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Castaway Revisited


My wife and I were feeling kind of mellow last night, so we were able to accept TBS's invitation to watch Castaway (presented with limited commercial interruptions). It's not one of those movies you can watch over and over and feel repeatedly blessed and entertained. It was probably the third time in eight years I have seen the movie, but it was the first time I actually understood it. The stuff below the surface of the story really stuck out to me this time around, more than likely because of the season I am in personally as it pertains to the season we are all in as the Church, Lent.

I'm sure there are lots of interpretations of the themes in Castaway, but what hit me last night was the predominant theme of the human (and especially American) enslavement to time. I'm sure most of you know the story: Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), an obsessive, insensitive, Fed Ex employee who has no time for thoughtful relationships, not even with the woman he loves, Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt), and who always has everything under control, gets stranded on a small island and is there for four years. He is slowly stripped of all control and becomes free from his bondage to time. Five things, with spiritual application, stood out to me during Chuck’s purging process:

1. When he first gets to the island, he frantically runs around working and working, first trying everything he can to get rescued, then doing whatever he can to simply survive. As he tries and tries different things, he repeatedly injures himself. When he finally gives up, when he stops, takes a breath, and waits for clear direction, then something presents itself, usually by a fluke of nature, a gust of wind, or the swell of a wave, and he realizes what he must do. For example, he spends an entire day and night trying to start a fire. He eventually gives up, and as soon as he does nature presents to him an effective way to ignite a flame. After the "Four Years Later" scene, we see that Chuck is a changed man (not only physically). When he hears the plastic wall thing crashing against the rocks, he pulls it out of the water, sets it up on the beach, sits on a rock, and stares at it, much like "The Thinker," waiting for instructions as to how he might use it. Then, a sudden gust of wind blows it down, and his eyes light up. It's a sail for the raft he now has the idea to build. The application in this, I believe, is that we need to stop running around like headless chickens, trying to figure things out in our own wisdom, and instead wait on the Lord for direction.

Personally, I am discovering how much better it is to receive direction from God than always trying to find my own way. For this Lenten season, I have taken to the challenge of stopping three times a day (7:30, Noon, and 5:30) to fix my eyes on Christ and His mission. It has been one of the most difficult things for me to do because of my bondage to time, task-oriented schedule, and controlled personality. But what I have really begun to notice is how much clearer I am receiving God's direction, as I take my eyes off of myself, and fix them on Jesus. I have said it before, and I'll say it a million times, I constantly forget that I am not my own, that I have been bought with a price, so I ought to no longer live for myself, trying to fit God into my life, but rather I should be living for God, desperately searching for my part in His story. One of the prayers I pray every morning says, “…and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose.” I need to be reminded of this multiple times every day.

2. The second point is similar to the first: He never finds what he is looking for until he exhausts himself, eventually landing in the place of complete helplessness. We see this when he gets mad at Wilson and throws him out the window. He searches and searches, until he gives up, keeled over in the water, and the swell of a wave reveals Wilson’s location next to the rocks. A better example is when he lays his oars in the water, giving up all hope of paddling to rescue. When he is on the verge of death, floating aimlessly, that is when salvation comes. The splash of a whale awakes him to see the approaching ship. This reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe’s theme in “The Pit and the Pendulum.” As strong and clever as a man is, it is not until he comes to the place of complete helplessness that he is saved. We must rely on the Lord’s help in order to be saved, daily and eternally.

3. He realizes that he doesn’t have control over anything. He tells his friend near the end of the movie that he couldn’t even kill himself, he didn’t even have control over his own life. Again, the application is we must give up control and surrender completely to the will of God.

4. When everything is stripped away from him, the things that really matter keep him going, two of which are hope and love. He leaves one Fed Ex package unopened, the one with angel wings on it, perhaps symbolic of heavenly hope. It is his commitment to delivering this package that gives him hope to survive and to have something worth living for. More powerful was his love for Kelly that kept him going. Nothing else in the world mattered to him anymore, not his job, schedule, not even time. When all was lost, the greatest thing that remained was love. I think that is a biblical theme (1 Cor. 13).

5. Despite his lessons learned, his awakening to the things that really matter, everything doesn’t turn out all happy for Chuck. He loses Wilson after surviving a terrible storm. This is noticeably the most detrimental thing that happened to Chuck in his life, symbolic of the much more unfortunate occurrence to come. He loses Kelly. She thought he was dead, and everyone told her she had to move on. Application: Living for God does not guarantee “your best life now.” Followers of Christ will lose everything for His sake. But, ahh, the reward, the everlasting blessing we receive through Christ. In the face of “Prayer of Jabez” mentality, Derek Webb writes, “Beloved, there is nothing more, no more blessings, and no more rewards, than the treasure of My body and blood, given freely to all daughters and sons.”

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What's a Shwednesday?


Five days ago was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. Lent is a time for the Church to repent and prepare for Holy Week, forty days (excluding Sundays) of penitence before Resurrection Sunday.

This Ash Wednesday was the first one I ever observed. The staff and elders of our church have decided to follow more intentionally the Church Year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time). I have acquired a deep love for the Church Calendar over the past couple of years, especially due to my revolutionary encounter with the Book of Common Prayer. But to be honest, I was a bit leery of Ash Wednesday because of my interaction with it, albeit small, in the past. All I can remember is a bunch of my Catholic friends coming to school on a certain day with a black mark on their foreheads, complaining about having to eat fish until Easters. This year, however, I decided to give it a chance.

Not blindly, of course. I looked into the history of Ash Wednesday and discovered its roots in Jewish tradition, ashes for repentance and mourning, and the Christian church's adoption of applying ashes to the foreheads of believers as a symbol of repentance from sin and turning to Christ. Not to mention we are a marked people, set apart for the faith and work of Christ. Ashes remind us that we came from dust, and we will return to dust.

And so we did it. We used the Ash Wednesday Liturgy in the BOCP as a template, added a few songs and visuals, and worshiped our humble King, ashes and all. Lay people read the Old Testament and Gospel, and the elders applied ashes to the foreheads of everyone who wished to participate. As they applied the ashes they spoke these words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It was an amazing time of focusing on our mortality and our hope in the resurrection.

Despite the beauty of this fifty minute interactive worship service, more important is the call to a holy Lent. We have encouraged our church to participate in the Divine Hours, well, three times daily (7:30, Noon, and 5:30), to simply stop what we're doing at those times, and to refocus on the things of God. I can tell you first hand that this is nearly impossible for me to do. I am so busy and preoccupied with ministry stuff like putting together Ash Wednesday services, that I forget over and over again. Now I have an alarm on my cell phone set for each of those three times, and I literally have to peel myself away from what I am doing to pray.

Funny story, I was actually mixing the ashes with olive oil in the kitchen of the church before the service, and my pastor walked by the kitchen right at 5:30 and asked if I was coming to pray. (For anyone who is at the church during those times, they are encouraged to pray together in the lobby.) I said to him, "No, I'm scrambling to get everything prepared for the service." Then I stopped myself and realized the whole point of this. Tensing my muscles, spoon shaking, I dropped what I was doing and forced myself to go to the lobby. It's hard. Really hard, but I am finding this to be an absolutely essential practice in my life, not only for this Lenten season.

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Every Worship Leader's Battle


As a musical worship leader I rarely find myself on the other side of the microphone/guitar/piano, and when I do it seems I encounter a struggle and become guilty of the very thing that bugs me most: I become a critic. I seem to always be distracted by the way an instrument is being played, or the way a song is being sung, or the lyric and subject content both when it impresses me, or bugs the (sinful) perfectionist in me. This leaves me in a lonely place sometimes and keeps me from a valuable, refreshing, and true experience of God.

What I mean is this: As a music leader it is challenging to respond in a way that is free from the thoughts associated with the duty. I’m thinking about the music, the chords, the next line of lyrics, the upcoming transition, am I with the click, and on and on. My mind and heart are toward God and responding to the truth, but I'm also processing many other things. Its like trying to have conversation with my dentist while getting my teeth cleaned. I can nod yes and no and speak in between the grinding and slurping, but the conversation is never very deep.

I do find times to worship with music on my own, free of the duties of congregational leading, but I am sure you'll agree, it is an awesome thing to be in a room of God's children and join together in response to God. So I confess, when I get that chance to enjoy that experience to the fullest, I sin. I am either trying to learn something, or the critic seeps in.

This week, though, I had a rare experience. I was standing in a congregation and we were singing a song I have sung dozens of times. In the midst of my watching and learning, I was floored by the words, "to be captured inside the wonder of who You are." I looked around at a thousand plus people singing along, and it hit me...hard! I was not allowing myself to see and experience the wonder all around me. That He has saved us, that He has turned our hardened, stony hearts into flesh, and that I was in a room with many people who have experienced and shared in the same thing. I was watching and learning and half-heartedly singing, "I want to be captured in wonder of Gods mystery,” oblivious to the fact that I'm right in the middle of it.

I sat down in my seat in a room full of standing people, and I wept. I responded to the truth and the evidence of Gods work. I thanked God for saving me, for saving us all, for opening our eyes to His grace...and I confessed my sin.

The next time I find myself on either side of the mic, I pray I can remember the truth I experienced in that moment, and see that I'm standing in a room full of people who have shared in the astounding grace God has given to all of us, that grace by which He has brought us together, so that I can fully, with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, marvel at Gods work and push the critic aside.

Am I alone in this battle? What helps you push aside the learner and the critic and respond without distraction?

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