Yesterday, July 31, much of the book-reading world celebrated the birthday of Harry Potter. The day of Harry’s birth was revealed in the first of seven books about the boy wizard. For lovers of the series, the last day of July became a day to celebrate the books and their main character.
Although I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series, I didn’t do anything special to celebrate yesterday. But today, I couldn’t help thinking of Harry and his fictitious friends. I had three checks I needed to put in the mail. That meant three envelopes needed to be addressed, three return address labels needed to be added to one corner, and three stamps needed to be added to another corner. I was putting the stamps on when Harry popped into my head and I smiled.
In the fourth book of the series, Harry’s uncle receives a letter from the mother of his schoolmate, Ron. Not used to sending mail the “normal” way, she concludes the letter with a P.S.: “I do hope we’ve put enough stamps on.”
Let’s just say, the thoroughly-nonmagical Mr. Dursley was not amused.
There are many instances in the Harry Potter books of wizards and witches who have grown up in all-magic families not knowing how to navigate the non-magic (or muggle) world. They prefer the old customs of wearing long robes and capes and are much more likely to get around by broomstick or magical fires than by car or train. When they are forced to be seen in public, they look out of place—or, as Mr. Dursley would say it, like weirdoes.
Like the magical folk in the Harry Potter series, Christians can also feel out of place in the greater world around them. If we believe the things the Bible teaches, we may see the world very differently than our non-Christian neighbors. Some Christians are more comfortable with older customs such as traditional families, respect for leaders, and valuing hard work. They might be overwhelmed by modern technology and distressed by modern values. The impulse to hide away and associate only with other Christians can be strong.
Other Christians go to great lengths to look just like everyone around them. They hide in plain sight, never letting anyone know what makes them special.
We need to fight that impulse to hide!
The magical folk in the Harry Potter series are required by law to hide their magic from the world. Christians, on the other hand, are required by Jesus’ command to get out there and shine for all the world to see.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Today, I challenge you to celebrate what makes you different. Don’t be afraid to be noticed. Get out there and let your light shine!
Last weekend, my family went to see the new version of Disney’s The Lion King. The movie was made as part of Disney’s campaign of remaking live versions of classic animated movies. However, this movie—starring a cast of lions, hyenas, a warthog, and a meercat—contains no live shots of animals and, apparently, only one live shot of scenery.
So what makes this version new? The original film, released in 1994, employed mostly traditional hand-drawn animation. It looks like a well-made cartoon. The 2019 remake uses very realistic computer-generated animation and “virtual-production techniques” that include filming the voice actors acting out their parts and then recreating their facial expressions on the animated animals. Much of the animation looks impressively real, as if birds are actually flying through the air, grass is actually blowing in a breeze, and lions and hyenas are actually talking to each other.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you can watch the trailer here.
The art of animation has come a long way since Walt Disney made his first animated short film in 1928. The word animate means “possessing or characterized by life; alive; full of life.” To animate means “to give life to.” 
The Bible also equates life with breath. In Genesis 2:7, “the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God animated humans with his own breath.
Yet, there is more than one type of life described in the Bible. Humans were given life when God formed the first humans from the dust of the ground. Yet when Jesus came, he offered a new kind of life, one that stretches into eternity: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Life changes with Jesus. What came before is so different, it’s as if we weren’t alive at all. It’s like the difference between a virtual-reality computer generated film and a hand-painted animated film. The computer generated film has more color, more depth, more feeling, more detail, more…life!
But just like a computer generated film is still just an imitation of real life, there is also something greater in store for us than the Jesus-filled life we lead now. When we have outgrown the physical bodies we live in now, God has something even better waiting for us.
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
Our new lives will be even more real than anything we have experienced before. There will be more color, more depth, more feeling, more detail, more…life! It will be a life without tears or pain or death (Revelation 21:4).
Praise God today for the physical life he gave you, the new life you have in Jesus, and the amazing life you will have for eternity. What amazing gifts these are!
Lion photo by Luke Tanis on Unsplash
Today, I had to retrieve my passport from a safe-deposit box. It reminded me of something I wrote years ago about our eternal citizenship. I made a few tweaks to it, but most of this is from my book, Standing Firm: Are You Ready for the Battle?
Between 1975 and 1979, a communist group known as the Khmer Rouge controlled the government of the small country of Cambodia in Southeast Asia. To maintain control and to institute a new, highly controlled way of life, the Khmer Rouge outlawed anything to do with the Cambodians’ former way of life. They banished schools, churches, banks, hospitals—even families. Children were taken away from their parents and raised in the new thinking of the Khmer Rouge. Anyone who disagreed with the government, or anyone who could be considered a threat to its stability, was brutally murdered.
Around two million Cambodians—almost one third of the population—died, either at the hands of the Khmer Rouge or as a result of the terrible living conditions which resulted. A great many were taken to large fields where they were killed and buried in shallow graves. Those fields came to be known as “the killing fields.”
In 1984, a major motion picture was released to document some small portion of the terrible events in Cambodia. In that story we see the horrors of war and hate. We see death, brutality, and destruction, and all without any reason we can comprehend. We see evil in human form, the fullest expression of sin and its consequences.
The Killing Fields tells the story of an American journalist in Cambodia during the takeover of the Khmer Rouge. As bad as things got there, with bombings, random killings in the streets, and a lack of food and other necessities, the American never completely despaired. Like other foreigners in the land, he could go to an embassy for help, hop on a helicopter, or take a truck offering safe passage out of the country. The passports they held in their hands proved their citizenship to another country and their right to walk away and leave Cambodia before their worst fears became reality.
The American’s friend and interpreter, a Cambodian national, was not so lucky. It was not until the American had to leave his friend behind that he finally realized the full horror of the situation his friend faced.
As Christians, we also have citizenship in another kingdom, and our names are on a list guaranteeing us safe passage out of this war zone when the time is right. We live in this world, and we might be very attached to it and not want to leave, but this is not out our home.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The New Testament calls us “foreigners” or “aliens,” “exiles,” and “strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13 and 1 Peter 2:11). Jesus also said, “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21). It is a spiritual kingdom made up of people all over the world—from every tribe and language, people group and nationality—all who acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
The heavenly passport we hold can be a source of hope in a war-torn world. Or we can leave the passport in a safe-deposit box and forget about our true citizenship while we bicker over things that have no eternal significance.
Ask yourself today, where do you belong? Which Lord will you follow? For which kingdom will you fight?
I am a big fan of movies, but there are some genres I don’t care for. Horror is at the top of that list. I don’t like anything with ghosts, demons, monsters, creepy aliens, or oversized-sharks. So, I have a hard time explaining how I became a fan of the Netflix series, Stranger Things.
Stranger Things has a TV-14 rating based on language, some sexuality, and, most of all, some very scary monsters. I wouldn’t recommend it for pre-teens, even though many of the lead actors in the show were under age 14 when the show started in 2016.
The third season hit Netflix on July 4. Watching it, I still have to close my eyes or hit fast-forward during some of the gorier parts. But I don’t watch it for the gory parts. I watch it for the characters. In any genre of story-telling, my favorite characters have always been ordinary folk who step up and become heroes during extraordinary circumstances. Stranger Things is all about people like that.
There is something else I like about this show, something you only get from fantasy, science-fiction, or horror shows. It provides a visual allegory for the battle between good and evil being fought on a spiritual level. In Stranger Things, the monsters come from another dimension—the “upside down”—after a “gate” is opened between their dimension and ours. In our world, we are also called to do battle against enemies who are not like us.
The Bible tells us, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). We don’t fight these enemies with ordinary weapons but with special armor God provides—truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 6:13-18). Learning how to use this armor takes time and practice, but with our armor in place we can heroically stand up against our enemy and make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of everyone around us.
I’ve noticed another similarity between Stranger Things and the real spiritual battles we face. Although the stakes are high in each season of the show, the characters who know about the monsters are reluctant to tell anyone else what they know. In season one, a mother “knows” her missing son is near, but her knowledge is based on flickering lights, strange sounds, and something that seems to be alive inside the walls of her house. How can she explain that to anyone without sounding crazy? Who would take her seriously?
It can be difficult for Christians, as well, to talk about spiritual things with people who don’t believe in God or the Bible. Even some Christians think the Bible’s stories about Satan and demons aren’t meant to be read literally or those supernatural beings aren’t active in the world today. So when we’re struggling with fear, depression, doubts, and anxiety, we may not consider addressing them as spiritual issues. When we watch our neighborhoods and nations spiral out of control with violence, bigotry, and immoral behavior becoming the new normal, we may not think to put on our spiritual armor and march into battle.
Even if we recognize supernatural forces at work, we may not know what we should do about it. I think it starts with getting a good grip on what we believe about God and his intentions for this world. Then we need to take up our armor and learn how to use it. There are many good Christian books to help with both these goals. I wrote one on the Armor of God which I’ll be re-releasing in August. If you would like to join my email list to receive updates on the re-release of Standing Firm: Are You Ready for the Battle? just use the link below. You will also receive a free excerpt from chapter one of my upcoming book, Finding Your Part in God’s Master Story.
In the meantime, read through Ephesians 6:10-20 and think about how you can use the Word of God and prayer to stand up to the enemy in your life.
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I'm excited to announce that I have a new Christian non-fiction book almost finished and ready for publication. I've created a new website to introduce the book, and I'll be posting to the blog page there, rather than here, for the foreseeable future.
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I was having a hard time deciding what to write about this week. Nothing was coming to me—no ideas, no inspiration. I was starting to think another week would go by without a blog post from JaneTruth. Then it hit me. Just like that. I teared up while singing a line from an old, familiar hymn. “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”
Without realizing it, I was stressing about not having “enough”—enough time to do all the things I wanted to do, enough support for the writing project I’ve been working on, enough wisdom to guide me, enough ability, enough energy, enough attention to go around. Then, in one unexpected moment, the Holy Spirit reminded me that I always have “enough” when I trust my Heavenly Father to provide.
This is one of the big areas where Christians can, and should, differ from non-Christians. I recently ran across this quote that perfectly describes the non-Christian view of reality:
As Jean-Paul Sartre expressed it, the essence of reality is scarcity, a universal and eternal lacking. There isn’t enough of anything to go around. Not enough food, not enough love, not enough justice, and never enough time. Time, as Heidegger observed is the basic category of existence. We live in its ever-shrinking shadow, and if we are to achieve anything in our brief being that lets us dies without feeling we’ve wasted our time, we will have to go into heady conflict with the forces of scarcity that deny our desires.
But this isn’t the Christian view—or, it shouldn’t be. One of the many names of God is YAHWEH-JIREH: "The Lord Will Provide." The Psalmist praised a God “provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever” (Psalm 111:5); Timothy wrote of a God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17); and nearly 100 years ago, another author reminded us of a God who is ever faithful and will always provide.
“All I have needed God’s hand has provided.” That’s the joyful assertion of the faithful follower of Christ. If you are feeling today that you don’t have “enough” of something, sing along with this song and lift a prayer that God will provide all you need. Then trust that what you have received from God IS what you need, and nothing else.
 McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. Harper Collins, 1997, p. 211.
I read an alarming statistic this morning. In a 2012 survey, only 19% of 17 year-olds said they read for fun every day, down from 31% in 1984. Almost half of the 17 year-olds surveyed (45%) said they read for pleasure no more than once or twice a year. Another 22% said they never or hardly ever read for fun. With the increase of social media outlets and the pressure to be online all the time, I’m sure those numbers are even worse today.
There’s a growing effort to combat this decline in reading, including special days to focus on books. August 9 was National Book Lovers Day. July 30 was Paperback Book Day. April 23 was World Book Day. And many people celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss on March 2 by reading to children. But still, the decline in reading continues while young people spend more and more time staring at a screen.
Which screens are they staring at? Mostly, their phones. Students today tend to prefer short YouTube videos over traditional television shows. They’re going to movies less often, too, with “loss of youth” being the number one concern for European film owners in a survey last year. Considering the glut of violent, crass, immoral, and just plain stupid shows on TV and movie screens, the move away from such “entertainment” may seem like a good idea. But I’m afraid our young people are losing something very important as they trade in books, movies, and TV shows for 5 minute videos, 30 second SnapChats, and long feeds of photos and tweets pretending to represent real life.
I believe we have a need for stories in our lives—fictional stories about make-believe people and places or fictionalized biographies of real people dealing with real-life situations. We read stories to learn about other cultures and peoples and to explore the deeper themes of life and living. We use stories to entertain, but also to teach and impart wisdom. Jesus loved stories, using dozens of short parables to teach moral and spiritual lessons.
In a world of random, relentless sensory input, stories help us find connections, see order, and wait expectantly for what’s still to come.
The great thing about stories is that they have an author, someone who has given time and attention to creating the perfect setting and bringing together the right mix of characters who each have a part to play as the story unfolds. The King James Version of the Bible calls Jesus “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). And the Psalmist sang to God, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139.16).
In a book, everything is connected and purposeful. In a good story, all the action moves toward a fitting ending. There is hope in every story that all will work out well in the end, even if not all stories end well. We need that hope in our real lives as well. We need to recognize that we are part of a bigger story and there is so much still to come!
So read! Read to your children. Watch movies together. Discuss the story line and the characters and the choices the author made. Don’t wait for a special day to dive into a new story. Do it today!
If you would like to learn more about how stories help us understand what God is doing in our world, sign up for my email list to get updates on my next book, Finding Your Place in God’s Master Story. You can also visit my Facebook page and share what story you’ve been reading or watching lately that you would like to recommend -- https://www.facebook.com/janetruthbooks/
I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the work of God in our world today. We see so much violence, hatred, selfishness, and fear in our world, and we long to see God deal with those things and set the world right. Like the Psalmist, it’s easy to cry out, “How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever?” (Psalm 74:10).
Belief in God is waning throughout western civilization. The Fear of God has almost been forgotten. The righteous seem to suffer, while the wicked live full lives (Ecclesiastes 7:15). Where is justice? Where can we find proof that God still cares for this fallen world?
In the 3rd chapter of John, we like to skip to the 16th verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But it’s important to not skip over the first part of the chapter where Nicodemus comes to Jesus to find out more about what he’s been preaching. Why did Nicodemus, a Pharisee and someone who could have been considered an enemy to Jesus’ teaching, come to learn more about those teachings? Why did he trust Jesus enough to come to him for truth?
Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
Wow! What brought Nicodemus, and so many others, to Jesus was the “signs” he was doing—the work he was doing in the world in God’s name. What’s interesting is that Jesus wasn’t fighting the pagan Roman government, he wasn’t campaigning against unjust or even ungodly laws, he wasn’t engaging in an ugly war of words with every person who didn’t agree with his teachings. He was going out into the communities around him and meeting people one-on-one, healing their hurts, providing food, showing mercy. These “signs” were not meant to save people’s souls, and they did little in themselves to change the world, but they got people to listen. And what Jesus had to say did have the power to change the world—one person at a time.
When we think of all the things Jesus did while walking in our world, and all the things he could have done but didn’t, perhaps we should rethink the things we, as Christians, are doing in the world today in his name.
It seems that one of the greatest arguments against believing in the God of Christianity is the people who call themselves Christian but who act no better (and often worse) than the non-Christian people around them. Instead of shining as a light to the world, pointing the way to a loving and merciful—yet powerful and holy—God, Christians are accused of self-interest, hypocrisy, and judgmentalism. Instead of meeting people in their needs and offering them love and mercy, we use the teachings of Jesus to beat others over the head and justify our hatred. Instead of continuing the work of Jesus in the world, we sit back and wait for God to rain down fire and brimstone on the ungodly. And then we wonder why we don’t see God working in the world today.
Perhaps we should try something different.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
I bought a new car recently. It came with lots of safety features, like a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, and lane departure warning. There is even a voice that tells me when I’m approaching a red light or speed camera. The day after we bought the car, my husband and I were driving on a city street, approaching an intersection, when the voice boomed out over my left shoulder, “Red light camera ahead! Reduce your speed!” While I focused on driving, my husband quickly started pushing buttons looking for a way to turn down the volume of the mysterious voice which had seemingly come from nowhere.
It’s been calmer in the car since the volume was reduced on the “voice of doom,” as I like to call it. It continues to annoy me, though, as it warns of red light cameras even if the traffic light is green and I’m driving at or under the speed limit. It also warns of speed cameras in a school zone near our house, even though we’re only required to reduce our speed in the area if a red light is blinking. It’s summer. School’s out. The lights aren’t blinking. But my car keeps warning me, “Speed camera ahead. Reduce your speed. Reduce your speed.”
We’ve told a few people about the ever-lurking “voice of doom” in our car. People laugh, and then they say, “Is there a way to turn it off?” I’m sure there is—or at least turn the volume down so low we can’t hear it—but at some point that voice may come in very handy. One day, I may be driving down a street I’m not familiar with and I might miss a school zone sign or think I’m close enough to an intersection when a traffic light turns yellow. Knowing there’s a camera ahead that will catch me if I go through the school zone too fast or go through the light too late could keep me from an expensive traffic ticket or a more expensive accident.
So I listen to the voice in my car, even when I’m fully aware of my surroundings and I know I’m doing the right things. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there are important laws I should keep in mind and there will be consequences if I don’t.
There are other voices in my life I need to listen to—my conscience, the advice of friends and family, the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to tune them all out. It’s easy to relax and say, “I know what I’m doing. This isn’t going to hurt me.” Usually, I do know what I’m doing. But there’s always a chance that I might make a decision too fast. I might miss a warning sign. I might be distracted by something else in my life and end up in dangerous territory without even knowing how I got there.
That’s why I need to keep listening to the warning voices in my life. Even if they’re annoying. And if you’re ever uncertain about which voice to listen to, when people are giving you conflicting advice and direction, listen to these important words above all the others:
“Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Isaiah 8:20
What is my mission as an author? It's a tough question, but I believe the goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they really believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.