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To “Infinity War” and Beyond

infinity warMy family and I are big fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (hereafter referred to simply as the MCU). We’ve seen every one of the movies and now own them all as well. We laughed the most during Thor’s flicks, cheered the most during “Black Panther” and watched in expectation for what would happen to our heroes in the most recent “Infinity War.”

If you haven’t seen the latest movie and plan to, you might want to save this post for later, although I won’t give any major spoilers.

I think there is something in the heart of every man that wants evil to be vanquishable. We want to know that the good guys will win. When that doesn’t happen (apparently, as in the case of “Infinity War”), we’re disappointed, some even to the point of despair.

In the MCU, we know that the heroes are fallible. At least most of them are. I’d like to think Captain America is about as perfect as they come. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, along with Dr. Stephen Strange and Quill, who prefers to be called Star Lord, battle a fierce pride that makes them think they are better than everyone else. Therefore working together as a team is difficult for them.

Natalie (Black Widow) has major skeletons in her closet that have only been hinted at so far. Dr. Bruce Banner, well, his issues are hulking.

Yet we know that they have the good of others at the heart of everything they do. When the Avengers team seemed to be split in the aptly named “Civil War,” the big question was whether the good of the few outweighed the good of the many. Throughout their time together, the Avengers have battled with whether their saving a society while losing individual members has been worth it.

Tony made his decision in wake of the disaster that Wanda (the Scarlet Witch) instigated that took many innocent lives. Though completely unintended, Wanda’s actions caused the deaths of many even though it also prevented worldwide annihilation.

Collateral damage. It happens when you’re trying to save the world.

So that’s what makes Thanos such a disturbing villain.thanos

He is seemingly unbeatable. While his backstory may try to make us believe that he is a sympathetic character simply trying to find a way to save civilizations around the universe, his super-sized ego is completely out of control.

And that makes him very dangerous.

Wiping out half the populations of every civilization isn’t really murder, it’s actually compassion. People are starving and suffering because of over population. Cutting the number of citizens in half will allow everyone to prosper and live better lives.

Thanos believes it without pause. When his minions walk through towns after the purge has happened, they declare how blessed everyone is to be “saved” by such a gracious lord as Thanos. What great mercy has been shown to them. Nevermind that they’ve just lost half their civilization. It’s out of great love that this has been done for them.

The movie doesn’t seem to show that anyone is actually believing this nonsense, but they are incapable of doing anything about it. Thanos cannot be stopped.

And that’s what makes this movie so hard to handle. If I didn’t know a part 2 was coming, this would be one of the only Marvel movies I didn’t want to own.
avengers-infinity-war-ht-jpo-171128_16x9_992
We can feel that way about evil in the real world sometimes. Why do the wicked seem to prosper?

In Psalm 73:3, the worship leader Asaph laments that very point. “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (English Standard Version). He goes on to describe how good things continually happen to them. They are fat and happy. 

And he despaired.

But then he went into the sanctuary of God. He spent time with Him. And there he learned the truth. “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin” (Ps. 73:18, ESV). He discerns that the end is coming for those who are wicked. He knows God is good and that in the end, God wins. Good will triumph.

Hold on to hope. In the midst of an evil and perverse generation, when it seems evil cannot be vanquished, Jesus is there.

And Thanos doesn’t stand a chance.

Can’t wait for part 2.

images from: imdb.com (The Avengers poster); digitalspy.com (Thanos); abcnews.go.com (The Avengers group)

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First Ask Why: A Book Review

Parenting books are plentiful, it’s true, and trying to fit your family into the mold of what others have done is impossible. So it’s refreshing to read a parenting book that gives you the freedom to be your own family while still suggesting principles that will help point your children to Jesus.

First Ask Why coverIn this her first book, Shelly Wildman encourages parents to engage in intentional discipleship, positioning your kids to follow Jesus as they grow in independence. By asking why we do the things we do, we’re taking a closer look at our efforts as a family.

The message that spoke the most to me was near the end. In a chapter titled “Strengthening our Ties,” Shelly confronts something that families these days don’t want to hear: We’re too busy.  She says, “Driven by today’s American culture, parents often believe that if their kids don’t play sports or aren’t involved in some other activity outside the home, then their lives won’t be successful. But that argument plays on parents’ fears and emotions. We can’t fear being a little countercultural when it comes to protecting time together as a family, because that time together makes us stronger.”

I confess to feeling that fear. College applications and having a resumé filled with accomplishments drive us to over scheduling our families so that we teeter on the very brink of burnout and exhaustion. What are our kids learning from this?

That performance matters. That who they are will forever be tied to the things that they do.

My 9th grade daughter is concerned by the fact that she doesn’t have any activities to add to her resumé. She’s in virtual school (meaning she does all her classes remotely on a computer), so obviously extra curricular activities are not as easy to engage in.

But more important to me than the status of her resumé is the status of her heart. Have we made an intentional effort over the 15 years of her life to point her to Jesus?

Prayer, service, cross-cultural experiences, family memories. All of these and more are areas in which Wildman encourages parents to disciple their kids. When asked what makes her book different from other parenting books, Wildman answers:

“So many parenting books are ‘how-to’ books. They seem to say, ‘Just follow these 10 steps first ask why memeand here’s what you’ll get in the end.’ But I don’t believe we can parent by formula. I think we have to look at our unique family and ask why.

“Why are we doing what we’re doing as a family?

“Why are we emphasizing these spiritual values? And are there others we should consider?

“Why are we even here as a family? What’s our purpose for being put together in this unique combination of individuals?

“Asking why gets to the heart of the matter; it exposes our motivations and desires for our family. Asking why leads to intentionality. And asking why helps give our children a sense of purpose as we lead them.”

First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship is available now for preorder on Amazon, CBD.com and Barnes and Noble.

Web_Shelly-2Shelly Wildman is a former writing instructor and author of the forthcoming book First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship (Kregel). Shelly holds degrees from Wheaton College (BA) and University of Illinois at Chicago (MA), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters. She and her husband, Brian, have been married for 32 years and live in Wheaton, IL. Shelly speaks to women’s groups in the Chicago area and spends much of her free time mentoring young women. When she has time, she loves to cook, read, and travel.

 

A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging—a book review and a giveaway!

Place to Land coverI’m a California girl, but I have lived in Florida for nearly 27 years. My parents are both gone now, and much of my extended family doesn’t live in the state anymore, but I will always consider California “home.”

There’s something about the place of our birth that binds us. It might be just a piece of land, but it holds a piece of our heart. But if that “place” no longer contains the people who meant so much, where do we find “home?”

I worked with an international missions organization for more than 30 years. People came from all over the United States to work at the headquarters. Along the way, many moved overseas to tell people about Jesus. Early on, my husband and I opened our home on holidays to friends who had no family nearby. To this day, we crowd our home with those who fit that category.

In Kate Motaung’s memoir, A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging (now available for order from Amazon), she wrestles with the question of home as she lives cross-culturally in South Africa and loses her mom to cancer while she’s overseas. (This is not technically a spoiler as it’s revealed in the very beginning of the book.)

Kate writes with candor about her home life, her parents’ divorce and her father’s remarriage. About forgiveness, about sin, about grief. And about home. Must we be all or nothing to the place we live? Does it matter where we live? If God has called us to service in one place, but all that we love is in another, do we lose? Or do we gain more than we can ever even see?Place to Land

In describing her feelings following her parents’ divorce, Kate writes, “One day, . . . Mom whisked Sarah and me off for a weekend away. When we got back, Dad was gone. The next afternoon, when I came home from school, he was still gone. And the day after that. And the day after that. Every morning that followed, for months, when Mom dropped me off in my second grade classroom, I went straight to the coat closet, tucked myself inside, and cried. Terrified that one day I would get home from school, and, like my dad, Mom would be gone too.”

Your heart will be captured when Kate expresses what losing her mom felt like. You will walk in her shoes as she eloquently describes landing on the foreign soil of South Africa. You will smile as she reveals how she felt when first meeting her husband, Kagiso. And you will weep with her as she lets go of her mom.

Turns out, “home” means much more than a location, and “A Place to Land” captures that truth in a story that you will not want to put down until you’re done.

A-Place-to-Land_3I will be giving away a copy of A Place to Land on April 6th. To enter for a chance to win, just leave a comment about what “home” looks like to you and why you would like to read this special book. I will pick a random winner on April 6th. Don’t miss a chance to be challenged and changed by this beautiful book.

Meanwhile, visit Kate Motaung’s author page here. You can also read the first chapter for free here.

 

 

Compared to Who? A Book Review

QueenmirrorThe evil queen in Disney’s “Snow White” made a soul shattering mistake. She looked in her magic mirror and asked the question: “Who’s the fairest of them all?” When the answer came back that a beautiful girl, Snow White, had usurped her in that role, the queen was consumed by jealousy and thereafter sought to end the life of her chief rival.

Heather Creekmore, in her new book, “Compared to Who?: A Proven Path to Improve Your Body Image,” would agree that comparison is a killer. And self esteem, which is what the queen wanted the mirror to help build in her, is really counter productive. Heather submits, “If we want to see true freedom from our body image struggles, we need to forsake esteeming ourselves and pursue esteeming the king.”

Having struggled with body image from a very young age, Heather, the wife of a pastor and church planter in Dallas, Texas, and mother of four, speaks from a very personal place. Her honesty about her issues throughout the pages of this book speaks to the thousands of women who are bombarded every moment of every day by images of super models and celebrities, Pinterest-, Facebook- and Instagram-perfect women who seem to have everything we could ever need to finally be happy.

Yet fad diets, hours a day of exercise and and an Imelda Marcos-sized wardrobe don’t solve the soul-craving that keeps us disgusted with the way we look even when others might look upon us with envy. So what is the key?

In “Compared to Who?” we are given, as the subtitle suggests, a way out of
our struggles to have the ideal body. It’s the gospel. Pure and simple.

Does that mean it’s an easy task? Just do these 5 things and you’ll never struggle with body image again. No, and thankfully, Heather does not sugar coat (great word picture for a body-image article, isn’t it?) the process.

So what is at the root of our body-image issues? Sin. What do we need to break free? Salvation.

Compared to Who?

And community.

It was just 2 1/2 years ago that I began my weight-loss journey that I talk about in this post. I could not have done it if it wasn’t for the group of women with whom I traveled and continue to travel to this day. A monetary incentive didn’t hurt, but the accountability and encouragement from others was key.

As Heather says in “Compared to Who?”: “My dream is for Christian women to relate to each other differently. Until our friendships move beyond superficial endorsements of our struggles, we battle alone. You may have 1, 849 Facebook friends and as many Twitter and Instagram followers, but until you have one or two women in your life willing to listen to the heart behind your words, offer you grace, and show you how the gospel applies, you walk alone.”

I don’t really struggle badly with body image. I’ve never taken diet pills or tried fad diets, or lived at the gym. I don’t look at fashion magazines or compare myself to celebrities. I needed to lose some weight and ended up almost 30 pounds lighter after our challenge 2 years ago. But I don’t always smile when I look in the mirror. And I have a 14-year-old daughter who needs to see her value in Christ and trust the gospel to tell her the truth about who she is. I’m desperate for her to see Jesus as He really is and therefore see herself through His eyes.

I am thankful for Heather’s words in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever looked at anyone else—whether their body, their hair, their home, their children—and thought, “I wish I was more like her.”

And the evil queen’s magic mirror? Its mistake was simple. The best answer to the queen’s question about who’s the fairest of them all should have been, “Jesus. He’s the fairest, and He’s all you need.”

 

Heather CreekmoreSee more of what Heather Creekmore has to say at her blog: http://comparedtowho.me/ . Buy your copy of “Compared to Who?” at Amazon  or Christian Book Distributors.

Images from The Disney Wiki and http://www.comparedtowho.me

Redeeming Ruth: A Book Review

Books-Mockup-01Some may think doing hard things isn’t worth it. Some may think one little Ugandan baby with developmental problems is too big a risk for a normal family from Maine. But Meadow Rue Merrill and her family felt differently. The subtitle for this beautifully written book is “Everything Life Takes, Love Restores.” All across the pages, this truth comes through.

What I loved about this powerful story was Meadow’s honesty throughout. She had doubts about adopting this special-needs baby. She didn’t want to trust God with this opportunity. She questioned what seemed plain to her husband, Dana. Honesty about her faith struggles, honesty about her marriage struggles, honesty about her parenting struggles. Everything is there for everyone to read. No holds barred.

But what shines so clearly through as well is the non-stop love and care and advocacy Meadow and her family heaped upon this little girl, and the heart that they bring to the issue of special-needs kids in the poorest of countries in the world. If their family could help, so can yours.

The story comes to life through Meadow’s recounting of her trip back to Uganda with Ruth to complete the adoption process. My palms sweated and my heart raced as they encountered trial, after trial, after trial, but saw God’s provision in every instance. Tears flowed when hearts were prompted to raise money that was needed in just a couple of days. Emotional and heart breaking and heart warming all at the same time, Redeeming Ruth shows us the heart of God through the hands of His people.

Losing a child is an unspeakable tragedy, yet Meadow speaks of the place this tragedy had in her life, in her faith, in her family. Raw emotion, unconditional love, shaken faith. And redemption. God brought that to this little family in Maine through a deaf, disabled baby from Uganda. And He can bring it to you, if you will open your hearts.

You can find Redeeming Ruth starting May 1 at Amazon.com, and Christianbook.com and watch the book trailer here.

Beauty and the Beast: A Movie Review

beauty and the beast“Can anyone really be happy if they’re not free?”

Yes, I did take out my phone during the movie so that I could jot down this quote from Disney’s live action “Beauty and the Beast.” My 14-year-old daughter and I finally got to see this amazing movie with some friends on Friday night. I had read the hype. I had seen the posts about the gay kissing scene. I couldn’t believe all that was being said in such scorn.

Fake news doing its best to cast dispersions wherever it can.

A father’s love for his daughter (Maurice, played very well by Kevin Kline, and Belle, portrayed beautifully by Emma Watson of “Harry Potter” fame) and a daughter’s love for her father take a very close backseat to the love story of Belle and the beast in this grand tale. What was added to the original animated movie and what was left out did not take away from the pleasure.

I went into this movie with an open mind, wanting to watch it critically, yet not wanting to jump to any early conclusions. I soon found myself caught up in the fun of the old songs brought to new life and the way computer generated imagery brought to life the household objects in the beast’s castle.

Gaston (Luke Evans) was as dastardly in this film as he was heroic in The Hobbit: “Battle beauty and the beast castof the Five Armies.” The mob mentality of the citizens on the hunt for the beast reminded me sadly of how easily people are swayed by one charismatic person’s twist of the facts. Does the beast have claws? Yes. Does he have big, sharp teeth? Yes. Use those things to scare people and a mob is born.

Though the timeline is vague, it appears to be a few days later when Belle has become friends with the beast. He takes a chance and addresses the idea of someone like her ever having affection for someone like him. When she suggests, “Why not?” he is encouraged and asks, “So you could be happy here?” That’s when Belle says what I’ve quoted above: “Can anyone really be happy if they’re not free?”

When Belle discovers that her father is in danger, the beast immediately says that she must go. He’s willing to give her up, though at this point he loves her, because he knows it’s the right thing to do. Through her act of caring for him after the wolf attack even though she was very afraid, and his letting her go, though it would condemn him to beasthood forever, sacrificial love is shown.

Love grows not from boasting and blustering about how wonderful we are and how much the other person needs us, but by the acts of kindness that help the other person see how valuable they are, despite appearances. Belle tends the beast when he’s injured, even though he had raged at her just moments before. The beast gives Belle access to the most wonderful library (definitely her love language) she has ever seen. Small acts; huge results.

Courage, hope, service to another, sacrifice, freedom. These are all themes brought out and examined all from within the package of a well-loved story and grand musical numbers that will continue to stand the test of time.

Love that is required and devotion that is paid for is not real. Only when we give those things freely can we be truly happy.

 

images from (1) movies.disney.co.uk and (2) IMDb

We Are At War: A Movie Review of “War Room”

War RoomI learned very early on in my marriage that my husband is not my enemy. We definitely have an enemy, but it is not each other. The movie “War Room” makes that very clear.

This movie is an unapologetic Christian film focused on a young couple with a young daughter who are caught up in the troubles of this world. He is a successful pharmaceutical salesman and she is a rising realtor. And their marriage is in trouble.

I’ve spent just a little bit of time perusing some reviews, and it’s evident that if you don’t understand spiritual things, you absolutely won’t understand the power of prayer and what affect God can have in a person’s life and marriage. The intention of the Kendrick brothers (writer and co-directors) was definitely not to say that abused women should stay with their abusers, as some have suggested. It’s a story of redemption and prayer and God’s work in our daily lives.

Yes, Tony was not a good husband. He had a wandering eye, a problem with business ethics and a distant relationship with his young daughter. But he was not a physical abuser and deserved to be given a chance to repent and reform. Truth is, God changes lives. It happens all the time.

I’ve mentioned that I’m not the most discerning of movie goers, but I really, really liked this movie. When we walked out, I said to David, “Did we just go to church?” People were praising God, saying “hallelujah!” and cheering all through out this God-honoring film. There was truth, there was laughter, there were tears. There were people of faith understanding that prayer is powerful and it is a battle.

The premise, of course, is that we are waging war everyday against our real enemy, Satan. Once Elizabeth started praying for her husband, Tony, things started to change. One scene I loved, and that I think should be repeated in every household in the world, was when Elizabeth finally decided to get serious about her relationship with God and walked her house kicking Satan out of every room, proclaiming that he had no place there because Jesus was now in charge. That brought down the house!

Scoff at the scene of Miss Clara thwarting a mugging by rebuking the thief in Jesus’ name? There are stories on record of that actually happening.

Think Tony had no redeeming qualities and that Elizabeth should have just dumped him and moved on? Yeah, that’s what a lot of people do nowadays. But thanks be to God that no one is beyond hope.

Instead of bemoaning her situation, Elizabeth accepted Miss Clara’s challenge to pray that God would change things. This is not an uncommon occurrence for people of faith. But the Bible says that God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). What seems utterly ridiculous to those who think they know is exactly what God uses to accomplish His purposes.

Go see “War Room.” Give God a chance to show His power. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s not true.