starting to wonder. (From what little I've read on the internet, apparently others are wondering, too....)

I read part of an interesting blog about this episode by a couple of writers for the Washington Post, which you can access at this URL (you can copy and paste it into your web browser, just be sure to remove the hard return before the word "lost_" so it all goes onto one line):

The views expressed there are not necessarily my own. But it provides some helpful background in terms of better understanding the Nov. 1 episode for people like me who've missed some episodes along the way.

One interesting thing they point out is that one of the co-creators of Lost has ties to Tom Cruise, and that the teachings of Scientology may influence the spiritual themes presented in the show. If this is true, it might explain some of the things I've been pondering in my other blog entries....

Well, I have a little more to say about this episode, but it's past my bed time, so I'm going to sign off for now. If you saw the episode in question feel free to post a comment so we can get your take on this bizarre plot twist on Lost.

P.S. - My work schedule has changed, so I may have less time to work on these posts, meaning they may become more infrequent. Please keep checking back, though, because I will continue posting. Also, I'm hoping to add a link on here soon where anyone interested can subscribe to my blog and receive notice when I make a new entry.

Blessings! ~ Morgan

Friday, October 27, 2006

Lost in Translation 3:

(Spirituality on the TV Show Lost
and the Christian Faith)

Part 3: Lost and the Loss of Holiness
in American Spirituality

As I noted in my first post in this series (October 23, below), Lost contains a surprising number of references to God and Christian faith. However, in many cases, Christian ideas or practices are given a different twist, usually along the lines of New Age interpretations. For those not aware of the differences, Christian faith relies on the Bible as its source of teachings and beliefs, while New Age spirituality tends to be more eclectic. That is, the New Age draws from a variety of religious traditions pretty much at will and combines them according to personal tastes. Often New Age teachings are rooted in Eastern religions (think Hinduism and Buddhism). If Christian ideas are incorporated into New Age teachings at all they’re usually reinterpreted in terms of the Eastern religions.

This sort of eclectic spirituality—kind of like a spiritual buffet—appears to be what we have on Lost. While it’s true that a number of the spiritual ideas we see on Lost may be recognizable as Christian in origin, often they’re reinterpreted in a way other than that accepted by mainstream Christian churches and believers. Or else they’re simply emptied of much of their unique Christian meaning until they’re made to seem “generically” spiritual. (I intend to say more about this in a future post, so please stay tuned….)

An example of this “genericizing” of Christian ideas (how ‘bout that for a new word!) occurred with the baptism of a baby last season. In that episode, Eko, the African drug lord turned Catholic priest (please forgive my previous misspellings of his name), advocated strongly that the child must be baptized; and yet it wasn’t a Christian baptism the baby was given. 99% of the Christian church agrees that baptisms are always conducted in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the other 1% I’m thinking of baptizes in the name of Jesus—either way, Christian baptisms are related to the person of Jesus Christ). The baptism on Lost was not in any name as I recall—even though it was supposedly conducted by a Catholic priest. Instead, here baptism was given a more nebulous meaning. It was said merely that the infant needed to be baptized, but not in the name of Christ, and for reasons that aren’t clear. Evidently, in this view, baptism is just what you do with babies, because it has some sort of spiritual significance, a cleansing perhaps, or a rite of passage.

This is how a lot of the Christian references on the series are. They’re often denuded of their unique Christian content, until they become merely generalized spiritual activities or rituals.

In a flashback on the October 18th episode, we find John back on a farm several years previously (when he had hair), living in a commune with a group of friends and associates. As they gather round a picnic table for a group meal, the leader asks John to say grace. The prayer is almost a regular Christian prayer, very conversational and folksy (and that in itself isn’t bad, because God invites us to speak to Him in our own terminology). It’s offered sincerely, but of course, it’s generic, not concluded with the name of Jesus. Later in the episode, though, we learn that the people living and working in this commune appear to be involved in some sort of criminal activity, presumably growing and selling some type of illegal drug. (It’s not certain what the brown powdery substance is they showed briefly—that’s another of the show’s many mysteries—but all the people at the commune are afraid of getting caught by the police and busted, so apparently, whatever they’re doing there is illegal….)

To Christian sensibilities it’s an odd combination—here you have a friendly group of people praying together on the one hand, thanking God for His goodness and asking for His blessing, and yet it turns out these same people appear to be deeply involved in a criminal lifestyle.

In this way Lost presents for us the kind of spirituality that’s all too common these days in our land. There’s a desire to relate to God on intimate terms, yet without any consciousness of sin or a need for personal holiness. Proverbs 30:12 says, “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness” (NKJV). That pretty much describes the generation we live in. People today want to come before God and call him their friend without dealing with the issue of sin in their hearts. This is one of the characteristics of New Age spirituality: A desire for God without a willingness to face one’s own sinfulness.

In past years there have been specials on TV about the spiritual lives of celebrities. One program showed a million-selling rock band and an equally popular female singer (or it may have been two separate shows) each praying with their entourage before their concerts. In their prayers they addressed God in chummy terms and each asked His blessing on their respective shows. Yet knowing the professed New-Age-type beliefs and promiscuous lifestyles of both these artists, it makes one wonder if they know the God of the Bible and Christian faith. They claim to have some sort of relationship with God but don’t display a desire to live according to His teachings.

We’re in danger of forgetting that there can be no fellowship with God apart from salvation, justification, and cleansing from sin. And in order to receive these we must go to the cross of Jesus Christ. Because of the disobedience of the first humans, we’re all sinners. Our sin has destroyed our relationship with God and keeps us from him. In other words, our sinful state separates us from God.

However, Romans 5:8 says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” As the apostle Peter explains in 1 Peter 3:18 ~ “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Rom 3:20-25 explains things further: “For no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight by works of the [Old Testament] law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been [revealed] apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it--the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an [atoning sacrifice] by his blood, to be received by faith.” (RSV)

There can be no relationship with God without personal holiness, and there can be no holiness without the cross, faith, and repentance.

And yet many today want to gloss over this reality, as if we can come to God on our own terms. But we cannot. God is God and we are His creation. He is above us, superior to us. And though He loves us deeply, he is holy, which means he cannot accept sin unless it’s forgiven and done away with. As the verses above explain, this is why He sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross and rise again on the third day, in order that our sin might be atoned for and we could have friendship with God through faith in Christ.

And that’s today’s thought. NEXT BLOG: Sin and Redemption in the Land of the Lost.

See you next time!! Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lost in Translation 2:

(The Spirituality of the TV Show
"Lost" and the Christian Faith)

Part 2: "The Island Made Me Do It" -
The Concept of Providence on Lost

(Please see Part 1, below, for the introduction to this series.)

In my last post I pointed out that one of the characters who conveys the spiritual themes on Lost is the bald-headed man John. Often smiling, with an almost-wild but apparently- benevolent gleam in his eye, John confidently claims that everything on the island is unfolding as it's supposed to, guided by an unseen hand. Now John's faith has been tested, mind you, but as a result of his recent experiences in the underground compound (which I won't go into here), his faith has been restored.

John's belief that everything on the island is happening for a reason is similar to what theologians back in the old days used to call providence. Simply put, in Christian belief, Providence is the idea that God is watching over and guiding the things that happen in our lives for our good, according to His larger purposes. But for John, is it really God who's guiding...?

As I pointed out last time, on Lost John’s past is still unfolding before us; in fact, he was the character featured in last week’s episode (October 18). What we learned about John early on in the series was that before the plane crash he was confined to a wheelchair, crippled. However, when he awoke after the crash he was mysteriously healed. This miracle has revived John’s faith.

The question is, faith in what? Interestingly enough, John is convinced that the island itself has made him able to walk again, and he believes the island is somehow overseeing the events taking place in the lives of each of the castaways.

Sin and redemption are prevalent themes on Lost. The events occurring in each person’s life offer opportunities to atone for sins committed earlier in their lives, before they came to the island. And the sins in these characters’ pasts are not lightweight. More than one has committed murder, some were involved in adulterous affairs, some sold drugs, others simply suffered from broken relationships and broken hearts. Now, here on the island, they seem to be offered a chance to reflect, see their mistakes, and make some sort of restitution, or at least learn from the past. (I plan to write more about sin and redemption on Lost in a future post.)

John believes the island itself is overseeing all this redemption. The island has brought them all there, and has done so for a specific purpose, and it’s their destiny to fulfill the island’s intentions. In the October 18th episode, when John has a vision that turns out to be prophetic, he believes the island has given him the vision, and is leading them all towards some higher purpose.

It’s unclear whether as viewers we’re supposed to accept John’s assessment of the origin of these events, or whether it even matters. Some might say the island is intended to be symbolic, representing divine activity, providence, and intervention. However, this may be giving more credit to the show’s writers than is due. Incredibly, there are thoughtful people these days who actually attribute volitional and intelligent supernatural guidance and activity to inanimate objects (like an island).

As long ago as the year 2000 I remember a conversation with a coworker at the telephone company where I worked back then, a smart, educated young woman of about 30, who kept talking about everything “the universe” was doing for her. “The universe” was guiding her and had clearly caused certain events to happen in her life, and she believed that “the universe” had good intentions for her. Since then I've heard others make similar references to this sort of New Age belief in guidance from an impersonal universe.

I must confess I can't quite grasp why some consider it ludicrous to believe in a personal God who oversees life events, but see it as reasonable to think “the universe” is capable of providential guidance. The universe is an inanimate object. It doesn't have a mind, a heart, or a will. It can't make decisions, and it certainly can't manipulate or control anyone's destiny.

The same is true with “the island” on Lost. An island can't cause events to happen, or bring redemption, or give someone a prophetic dream. Only a living, intelligent, complex, and powerful Being like God can do that. Could it be this idea of guidance by inanimate objects is an example of the sinful human tendency spoken of by the apostle Paul to “worship and serve created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25, NIV)?

The universe and every island in the world were created by a personal God who is capable of these things. He has a mind that thinks, a heart that feels and loves, and a will that makes decisions. In fact, God is the ultimate Mind, Heart, and Will. Why put one's trust in "the universe," when you can trust in the loving God who made the universe?

Maybe the reason some prefer to think in terms of guidance from created objects is that an island, or even a neutral universe, is less threatening than a personal God who watches over us with expectations. What is forgotten (or not believed) is that the God who truly is our “guide and stay” is a God of love more than a God of judgment.

The Bible offers the comforting message that " Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor 5:19, RSV). "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned..." (John 3:17-18 NIV). God loves us all, and we can trust him with our lives. In fact, the Bible promises that if we do, we will be saved and have eternal life.

That's because Christ is the Doorway to forever.

And that's today's blog. Thanks for reading!

NEXT UP ~ Lost and the loss of holiness in American spirituality. See you next time!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Welcome to my blog! This is my first installment. I hope you find it meaningful!

Lost in Translation:

The Spirituality of the TV Show
"Lost" and the Christian Faith

Part 1: The story and The Story

I watched Lost again last Wednesday night. For those who don't know, it’s an engaging drama about a group of castaways stranded on a remote island following a plane crash. They don’t know where they are and they have no way to communicate with the outside world. They really are “lost,” trying to figure out how to get home.

As the story unfolds we’re made privy to the recollections of the characters that tell how each one came to be on that the fateful airplane ride. Many of the episodes focus on the memories of a particular individual, shown as flashbacks triggered by events on the island.

One of the striking things about Lost is how central religious and spiritual themes are to the plot. Ideas like providence, redemption, trust, and the supernatural play a prominent role in the story. Even the concept of sin is there, though the series doesn’t use exactly that term.

Two of the characters in particular serve the religious and spiritual themes of the show. One is the enigmatic Echo, an African drug lord turned Catholic priest. Echo inscribes apocalyptic Bible verses he deems significant on a piece of wood. He is the character who often seems to understand the supposed deeper significance of events occurring on the island. Interestingly enough, usually Echo’s prophetic intimations turn out to be right. Over time many of the other characters have learned to defer to him as something like a holy man with special insight. 

The other character deeply involved in the spiritual themes of the show is the idealistic John. John’s past is still unfolding before us; in fact, he was the character featured in last week’s episode. What we learned about John early on in the series was that before the plane crash he was confined to a wheelchair, crippled. However, when he awoke after the crash he was mysteriously healed. This miracle has revived John’s faith. The question is, faith in what?

The spiritual perspective portrayed on Lost is not exactly orthodox Christianity. Clearly the show is influenced in many ways by Christian ideas, but often it deviates from the usual Christian understanding of those concepts. In other words, the spiritual atmosphere on the show is not exactly “your father’s Christianity.” In many aspects it’s more like that of the New Age movement.

Of course, it won’t surprise those who know me to learn that as I watch the program I’m constantly checking their spirituality against the Bible. And often it doesn’t line up. The most startling instance I’ve seen so far was on one episode last season when Echo was talking with the other characters about the meaning of baptism, and explained that Jesus was baptized in order to cleanse Him of His sins. (!) Echo said it so innocently and kindly that it could have almost slipped past you if you weren’t paying attention. [Note: The Bible plainly teaches that Jesus Christ never sinned, that he lived a perfect life (see Hebrews 4:15). I plan to deal more with this topic in a subsequent post in this series.

A Christian friend of mine who’s a big fan of the series doesn’t like it when I criticize the show’s theology; she says it ruins the story for her. She’s an English teacher, so maybe it’s understandable that she’s focused more on the story itself and how it’s being told than on its spiritual or theological content.

When I see something like this, though, it's hard for me to sit idly by and say nothing. Story is the most powerful mode for communicating intuitive truth. When the writers on a show like Lost, in the process of telling their story, refer to The Story, that of Christ, and get it wrong, who knows what kind of influence this can have on the uninformed? And we can't be in denial about the incredible lack of Bible understanding these days. In fact, it's as if some have substituted television for the Bible as their authority in spiritual matters—whatever's portrayed on TV or in movies is accepted as truth.

A watered-down version of the Christian message is what some will prefer, so if the writers on Lost say Jesus was a sinner just like everybody else, many are readily willing to receive it. Of course, we have no idea about the source of this error, whether it was mere ignorance, or a more sinister desire to subvert mainstream Christianity. If people are determined to believe only what they want to believe, then we’re not likely to change that, but I for one at least feel an obligation to tell folks, as lovingly as I can, when the media get The Story wrong.

Please understand, I'm not saying Lost is a bad show, or that the story it's telling is a bad story. I think it has some valuable messages. I am questioning the ways in which the spiritual life is portrayed on the show, precisely because it is such a powerful medium for portraying ideas....

This past summer at a conference I attended in Wheaton, Illinois, Leanne Payne, who leads a gracious ministry to broken and wounded people, made a statement about our culture that caught my attention. She said that in present-day America, people are capable enough of recognizing a lie, but if they hear it often enough are prone to accept it anyway. I think she's onto something there. I wonder how the steady stream of misleading messages we're being hit with these days about spiritual matters (think The DaVinci Code, as well as Lost and a host of other "supernatural dramas") affect our thinking over a long period of time? If those of us who are believers allow ourselves to be inundated with lies about God, will it erode even our faith over time? Does it sow seeds of doubt and unbelief? I wonder....

Well, that's today's blog. Future topics to be dealt with in this series:
  • "The Island Made Me Do It"--the concept of Providence on Lost
  • Sin and redemption in the land of the Lost
  • "Lost" and the loss of holiness in American spirituality
  • Why it matters whether Jesus sinned or not
  • The eclectic spirituality of Lost--good, bad, or ugly?
Catch you next time!!