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mjohnson

Current Affairs

Paul, The Apostle of Christ

This past week I had the privilege of attending the premier of Paul, The Apostle of Christ. Here is what is a description from the website, Paulmovie.com:

“PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST is the story of two men. Luke, as a friend and physician, risks his life when he ventures into the city of Rome to visit Paul, who is held captive in Nero’s darkest, bleakest prison cell. But Nero is determined to rid Rome of Christians, and does not flinch from executing them in the grisliest ways possible. Before Paul’s death sentence can be enacted, Luke resolves to write another book, one that details the beginnings of “The Way” and the birth of what will come to be known as the church.

Bound in chains, Paul’s struggle is internal. He has survived so much—floggings, shipwreck, starvation, stoning, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure—yet as he waits for his appointment with death, he is haunted by the shadows of his past misdeeds. Alone in the dark, he wonders if he has been forgotten . . . and if he has the strength to finish well.

Two men struggle against a determined emperor and the frailties of the human spirit in order to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ and spread their message to the world.”

Going in to this movie I did not know what to expect. My assumption was that the full life of Paul would be shown in cinematic form (possibly a later movie?). However, the focus was on a specific time period after the burning of Rome where Luke visited Paul in prison to have him recount his life, as now told in the book of Acts. It is around this event that the story unfolds. I don’t want to give any spoilers, because I really want you to see this movie, so suffice it to say that while the action comes in small spurts, the human interaction and dialogue is what makes the movie great. The acting is the some of the best I have seen with Jim Caviezel playing Luke, James Faulkner as Paul, Olivier Martinez playing the antagonist Mauritius, and John Lynch/Joanna Whalley playing Aquila and Priscilla (a very strong cast for a Biblical movie). When I left the movie I was inspired to continue on in my own life of staying true to the One who has laid a calling upon it, which is exactly what a great movie should do.

More movies like this and, “I Can Only Imagine” (which is in theaters now and doing quite well), need to be made, so as moviegoers we must show our support by getting out and making them a box office success!

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Standing Up – A Beatitude Devotional

We grow up wanting to be like our heroes. We admire them for standing up against any opposition to do the right thing, and riding into town to save everyone. But when it is time for us to saddle up and ride, it suddenly doesn’t feel exciting anymore. When heroes ride in to face the bullets of the bad guys we feel like joining them, but when standing up for what is right means we might face some cross words from co-workers or friends, we feel like backing down. How is it that facing the disapproval of others can sometimes stop us in our tracks as effectively as a hail of bullets?

In moments like that, we need to remember that there is only one opinion that matters and one person’s approval that we must seek – God’s. If we are truly following God, then going against opposition will not be unusual. Jesus told His followers that they would be dragged before courts and rulers and would face opposition and trouble. He also told them that He would be with them and that He would give them the words to say in those situations.

When we face opposition, we need to remember that we are not the Lone Ranger. We don’t have to ride in by ourselves. God is with us. That doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer. But it does mean that we will be blessed and, in the end, we can’t lose.

“For the LORD God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The LORD will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.” Psalm 84:11 (NLT)

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:10 (NLT)

READ: Peter and John Stand Up to the Council – Acts 4:1-22.

This is the teacher devotional from the Elevate series Altitude Kids. To learn how you can teach these beatitudes lessons to the kids in your ministry, check out ElevateKidsNow.com.

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Work For Peace – A Beatitude Devotional

When I was growing up, if there was a fight at school, our natural instinct was not to stop it, but to gather around and watch. When the teachers would come to break up the fight and restore peace, they would have to fight through our circle to get to the kids who were fighting. It takes a very brave person to be willing to risk getting between those who are fighting, but if we work for peace as Jesus taught about, we won’t let conflicts get to that point.

When conflict arises between two people, as an outsider, the first instinct is to avoid getting involved. The attitude of “not my problem” is popular because it is easy. It’s tempting to think that we won’t be touched by other peoples’ conflict. However, unresolved conflict can destroy relationships, families, companies, and even churches. It doesn’t take long for a conflict across our border to turn into a regional conflict that we can be dragged into even if it isn’t “our problem.” Instead of looking the other way, we should take steps to intervene.

1. Pray that God will give you the right words and that He will help you find a solution.
2. Find out what the problem or the disagreement is.
3. Get everyone to talk calmly and to try and see each other’s point of view.
4. Encourage people to work toward a solution and find a compromise.

These steps will help us to help others resolve conflicts before they turn into fights. Working for peace is hard work, but working for peace identifies us as “children of God”. That should always be our goal.

“And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:18 (NLT)

“Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.” Psalm 34:14 (NLT)

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

READ: Paul Intercedes for Onesimus – The book of Philemon.

This is the teacher devotional from the Elevate series Altitude Kids. To learn how you can teach these beatitudes lessons to the kids in your ministry, check out ElevateKidsNow.com.

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Refining – A Beatitude Devotional

The process of refining, or purifying, gold is long, difficult, technologically challenging, and hard work. The purest gold in the world was refined at the Perth Mint in Australia in 1957-58 and had a millesimal fineness rating of 999.999. Today a one ounce gold bar from the Perth Mint is worth over $1,700. But gold is not the only product that banks on it’s purity. If you believe the advertisements, there are an awful lot of “pure” products out there. You can buy pure juice, pure Colombian coffee, pure soap, pure diamonds, pure cotton, pure baby food, pure silk, and yes, even pure manure. Then there are products that promise to purify what you have. You can purify your water, your skin, your carpet, your floors, your air, your
hair, and even your digestive tract. Our world is obsessed with purity of every kind, except moral. And we want purity to come easily in a pill form or a plug-in appliance. But just like the process of refining gold, moral purity, the most important kind of purity, takes time, takes maturity, takes work, and takes making hard choices. Pure gold has hardly anything
else in it, because all the impurities have been extracted. If our lives are to be pure, then we need to extract all the impurities.

What is an impurity in your life? Anything that competes with doing what God wants. Anything that competes with going to church, reading your Bible, spending time in prayer, or telling others about Him is something to remove from
your life. Purity is, many times, about saying “no” to some things so that you can say a bigger “yes” to bigger things. Jesus says that the pure in heart will “see God.” When you are saying “no” to things for the sake of purity, remember that seeing God is far more interesting than anything we might miss.

“How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word.” Psalm 119:9 (NLT)

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

“God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8 (NLT)

READ: Jesus Teaches About Purity – Matthew 15:1-20.

This is the teacher devotional from the Elevate series Altitude Kids. To learn how you can teach these beatitudes lessons to the kids in your ministry, check out ElevateKidsNow.com.

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Show Mercy – A Beatitude Devotional

There are at least two reasons we find it hard to show mercy. One is that our first instinct is to strike back. Imagine getting a poisonous snake bite. Striking back at the snake or chasing after it is foolish. You will only get upset, raise your heart rate, and spread the poison further. Not to mention that you could be bitten again! What you should do in that situation is to let the snake go, seek first aid, get the poison out, and slow the poison’s spread by controlling your emotions, and slowing your breathing and heart rate. Striking back at those who hurt us in life is like poisoning ourselves. Instead, we should control our emotions and let the pain go, by showing mercy.

Another reason we find it hard to show mercy is that we don’t think that people deserve mercy. But that is extraordinarily foolish! When you think “he doesn’t deserve mercy” you have just identified someone who is eligible for mercy. That’s what makes it mercy – it is undeserved. No one, including us, deserves mercy. Mercy is giving someone another chance when he or she does not deserve it, just like Jesus did for us and for the woman in the Bible Lesson today.
Jesus showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery despite what she deserved. The law she had broken was His. The heart she had broken was His. He knew far more intimately than her accusers what she had done. He, more than anyone else present, would be justified in striking back at her and giving her the punishment she earned. But he showed her mercy. Jesus treats us with undeserved mercy and if we are following His example we must resist the urge to strike back, and remember that we can only show mercy to people who don’t deserve it.

“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another.” Zechariah 7:9 (NLT)

“There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” James 2:13 (NLT)

“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7 (NLT)

READ: Jesus Forgives an Adulterous Woman – John 8:1-11.

This is the teacher devotional from the Elevate series Altitude Kids. To learn how you can teach these beatitudes lessons to the kids in your ministry, check out ElevateKidsNow.com.

Children’s Ministry Leadership Parenting Volunteers

Love and Justice – A Beatitude Devotional

beatitude

There are two images of Jesus that people many times have a hard time reconciling. What does Jesus lovingly sitting with the children (Mark 10:16) have in common with the Jesus that we find wielding a whip to drive out people and animals from the Temple? Those two images might seem contradictory, but really they are about the same thing: access to God. Before Jesus lovingly held the children, He angrily rebuked His disciples for standing in their way. And the system that was allowed to grow up in the Temple courts was standing in the way of God’s people being able to pray and worship Him. After Jesus drove out those who were abusing their position, the outcasts, the blind, and the lame were able to come in and worship.

Jesus cleared the room of bullies and made room for the outcasts. Jesus cared for the outcasts. He loved them. Love doesn’t just mean hugs and snuggles. It means protection. We can’t show love to others and not be willing to stand up and protect them in unfair situations. The actions we take might be less dramatic than making a whip and chasing people with it, but they can definitely make a difference. A kind word to someone who has been hurt, a firm rebuke to someone using cruel language, a vote cast to protect the innocent, or a hug around someone who has been excluded are all actions that show others God’s love. As followers of Christ, we have to show God’s love to victims of injustice and teach our children to do the same.

“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” Isaiah 1:17 (NLT)

“You stand up to judge those who do evil, O God, and to rescue the oppressed of the earth.” Psalm 76:9 (NLT)

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NLT)

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6 (NLT)

READ: Jesus Cleanses the Temple – Matthew 21:12-17 and Mark 11:15-19.

This is the teacher devotional from the Elevate series Altitude Kids. To learn how you can teach these beatitudes lessons to the kids in your ministry, check out ElevateKidsNow.com.

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Selfless Humility – A Beatitude Devotional

humility beatitude

A lack of humility tells you a lot about people. It tells you that they don’t understand that they are a part of something bigger. It tells you that they don’t recognize the contributions and value of others. It tells you they overestimate their own importance. And most of all it tells you that they aren’t looking any further than their own benefit. The opposite of humility may be pride, but often the cause of not being humble is selfishness.

Jesus calls us to a radical kind of selfless humility; the same kind of humility that He demonstrated. Just as He set aside the privilege and power of His position and became one of us, we need to be willing to set aside privilege and power, remembering that we are not better than those around us. Just as He took the lowest place, of a servant, washing His disciples’ feet, we should take lowly jobs with joy, knowing that we are never more like Jesus than when we are serving others. And just as Jesus put our needs above His own desires by dying for us on the cross, we should be willing to give up our desires in order that others’ needs may be fulfilled.

John the Baptist knew how to do just that. He knew that his purpose was to set up Jesus to succeed. What John’s disciples saw as a failure, he recognized as success. He knew that if people were repenting and coming closer to God, then his purpose was being fulfilled even if it wasn’t directly through him. John didn’t want the spotlight. He wanted the message to be heard. We have a choice. We can be like John’s disciples, selfishly wanting our own way and our own reward, or we can choose to be like John, concerned not with whether our position is advancing, but whether the message of Jesus is advancing.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:3-8 (NLT)

“God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” Matthew 5:5 (NLT)

READ: John the Baptist Shows Humility – Mark 1:7, John 3:22-31, Matthew 11:11.

This is the teacher devotional from the Elevate series Altitude Kids. To learn how you can teach these beatitudes lessons to the kids in your ministry, check out ElevateKidsNow.com.

Children’s Ministry Leadership Parenting Volunteers

The Source of Comfort – A Beatitude Devotional

beatitude

It’s funny that some of the most ordinary things can bring us comfort. Our own bed, when we have been away from it for a while, can seem like a full body hug of comfort. Food can bring comfort too, like that special dish that our mom or dad makes that only comes out right when he or she makes it. Sometimes all it takes for the whole world to seem better is a favorite pair of jeans or a favorite old t-shirt. Perhaps getting comfort from these people and things is one reason that we sometimes forget or fail to seek comfort from the most extraordinary person in our lives: Jesus. When we go through something that shakes us, that causes us pain, we need to remember that Jesus is available to us right where we are if we will just turn to Him. Jesus came to Mary and Martha after Lazarus had already died.

Martha went to meet Jesus, and He comforted her. Then she went to Mary and encouraged her to go to Jesus, and He comforted her. Jesus felt and shared their pain and He joined them in sorrow, weeping with them. Why did He weep if He knew what was about to happen? Was He acting? Playing for the crowd? No. He was comforting them by joining them in their grief and He will do the same for us. We often only think of Jesus when we want a miracle. Martha and Mary both say to Jesus, “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But before the extraordinary and miraculous, Jesus’ actions are humble, simple, and loving. He reminds Martha of the promises of God through scripture.

He joins them in weeping. He goes with them to the grave. Then He raises Lazarus. But Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus to comfort Mary and Martha. He didn’t even do it for Lazarus. He did it, “…for the sake of all those standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” (John 11:43) Go to Him for comfort before you go for a miracle. Seek comfort in prayer, by reading God’s Word, and by simply reminding yourself that you aren’t alone. Jesus comforted Martha and Mary and He will comfort you as well.

“‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God.” Isaiah 40:1 (NLT)

“Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles.” Psalm 119:50 (NLT)

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (NLT)

READ: Jesus Comforts Martha and Mary – John 11.

 

This is the teacher devotional from the Elevate series Altitude Kids. To learn how you can teach these beatitudes lessons to the kids in your ministry, check out ElevateKidsNow.com.

Children’s Ministry Leadership Parenting Volunteers

Spiritual Riches – A Beatitude Devotional

It has been said that the rich have an advantage over the poor–they already know that money can’t make them happy. Jesus was saying something similar when He said that God blessed those who were poor in spirit. When Jesus said that, it probably confused the people he was talking to in the same way that it does us. After all, how can any kind of poverty be a good thing? But what Jesus was pointing out was that the poor in spirit know that they need God.

Nicodemus knew that he was missing something. So he came to Jesus. People around us should notice that they are missing something that we have. If we have Jesus in our lives, our spiritual “riches” come from Him. They should notice the encouragement we have when times are difficult, the peace we have when things are unsure, and the strength we have to do the right thing when it needs to be done. When they see Jesus working in our life in these ways, they will come to us just like Nicodemus came to Jesus. When they do, we can tell them that in order to have what we have, they need Jesus. No one has enough physical riches that he or she could fill the needs of the poor by giving them all away, but through Jesus, we have the spiritual riches to bring salvation to anyone who realizes that they need Jesus. That is the greatest blessing that anyone can have.

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” Revelation 3:17-19 (NLT)

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3 (NLT)

READ: Nicodemus Speaks With Jesus – John 3 and John 19:38-42.

 

This is the teacher devotional from the Elevate series Altitude Kids. To learn how you can teach these beatitudes lessons to the kids in your ministry, check out ElevateKidsNow.com.

Current Affairs Parenting

The Star – A Holiday Movie Review

Looking for a fun movie to take your kids to this Holiday Season? One that promotes loyalty to friends, forgiveness, courage and being open to the dreams God has for your life. Then this movie is for you.

In “Sony Pictures Animation’s The Star, a small but brave donkey named Bo yearns for a life beyond his daily grind at the village mill. One day he finds the courage to break free, and finally goes on the adventure of his dreams. On his journey, he teams up with Ruth, a lovable sheep who has lost her flock and Dave, a dove with lofty aspirations. Along with three wisecracking camels and some eccentric stable animals, Bo and his new friends follow the Star and become accidental heroes in the greatest story ever told – the first Christmas.” http://www.thestarmovie.com/site

While the animation is not quite up to Pixar standards, it is still well done and compliments the voices and action quite nicely. The story is above average, however it takes some liberties in the actual Biblical story in order to convey the narrative from an animal’s perspective. I don’t worry too much about this because as your kids grow, under your influence, they will become aware of the accurate Biblical details, (remember, contrary to most contemporary versions, even those acted out in children’s plays at church, the wise men did not actually appear on the night of Jesus birth, etc.).

If you take advantage of it, this movie will give you the chance to talk to your child about several important topics:

  • Loyalty between friends, as Bo and his sidekick Dave come to a point where their loyalty to each other is tested.
  • Forgiveness, as seen in the closing moments with Thaddeus and Rufus.
  • Courage to press on under difficult circumstances and apparent setbacks in life, as Bo struggles to follow his dream throughout the movie.
  • Wisdom in following God’s lead, as Bo ultimately chooses to help Mary.
  • Trust in God’s plan, as Mary and Joseph discover their new life that begins with the conception of Jesus.
  • Passion to move forward with your dreams, with the awareness that God may move you in a different direction that will, in the short or long run, be better than any dream you could possibly imagine.

I and my family enjoyed this movie and I think you will too. So, scoop up your kids for an afternoon or evening movie this coming weekend. When you do, you will give them a fun outing that will produce discussion opportunities long into the future!

“The Star” is now out on blue-ray and DVD!