Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A hope for the church in this perilous cultural moment

I had the privilege of doing something with some of my brothers and sisters Sunday evening I think we increasingly will be doing in the months and years ahead.

By way of explanation, I will quote a tiny segment from the "The Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy. In "Fellowship of the Ring," the band of nine are waiting in the mines of Moria for Gandalf to discern what direction to take when Frodo -- bearing the burden of seeking to destroy the One Ring -- tells him, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf responds, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo besides that of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case, you also were meant to have it, and that is an encouraging thought."

So it is for all who name the name of Christ today. We live during a time we would never choose for ourselves and our descendants -- a time of grievous sin and growing hostility, a time seemingly unprecedented in America for its attacks on the meaning of marriage and the freedom to practice religious faith. Yet, as with many saints of the past who have lived in such perilous times, we can say with certainty God has chosen this time for us and us for this time.

That is why gatherings like ours Sunday evening -- when 16 of us in the same church discussed our concerns for this cultural moment, encouraged one another and exhorted one another -- will be increasingly important in the days ahead. We appear to be in the early stages of a time when hostility, and likely persecution, will be experienced widely by those who follow Jesus. Some disciples will experience it more personally, often because of their line of work. But all of us will live with the reality that what we know to be true about marriage -- and, as a consequence, the gospel and the Word of God -- are no longer welcome by many, if not most, of our fellow Americans. And a disapproving government will likely wield its power against us.

As a result, I believe the church and its regular gatherings will become in reality in our hearts and minds what Jesus died to make it -- a community of the cross, a fellowship of the redeemed. If so, we will see the demarcation between the church and the world more clearly than ever before. We will prize the church as the body of Christ more than ever before. We will value the gathering of the family of God more than ever before. We will see each opportunity to be together as a time of refreshment and revitalization amid what may be consistent torment or even suffering. And we will walk together in love with our brothers and sisters for the building up of one another, for the cause of the gospel and for the glory of God.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Invisible God in a visual medium: 'The Fellowship of the Ring'

The film trilogy of "The Lord of the Rings" includes no explicit reference to God. Yet, it is possible to sense the divine providence that pervades it and to perceive the portrayals by different characters of Jesus' offices of prophet, priest and king that mark it. Of course, the world view of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the three-volume work, helps viewers be prepared for such biblical themes in the films.

One scene eloquently points to providence -- a providence we, as Christians, understand is that of the sovereign God. It occurs in the first movie, "The Fellowship of the Ring," when Frodo Baggins and his eight companions find themselves in the Mines of Moria. While they wait for Gandalf to discern which tunnel to take, Frodo and the wizard talk about the purpose in Gollum's continuing existence and the providence in the hobbit bearing the weight of the One Ring. Here is that clip in the next segment of this series, "Invisible God in a visual medium."