Open Your Heart and Home to Serve God

This is the timely scripture Mark Veasey shared this morning as we started our Friday morning men’s group. Of course these verses make me think of Syria and Syrian refugees, and the ways people in the United States are responding to this crisis in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in France.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?””

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭13:2-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I am also reminded of the 8 minute documentary “Clouds Over Sidra,” which is an immersive VR story sharing the life and perspectives of a 12 year old Syrian refugee. I shared that yesterday in an after school workshop on “Virtual Reality and Google Cardboard.” We need to find ways to promote empathy and understanding for the war/crisis in Syria and those caught in the crossfire.

Watching the last movie in  “The Hunger Games” trilogy and the scenes of civilian caught in the crossfire last night, I was also reminded of the contemporary relevance of these issues.

The author of the book of Hebrews reminds us that we are called to show hospitality to others and serve those who are in prison. These verses challenge me to think and consider the ways I am living my life. It also reminds me of the importance of reading Scripture daily, to keep my focus on God and Jesus instead of the depressing world news of the day.

Inspired by Oscar to Watch God’s Not Dead #GodsNotDead

One of the highlights of my fall semester last year was getting to know one of my 4th grade students, Edgar, a little better. In October I learned about the absolutely fantastic builds he’s made on the Android version of Minecraft Pocket Edition, and a week later we recorded this 15 minute video together where he took me on a tour of his creations. The things he has built in Minecraft are truly spectacular. In addition to recording that video, I was able to share the video with most of my STEM classes in subsequent weeks to highlight his creativity and Minecraft skills as exemplary. I think that meant a lot to him. I received a very sweet Christmas note from him just before break.

Christmas note from a student by Wesley Fryer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Wesley Fryer 

After making a connection to Oscar through Minecraft, he started bringing some different DVD videos to school for me to borrow and watch. The first one was about tornados and stormchasers. The second one was the 2014 movie, “God’s Not Dead,” which I’d heard about but never seen.

As a STEM teacher, I talk a great deal about science, our scientific understanding of the universe, but don’t talk about my faith or Christianity. Talking about my faith during class in a public school, as a public school teacher, would not be appropriate. I think Oscar loaned me the movie, “God’s Not Dead,” (he actually had checked it out of a local public library) because he things I’m an atheist. I asked him if he wanted me to watch the movie so we could discuss it, and he said yes. We didn’t have an opportunity to visit about it before Christmas break, and I won’t have him in class during the spring semester because of our rotation schedule for STEM and Art classes. I was very touched that he wanted me to watch the movie, however, and I plan to talk privately with him about this at an opportune moment when we get back to school.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Friday morning after Christmas (when Mark Veasey shared his testimony) one of the guys at my table for our men’s group was talking about having just seen “God’s Not Dead.” I told him one of my students had loaned me the movie to watch, and this friend (Ron Bath) encouraged me to watch it.

A few nights ago, 4 of the members of our family watched “God’s Not Dead” on AppleTV. We had to buy it, however, since it’s not for rent from iTunes. It is a very good movie. It raises some great questions and issues, and led to some good conversations with our girls, particularly with Rachel (who is 11.) There is some discussion in the film of acknowledged atheist Stephen Hawking’s evolving views on the origin of the universe, and that was more meaningful to the girls and I since we’d recently watched “A Theory of Everything” at the movie theater. That film is the biography of Stephen Hawking, and was also worthwhile to see. It included much less about theoretical physics than I’d hoped it would, but it made a big connection with our older daughter and her understanding of ALS. Afterwards at dinner she made the connection, “So THAT is what the ‘ice bucket challenge‘ was raising money to try and cure?!”

I thought the portrayal of Christians and Christianity in “God’s Not Dead” was very good. Certainly there are all kinds of beliefs and Christian denominations, and it’s impossible to generalize with complete accuracy what “Christian faith” means to everyone. The movie’s focus on “God is good, all the time,” and that God places us in exactly the right place at the right time to do his work resonated deeply with me. The college professor who is a main character in the film grapples with the existence of evil, and like many others has anger for how a benevolent Creator could exist who would allow evil to apparently flourish in the world. Without a doubt this is a HUGE question, and one which turns many people away from faith in God around the world.

Because I continue to personally EXPERIENCE the reality and power of God’s existence through prayer and my shared life experiences in our family and community of faith, I do not see any incompatibility between my love and interest in science and my faith in God and his Son, Jesus Christ. I continue to be humbled and grateful at the ways God opens up doors in my life, my wife’s life, and the lives of others to serve Him and love others. I count it a great personal blessing to have been able to teach Oscar for the past five months. I’m glad he wanted me to see the movie, “God’s Not Dead.” As the lyrics to The Newsboys title track for the movie say:

My God’s not dead
He’s surely alive
He’s living on the inside
Roaring like a lion

Praise God for his goodness and his faithfulness! My God bless you and your family this new year in 2015.

10 year old reflections about Jesus on Christmas Eve

I’ve republished a 10 minute, 47 second enhanced audio podcast which my fifth grade Sunday School students created in 2007 for the Christmas Eve service at our church. They reflected “reader’s theater style” on the meaning of Christmas, who Jesus Christ was and is, and why we should remember his entire life and teachings at Christmas time and not focus just on his birth in the manger.

The original enhanced podcast version remains archived on our class blog. I’ve re-published this to YouTube hoping more people will watch and listen to this podcast when it’s available there.

Theology in The Princess and The Frog

Two of my kids, one of their friends and I went to see Disney’s new movie today, “The Princess and The Frog.” (How frustrating that I wrote a much longer post here on my iPhone, and because I apparently used bad link code it got cut off…. So now I am re-writing. I am using the free WordPress 2.0 for iPhone app.)

The film was cute and good, but probably not worth the $25 we paid to see it today. If you haven’t seen it yet, wait for the DVD. We were actually going to see Avatar in IMAX 3D, but it sold out just as we got to the box office.

There are some refreshing differences between this Disney story and older, “traditional” fairy tales, but the most striking thing I observed was how it is politically correct to portray the existance of evil via voodoo, but not to make mention of God or the existance of any kind of good, higher power.

That is worth discussing with fellow moviegoers afterwards, particularly young ones. While the human-turned-frog main characters do wish upon a non-responsive star and receive help from a voodoo grandma deep in the bayou, neither of these characters or forces point to or draw power from any kind of “greater good.” In the theological world of modern Disney, it appears, evil can be portrayed in vibrant sound and color but no references (even oblique) can be made to God, his power, his kingdom or his active role in our lives.

That’s a significant omission.

PreSchool Christmas Program from 2007

Last December, I helped my wife record and produce this preschool Christmas program for our church in Edmond, Oklahoma. The video was shown at a family church gathering prior to Christmas, but not at any of the actual services in the sanctuary prior to Christmas or on Christmas Eve. The video is 6 minutes and 58 seconds long.

Since these were preschool students, it would have been impossible for them to perform this program “live” in front of an audience. By recording these segments in pieces, however, we were able to create a complete Christmas program which featured these young stars.

I have also uploaded this video to GodTube. (It is still awaiting admin approval.)

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