Taking the High Road

“Dwell in possibility”Emily Dickenson (1830-1886), one of America’s greatest and most original poets of all time.On this last day of 2019 which is also the last day of the decade (2010-2019), a “Verse for the Day” email in my inbox this morning reminded me of the words found in Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV):

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I [the Lord] am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

The Message Bible states these two verses like this:

Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.

Let’s start off by looking at an article titled, Is forgetting the past biblical?” on GotQuestions.org. Here is their answer to that question:

The apostle Paul ends a section in Philippians 3 by saying, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (verses 13–14). Is Paul instructing us to forget everything that ever happened before we met Christ? Is this a command to purge our minds of all memories?

It is important to consider the passage that precedes these words. Paul had just listed all his religious qualifications that, to the Jewish mind, were of supreme importance. He then states, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (verse 8). Paul is making the point that no fleshly accomplishment matters in comparison with knowing Christ and trusting in His righteousness alone for salvation (Ephesians 2:8–9). Regardless of how good or how bad we may have been, we must all come to Christ the same way: humble, repentant, and undeserving of His forgiveness (Romans 5:8Titus 3:5).

The word “forgetting” in this passage means “no longer caring for, neglecting, refusing to focus on.” Our memories store millions of pieces of information gained through our senses since birth. Some experiences are impossible to forget, and any effort to forget them only makes them more prominent. Paul is not advising a memory wipe; he is telling us to focus on the present and the future, rather than the past.

It’s easy to “live in the past.” Whether it’s a past victory that our minds continually replay or a past defeat that hangs over us like a shroud, it needs to be left in the past. Nothing hinders present service quite like being mired in another time. Modeling Paul’s forgetfulness means we count the past as nothing. We cut the strings that tie us to that bygone moment. We refuse to allow past successes to inflate our pride. We refuse to allow past failures to deflate our self-worth. We leave it behind and instead adopt our new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We are not to forget “everything,” however, in the sense of being oblivious to it. In fact, there are many times God instructs us to remember. In Deuteronomy 9:7, Moses tells the Israelites to “remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord.” We are encouraged to remember all God has done for us (Psalm 77:11103:2), others who are suffering for Christ’s sake (Hebrews 13:3Colossians 4:18), and what we were before Jesus saved us (Ephesians 2:11–121 Corinthians 6:9–11). But the remembering should be to the glory of God and for our spiritual benefit. If we are cleansed by the blood of Christ, then no judgment remains for past failures (Romans 8:1). If God chooses not to remember our past sins (Hebrews 8:12), we can choose to set them aside as well and embrace the future He promises to those who love Him (Romans 8:28Ephesians 2:10). (Quote source here.)

A follow-up article also found on GotQuestion.org answers the question, Does the Bible instruct us to forgive and forget?” Here is the answer to that question:

The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous verses commanding us to “forgive one another” (e.g., Matthew 6:14 and Ephesians 4:32). A Christian who is not willing to forgive others will find his fellowship with God hindered (Matthew 6:15) and can reap bitterness and the loss of reward (Hebrews 12:14–152 John 1:8).

Forgiveness is a decision of the will. Since God commands us to forgive, we must make a conscious choice to obey God and forgive. The offender may not desire forgiveness and may not ever change, but that doesn’t negate God’s desire that we possess a forgiving spirit (Matthew 5:44). Ideally, the offender will seek reconciliation, but, if not, the one wronged can still make a decision to forgive.

Of course, it is impossible to truly forget sins that have been committed against us. We cannot selectively “delete” events from our memory. The Bible states that God does not “remember” our wickedness (Hebrews 8:12). But God is still all-knowing. God remembers that we have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But, having been forgiven, we are positionally (or judicially) justified. Heaven is ours, as if our sin had never occurred. If we belong to Him through faith in Christ, God does not condemn us for our sins (Romans 8:1). In that sense God “forgives and forgets.”

If by “forgive and forget” one means, “I choose to forgive the offender for the sake of Christ and move on with my life,” then this is a wise and godly course of action. As much as possible, we should forget what is behind and strive toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13). We should forgive each other “just as in Christ God forgave” (Ephesians 4:32). We must not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15).

However, if by “forgive and forget” one means, “I will act as if the sin had never occurred and live as if I don’t remember it,” then we can run into trouble. For example, a rape victim can choose to forgive the rapist, but that does not mean she should act as if that sin had never happened. To spend time alone with the rapist, especially if he is unrepentant, is not what Scripture teaches. Forgiveness involves not holding a sin against a person any longer, but forgiveness is different from trust. It is wise to take precautions, and sometimes the dynamics of a relationship will have to change. “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty” (Proverbs 22:3). Jesus told His followers to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In the context of keeping company with unrepentant sinners, we must be “innocent” (willing to forgive) yet at the same time “shrewd” (being cautious).

The ideal is to forgive and forget. Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5) and covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). However, changing hearts is God’s business, and, until an offender has a true, supernatural heart change, it is only wise to limit the level of trust one places in that person. Being cautious doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven. It simply means we are not God and we cannot see that person’s heart. (Quote source here.)

The above answer leads to yet another question that is also answered on GotQuestions.org. That question is, What does it mean to be wise (shrewd) as serpents and innocent as doves?” Here is their answer to that question:

In sending out the Twelve, Jesus said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16, KJV). The NIV says, “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Jesus was using similes (figures of speech that compare two unlike things) to instruct His disciples in how to behave in their ministry. Just before He tells them to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He warns them that they were being sent out “like sheep among wolves.”

The world, then as now, was hostile to believers—not incidentally hostile, but purposefully hostile. Wolves are intentional about the harm they inflict upon sheep. In such an environment, the question becomes “how can we advance the kingdom of God effectively without becoming predatory ourselves?” Jesus taught His followers that, to be Christlike in a godless world, they must combine the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove.

In using these similes, Jesus invokes the common proverbial view of serpents and doves. The serpent was “subtle” or “crafty” or “shrewd” in Genesis 3:1. The dove, on the other hand, was thought of as innocent and harmless—doves were listed among the “clean animals” and were used for sacrifices (Leviticus 14:22). To this very day, doves are used as symbols of peace, and snakes are thought of as “sneaky.”

Nineteenth-century pastor Charles Simeon provides a wonderful comment on the serpent and dove imagery: “Now the wisdom of the one and the harmlessness of the other are very desirable to be combined in the Christian character; because it is by such an union only that the Christian will be enabled to cope successfully with his more powerful enemies” (Horae Homileticae: Matthew, Vol. 11, London: Holdsworth and Ball, p. 318).

Most people don’t mind having their character compared to a dove’s purity and innocence. But some people recoil at the image of a serpent, no matter what the context. They can never see a snake in a good light, even when used by Jesus as a teaching tool. But we should not make too much of the simile. We cannot attach the evil actions of Satan (as the serpent) with the serpent itself. Animals are not moral entities. The creature itself cannot perform sin, and shrewdness is an asset, not a defect. This is the quality that Jesus told His disciples to model.

The serpent simile stands in Jesus’ dialogue without bringing forward any of the serpent’s pejoratives. It is a basic understanding in language that, when a speaker creates a simile, he is not necessarily invoking the entire potential of the words he has chosen—nor is he invoking the entire history and tenor of the linguistic vehicle. Rather, the speaker is defining a fresh relationship between the two things. A quick look at Matthew 10:16 shows that Jesus was invoking only the positive aspects of the serpent. There is no hint of His unloading Edenic baggage upon His disciples. He simply tells them to be wise (and innocent) as they represented Him.

When Jesus told the Twelve to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He laid down a general principle about the technique of kingdom work. As we take the gospel to a hostile world, we must be wise (avoiding the snares set for us), and we must be innocent (serving the Lord blamelessly). Jesus was not suggesting that we stoop to deception but that we should model some of the serpent’s famous shrewdness in a positive way. Wisdom does not equal dishonesty, and innocence does not equal gullibility.

Let us consider Jesus as exemplar: the Lord was known as a gentle person. Indeed, Scripture testifies that He would not even quench a smoking flax (Matthew 12:20). But was He always (and only) gentle? No. When the occasion demanded it, He took whip in hand and chased the money changers out of the temple (John 2:15). Jesus’ extraordinarily rare action, seen in light of His usual mien, demonstrates the power of using a combination of tools. This “dove-like” Man of Innocence spoke loudly and clearly with His assertiveness in the temple.

In His more typical moments, Jesus showed that He was as wise as a serpent in the way He taught. He knew enough to discern the differences in His audiences (a critical skill), He used the story-telling technique to both feed and weed (Matthew 13:10–13), and He refused to be caught in the many traps that His enemies laid for Him (Mark 8:1110:212:13).

Jesus showed that He was as harmless as a dove in every circumstance. He lived a pure and holy life (Hebrews 4:15), He acted in compassion (Matthew 9:36), and He challenged anyone to find fault in Him (John 8:4618:23). Three times, Pilate judged Jesus to be an innocent man (John 18:3819:46).

The apostle Paul also modeled the “wise as serpents, harmless as doves” technique. Paul lived in dove-like innocence in good conscience before God (Acts 23:1) and learned to deny his carnal desires so as not to jeopardize his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:27). But Paul also displayed serpent-like shrewdness when he needed it. He knew his legal rights and used the legal system to his advantage (Acts 16:3722:2525:11). He also carefully crafted his speeches to maximize the impact on his audience (Acts 17:22–2323:6–8).

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus taught us how to optimize our gospel-spreading opportunities. Successful Christian living requires that we strike the optimal balance between the dove and the serpent. We should strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and we must be sacrificial without being taken advantage of. We are aware of the unscrupulous tactics used by the enemy, but we take the high road. Peter admonishes us, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). (Quote source here.)

In a few short hours, we will pass from the old year to a brand new year, and from the past decade to a brand new decade. Hopefully, the answers to the questions above will guide us in making the transition a successful one by forgetting the past (whether good, bad, or indifferent); forgiving others and ourselves when needed; and striving to be gentle without being pushovers; sacrificial without being taken advantage of; being aware of the unscrupulous tactics used by the enemy…

And by always . . .

Taking . . .

The high road . . . .

YouTube Video: “Auld Lang Syne” sung by Home Free:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Home for Christmas

“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” –from the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas
With the passing of Dad this past summer, the family home that our family has grown so familiar with over the years since Dad married my stepmother back in 1979 has been sold, and it is now no longer a part of the family. In other words, there is no physical “home” to go home to anymore.

When Dad died in June, the last member of that generation in my family died, too. While my two brothers have their own families, and they have their own homes to celebrate Christmas with their children and grandchildren, I have been single all of my life, so my “home” is literally found in the statement, “Home is where the heart is.”

I’ve moved a lot over the years and I’ve lived in three different states due to my profession. Yet, I’ve always made wherever I was living at the time feel like a “home” to me even though I’ve lived in apartments all of my life. Originally from the Midwest, since 1992 I have lived in Southern states (primarily Florida for over 20 years and now in Texas). I’m not entirely sure you can ever take the “Midwest” out of a Midwesterner no matter how many years one lives in another part of the country, especially in the South where customs and even language takes on a new flavor and meaning. I still have not learned to be “Southern” yet, and I’m not sure I will ever be successful at it.

I ran across an article published on December 21, 2015, titled My Heart is Where My Home Is,” by Lynn Soots (although at the bottom of the article it credits Julie Ostrow as the author), that gives a defining experience as to what I mean about being a transplanted Midwesterner living in a Southern state. Here is what she wrote:

What does it mean to ‘go home’?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the town where I grew up. I haven’t lived there in decades, yet, I visited two weekends in a row. One weekend was reconnecting with the past—my high school reunion. The following weekend was spent sharing my present—leading an improv workshop at the Grand Rapids Improv Festival and being interviewed on a local morning show. Funny thing…and believe it or not, I was somewhat shy in high school. I didn’t take a single acting class or ever performed on stage in high school. Yet, decades later, I appear on TV and teach an improv workshop in my hometown.

Attending my high school reunion brought unexpected connections and friendships. New and renewed friendships. Classmates I was friends with before are now in my life again. We shared laughter and stories of old and new.

It felt like I never left-sort of

Having been away from Grand Rapids, Michigan through the years left me with a constant longing for home. Being uprooted after my freshman year of college and embarking on an adventure to Raleigh, North Carolina with my mom and dad, this youngest of six was forced to make a home wherever she was.

Moving from a Midwestern town to a Southern town was a culture shock for this once 18-year-old. I was told I talk funny by people from all over the Southern United States. For those of you not aware, just like there are different Midwest accents—from Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota—there are various Southern accents—from the mountains to the beach of North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

Although my Southern friends and I had a few communication “mishaps,” we always laughed and poked fun at our language differences. Not to mention the different colloquialisms. I was feeling at home with my new friends.

Just as I was starting to feel like I could plant roots in Raleigh, my parents uprooted once again. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during the summer after my sophomore year of college. After having her mastectomy, she and my dad moved back up to the Midwest exactly one year after the three of us moved to Raleigh. From then on I was on my own.

Constant journey toward home

I realized that throughout my life, I continued to listen to my inner voice, my intuition, and follow my passion and my joys. Multiple times I have had to push myself beyond my own boundaries and limitations. Sometimes by my choice and sometimes because of circumstances beyond my control. As I pushed myself through new experiences, one feeling remained the same…my desire to connect with others, to have a sense of family, and to belong.

My Heart is Where My Home Is

No matter how long and hard I look outside of myself and beyond my inner circle for connection, I am reminded by my loved ones that I am loved, I do belong, and that we are family.

As I reflect this holiday season, I bask in the feeling of knowing that I am home. (Quote source here.)

And here is another article published on June 14, 2016, titled, Home Is Where The Heart Is, by Zanteria Nelson, who was a student at the University of West Florida at the time this article was published. Here is what she wrote:

Home is where the heart is.

That statement is much more profound than it appears because it means that your home can be anywhere on this spinning orb. It means your home will always be the place where you feel the deepest affection, no matter where you are. It means you can find a home with your family in your hometown, when you are alone overseas, or anywhere in between. It means the place you long to be. It means that you could be homeless, living in a nomadic life, and find a home everywhere you go in every experience you have. It means you can find a sense of home in a friend’s hug, in exploring the unknown, in a familiar tingle of love, in a warm bed or in the midst of a joyful run. It means that your home is wherever you take your heart, and if you are like me and you live with your heart and for your heart, then you will forever be at home. You will never be homeless, and will always feel at home.

In others words, “Home is where the heart is,” is not just a mere phrase. It means so much to your life, my life, and the lives of others. Home is not necessarily your house. Sometimes during our walk of life, we do not understand where we belong in this world. We tussle with the fear of not belonging to anyone or anything. Of course we have families, but our families do no not dictate the way our life should be.

It is our innermost soul that guides our lives, and that soul lives in our hearts. Whatever our heart expresses it truly represents who we are. Wherever our heart lays is truly where we belong. Our heart is a spiritual source that connects to the things that are most beneficial for us.

To be honest, in many ways, I myself have been feeling lost, lost in a spiritual and emotional sense. These feeling are evident in the most unexpected moments, moments where I find myself in my car, at the beach floating in waves, or sitting at a table.

Surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and I start to think. Where do I want to be? Where do I feel the most relieved? Why am I here? What is my meaning? What is my truth? What is my purpose? What is my path? What is my bliss?

Sometimes, I am lost in the sense where I find myself wondering what the point of this life is. If everything eventually fades, if we all eventually die, if nothing is permanent, then what is the point? My heart answered all of these questions for me. For wherever my heart leads me, I am truly home. For your home is where your heart is, and my heart is with me. (Quote source here.)

Of course, for those of us who are Christians, our heart is owned by another–Jesus Christ. And He is exactly who Isaiah so clearly described in Isaiah 9:6-7:

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

In an article published on OnePlace.com titled, When Jesus Came to Town–A New Beginning,” by Greg Laurie, author and senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA, he write:

In his excellent little book,My Heart, Christ’s Home,” Robert Boyd Munger writes of Jesus coming to his home and describes his sense of embarrassment when the Lord begins walking around. Imagine what it would be like to have Jesus come to your home and actually visit, especially if you weren’t expecting Him?

The Bible unfolds this very scenario in Luke 19 and introduces us to a man named Zacchaeus. Into his home walked the Creator of the universe in human form.

Zacchaeus was a successful businessman, a chief tax collector. In those days, there were three primary places where taxes were collected: Capernaum, Jerusalem, and Jericho. Zacchaeus, being the chief tax collector in Jericho, was over one of the “Big Three.” He was head of a tax farming cooperation with collectors who extorted the people and paid him before he paid the Romans. You might say that he was the kingpin of the Jericho tax cartel. He was hated, despised, and isolated by his fellow Jews.

But Jesus had a different view of Zacchaeus. He assessed him this way: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) In other words, Jesus saw the real problem with Zacchaeus. He did these things because he was lost.

As Jesus came into town, Zacchaeus could not see over the crowd. So, he sprinted down the street and scurried up a tree, trying to catch a glimpse of Him. In this culture, it was considered undignified for an older man to run. If you were a government official, you did not do something like this. It was not appropriate. But Zacchaeus didn’t care. He wanted to see Jesus.

Here came Jesus with the crowd. They were pushing and pulling, amidst a lot of noise and excitement. Suddenly, as the Lord passed by, He stopped, looked up at Zacchaeus, and called out his name.

Everyone stopped and looked at Zacchaeus. I doubt they were looking at him with love. They were probably thinking, “Let’s cut this tree down with this creep in it.” But I believe Jesus’ look was different than the rest. I think His look was one of love and compassion.

Jesus told him, “Make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Can you imagine the excitement that filled the heart of Zacchaeus? He probably came down that tree a lot more quickly than he went up.

Jesus and Zacchaeus momentarily disappeared from the crowd. They had a conversation that changed the course of this chief tax collector’s life. Something dramatic happened during that visit, but Scripture doesn’t reveal what it was. It is clear that Zacchaeus came out a different man than when he went in.

Zacchaeus realized that Jesus was not merely a guest in his home, but in reality, the host. How important it is that we make this same discovery: once we have given our lives to Jesus, we are under His command.

When we have placed our faith in Jesus, we are no longer our own. It is not even correct for a believer to say, “my future, my life, my plans, my career, my family.” Rather, a believer should say, “Now I belong to the Lord, and I want to do what He wants me to do.”

The Apostle Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus, that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). A literal translation of this statement would be, “My prayer is that Christ would settle down in your heart and finally be in your home, that He would settle down as a family member.” It was the idea of Christ being at home in their hearts and lives.

Clearly, this change had taken place in Zacchaeus. Salvation had come to him. He was no longer the same man.

Can someone see by the evidence in your life that salvation has come to you? Jesus may be calling your name right now, wanting to settle down in your heart. Maybe you are treating Him like a guest, an honored guest, granted, but a guest nonetheless.Is Jesus at home in your life right now? Does He have free reign? Can He do what He wants to do?

Jesus wants to help you and change you. Like Zacchaeus, welcome Him into your life and let Him have His way. If He does throw something out, just know that He will put something better in its place. (Quote source here.)

For Christians, Jesus gives us a whole new meaning to the word “Home”

And home…

Is where . . .

The heart is . . . .

YouTube Video: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Rascal Flatts:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

A Gift That Keeps On Giving

“Carpe diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.” –John Keating, played by Robin Williams in the movie, “Dead Poets Society.”
With only a couple of weeks left before Christmas, if you’re still wondering what to get that one person you have no clue what to get them, there is a gift you can give that doesn’t cost anything, but it could just change your perspective on life.

Yesterday I found a hardback copy of a book published in 2000 that was in new condition for only $2.00. There isn’t hardly anything that thrills me more than finding a gem of a book in a used bookstore at a very cheap price and in excellent condition. The title of the book is Reflections on the Movies: Hearing God in the Unlikeliest of Places (2000), by Ken Gire, author of more than 20 books, and founder of Reflective Living, a nonprofit ministry devoted to helping people learn how to slow down and live more reflective lives. An introduction to the book written on Amazon.com states the following:

Can a movie feed your soul?

Stories. Be it a parable of Jesus, a C.S. Lewis fantasy, or a movie such as “Saving Private Ryan,” stories have been around since Creation; a means of both education and entertainment. By far, our favorite way to listen to a story today is at the movies, whether in a theater or a family room. Indeed, says Ken Gire, movies are the parables of our culture—earthly stories that sometimes have heavenly meanings.

Can we discern God’s voice in the modern parables of film? Yes, it is there, sometimes loud and crystal-clear, sometimes barely a whisper, sometimes even despite the filmmaker’s intent. In “Reflections on the Movies,” Ken helps us:

• sensitize our “eyes to see and ears to hear” God speaking,
• develop the skills to understand movies and their themes, and
• learn to reflect on the medium as a form of spiritual enrichment.

In 1999, Ken was one of thirty Christians selected for a month-long study under some of the film industry’s top talent in Hollywood. He has led numerous spiritual retreats where he has used movie clips to illustrate his messages.

Reflections on the Movies and Ken’s previous books in this series—The Reflective Life,Reflections on the Word,” a devotional, andReflections on Your Life,” a journal—are designed to help you become more spiritually sensitive to the everyday moments of life. (Quote source here.)

In his book, Gire reflects on 14 major movies produced in the latter half of the 20th Century. Of the 14 movies mentioned, the reflection that I turned to first is one of my favorite Robin Williams’ movies titled, Dead Poets Society,” a 1989 film starring Robin Williams as an English teacher named John Keating. “Set in 1959 at the fictional elite conservative Vermont boarding school Welton Academy, it tells the story of John Keating, a progressive English teacher, who encourage his students to break free from the norm, go against the status quo and live life unapologetically” (quote source here.)

Gire opens the chapter titled, “Reflections on ‘The Dead Poets Society,'” with the following:

The battle cry of the summer of ’89 was “Carpe diem,” from the Latin phrase for “Seize the day.” It came from “Dead Poets Society,” an unlikely summer hit move about a group of prep school boys. Some audience members reported making new life decisions as a result of seeing the film. Teachers were inspired. Everyone fondly remembered the teachers of their past. Virtually no one walked out of the theater unmoved or unaffected. (Quote source from “Script to Screen” by Linda Seger and Edward Jay Whetmore as quoted in “Reflections on the Movies,” page 159.)

Gire continues on the next several pages with the following:

Film invites dialogue. That, I think, is why this movie was particularly life-changing for a lot of people. It engaged them in a dialogue about their life.

There were pauses the director structured into the film that gave the audience an opportunity to enter into that conversation. I especially remember the one classroom scene where Professor Keating talks to his students about passion, huddling them all around him. “The powerful play goes on,” he tells them, “and each of us can contribute a verse.”

Keating pauses long enough to let that thought sink in, then repeats it. “The powerful play goes on, and each of us can contribute a verse.”

Another pause, then a question.

“What will your verse be?”

Keating looks right at Ethan Hawke’s character when he asks it. That is where the director lets the camera rest for maybe an extra beat longer than might be expected. In that extra beat, you are not wondering what Ethan Hawke’s verse will be, you’re wondering what yours will be.

And you’re not sure.

Which would be okay, except you’re not a kid in prep school. You’re a thirtysomething or a fortysomething and should have a verse by now. But you don’t, and that’s a little unsettling.

At some point in that powerful play, our character steps onstage. Between our cue to “Enter” and our cue to “Exit,” we have a part in the unfolding drama of redemption. But none of us really knows how big a part.

If I were to audition for a part in a story, say,To Kill A Mockingbird,” I would want to play Atticus Finch, the lawyer everyone respects, who has a great part to play and great lines to deliver. God, of course, may have different casting plans. Maybe He’s looking for someone to play Boo Radley, a misunderstood man with the mind of a child. He has only a few short scenes. We see him in his house, in the shadows, hiding behind the door in Jem’s room, and finally sitting with Scout on a porch swing at her house. Boo has no lines to speak. His purpose in the story, as determined by the author, is to save Scott and Jem from the vengeance of Bob Ewell, which in the end he does. Who would have thought Boo would have ever amounted to anything, least of all a hero?

But then, who would have thought Rahab would have amounted to anything either? When Moses sent two men to spy out Jericho, they hid in the house of Rahab the harlot. When the king of Jericho learned this, he ordered her to hand over the men. At great risk to her own life, she told him the men had already left. As the soldiers roamed the city in search, she lowered a rope from her window, allowing Joshua and Caleb to escape. She had only one scene and only a few lines in that scene. Her entire story amounted to a little over a page.

And how about the thief on the cross? He had only one verse: “[Jesus,] Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). A seemingly insignificant verse, heard by only a small audience. And yet, how many prisoners awaiting execution have come to Christ because of that one verse? How many people on their deathbeds have looked to that thief, thinking that if he had a chance at getting into heaven, maybe there is still hope for them? And maybe this Jesus would accept them on the basis of such a simple expression of faith, who knows?

The life of the thief on the cross was pulp fiction. Rahab’s life was a Harlequin romance. Paul’s life, before the Damascus Road, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography. Yet none of those were God’s story. If you were able to ask the thief, I’m sure he would say he’s rather have that one sentence in God’s story than a thousand pages in his own. 

It’s a humbling realization that sometimes a fragment of our life is all that is useful to God in the story He is telling. When I think about my life, I think of it in terms of a miniseries with a to-die-for role that Richard Chamberlain is chomping at the bit to play. I think those things until I see my life from God’s perspective, as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister who openly opposed Hitler during World War II.

While Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, he reflected on his life, wondering what the deeper meaning of it might be. It seems to him so confusing. The fragments of his life seemed disconnected, like sentences in search of a story. A few months before his execution, he came to this conclusion, “It all depends on whether or not the fragment of our life reveals the plan and material of the whole. There are fragments which are only good to be thrown away, and others which are important for centuries to come, because their fulfillment can only be a divine work. They are fragments of necessity. If our life, however remotely, reflects such a fragment… we shall not have to bewail our fragmentary life, but, on the contrary, to rejoice in it.”

When we look at our life from that perspective, even the most fragmentary parts may have eternal significance. What “Dead Poets Society” does particularly well is to challenge us to look at life from a little different perspective than what we are used to, as in the scene where Professor Keating has his students stand on their desks to look at the classroom through new eyes. In the process of looking at life from a different perspective, it causes us to look at our own lives from a different perspective, too. The movie does this primarily through the character, Professor Keating.

Keating, himself a graduate of the boarding school where he now teaches, is new to the faculty. It is his romantic view of life that sets up the conflict between himself and his more traditional colleagues, eventually leading to his dismissal. He is, in every sense of the word, a nontraditionalist. You know that the very first day of class. He enters the room from his office in front of the class, walks past a row of students, whistling while he walks, and leaves the classroom. He steps back in and calls to them, “Well, come on.”

The boys hesitate to follow, but one by one they do. As they spill into the hallway, Keating is standing in front of the trophy case. Once he has their attention, he asks Mr. Pitt [one of the students] to read a page from the textbook on poetry:

Gather ye rosebuds while you may,
Old time is still a-flying.
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

“The Latin term for the sentiment is ‘carpe diem,'” he tells them.

He asks for a translation, and one of the students says, “Carpe diem, seize the day.”

“Why does the writer use these words, ‘Gather ye rosebuds while you may”? Because we are food for worms, lads. Believe it or not, each and every one in this room will one day stop breathing, turn cold, and die.”

As Keating tells them this, the camera becomes their eyes and they study the faces on an old, faded photograph of a bygone basketball team. “Look at the pictures in the trophy case. Same haircuts. Same raging hormones. They believe they are destined for great things, just like you. Invincible, just like you. Eyes full of hope, just like you.”

Their eyes drift to a team picture of football players.

“These boys are now fertilizing daffodils. If you listen real close, you can hear them whispering their legacy to you.” As the students lean in, Keating whispers the haunting words, ‘Car-pe . . . car-pe . . . carpe diem. Make you lives extraordinary.'”

It is the most memorable moment in the film. One generation face-to-face with another. Looking through the glass at one another. Studying one another. There is great drama in this moment, and when Keating whispers their legacy, the effect is powerful…. (See the YouTube video at the end of this post for the scene in the move described above.)

Here’s what I struggle with in that scene. I don’t know about you, but the thought of my life being fertilizer for daffodils doesn’t seem the most compelling argument for making my life extraordinary.

The argument is a fashionable form of hedonism, wearing a coat instead of a toga. Seizing the day because we’re all going to end up as food for worms is not exactly the same as “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But it’s not a whole lot different either.

There are other philosophical options for seizing the day that are, in my opinion, better than the one the movie gives us. Jesus promised to give us not only life but life in its fullness, its richness, its abundance. That should be our reason for seizing the day. The day is a gift, given us from the generous hand of God. And we are to receive it as the incalculable treasure it is, take hold of it, and enjoy it to the fullest.

Just as we have gifts to receive from the day, we also have gifts to give. Gifts of love. Of understanding. And compassion. Of kindness. And forgiveness. Of wonder. And gratitude. This, I think, is how we make our lives extraordinary. By the gifts we give and joyful generosity with which we give them. (Quote source, “Reflections on the Movies,” pp 160-165.)

And those are the gifts we can give to anyone this Christmas. They are priceless, and we can keep on giving them throughout the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. They are the gifts, as Gire states, that make life “extraordinary.”

I’ll end this post by quoting the last line in a movie clip from “Dead Poet’s Society” in the YouTube Video below: Carpe diem…

Seize the day . . .

Make your lives . . .

Extraordinary . . . .

YouTube Video: “Carpe Diem–Seize the Day” –a movie clip from “Dead Poets Society”:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here