The Origins Of Identity: Understanding Loyalty

Before sentience and pleasure, and before dissension or agreement, there is the denudation of offense and the understanding of character. Simply put, there is identity. Let me explain.

The reason why who we are behind closed doors is so important is because what we do and what we think while no one is watching defines the viability of our loyalty. And why is loyalty so important? A person’s loyalty explains a great deal; such as why a person cares to please, entertain, or to serve “Bob” and not “Sam”. Having a reason for this requires the person being served to be well worth such a commitment. If behind closed doors we cheat on the person whom we claim loyalty to, our choice to renege speaks degradingly low of the person we claim loyalty towards, as well as ourselves. This cheapness of character labels the cheater a hypocrite and liar. Question is, what gives these labels their power? Let’s dig deeper. 

Power derives of respect, admiration, and even appreciation. Therefore our disloyalty would cloud the picture of what we claim to be admirable and respectable, and in turn, poisoning the picture others have of our ability to choose wisely and with careful consideration who or what we are loyal to. To society, disloyalty may represent a shortcoming, a foible, a flaw—the flaw of our ineptitude, our immaturity as a human being, and the inability to understand the significance of the power of loyalty in the eyes of a society seeking to trust an individual’s skill in choosing who to give loyalty to. 

Admiration for and the appreciation of money, may, for example, appear normal to a society desperate to pay its bills and evade financial burdens. But seeking money above all else is idolatry. Even writing that may strike a chord with some readers because those words may appear to claim that the desire for money is automatically a bad thing. But that isn’t what I’m saying, nor is that my point. What I am saying is that the desire for money is normal and appropriate when it is controlled. By controlled I mean there is a goal involved with the attaining of money. In other words, money doesn’t become the goal, money is simply a part of the plan, but not the reward itself. For example, the goal could be to buy a car, and money is needed to buy a car. In this instance, money isn’t the goal, the car is. Perhaps for you, a house is the goal. Once again, money is required, but it is not the goal. See the difference? What this point illustrates is that when people do what they do in order to get more money just to get more money, money is their goal; their idol. 

There are many things in this world people can get attached to, and without these things, they either forget who they are, or never came to truly know themselves to begin with. The question then becomes: Why is this important? 

When we become obsessive and idolatrous over Earthly things, we lose sight of our purpose—if we were ever made aware of something as meaningful as purpose to begin with. For many people, purpose is not a theme or concept that was ever invited into their mind or spirit; they learned their habits only because they were never fulfilled with anything more significant in their life. Their role models and peers were not so ambitious as to understand the significance of encouraging them to discover their unique purpose, nor believing in one of their own. When we learn from people without passion in life, purpose is less than a consideration, and without purpose, who are we? Now we’re getting somewhere.

All of our habits (habits like wanting money just for the sake of having more, like I mentioned above), once formed, can become a person’s definition, and certainly these habits can replace our loyalty to someone or something else. For instance, we would have little or no time for personal relationship with close friends if we were preoccupied with drunkenness, intoxication, under the influence of the psychedelic high of drugs, or unconscious. What we want isn’t to not exist, but to exist fully. Why is any of this important? How does this relate to our identity? How do we know what our identity is?

When we strongly consider our loyalty towards people and the fear we have of being caught (for those who don’t trust themselves), the question of our identity behind closed doors must finish by asking: Whose approval are we replacing with society’s?

We prove it to ourselves how we seek the approval of others if we are afraid of being caught—otherwise there would be nothing to worry about “being caught” with. Loyalty couldn’t retain any power if the approval of people weren’t the bricks in the wall. But in this flow of thoughts, we have sidestepped where loyalty’s origins begin. Truly, we haven’t yet perused the most intricate etching of this concept. The most essential etching of them all is how we put all of this energy and commitment, loyalty and admiration into the world, its things, but we many times forget that before any of us makes the first decision to try a drug, an alcoholic drink (with the intention to get drunk), to lose our virginity, or to allow our body to become invaded with foreign toxins—we have our identity given to us by God. Sometimes this truth causes dissension and provokes people to back away because life appears easier without what seems to be the complication of faith. However, this identity given to us is why morality stings when we make the choice we sense is wrong. This is what begs us to want a friend around when we reach for that bottle of liquor—we want the intimacy (even if the intimacy we want is distorted by the involvement of substance abuse) but we are unaware of how loved we are before we even picked up the bottle. We are loved before we inhale the toxins. We don’t realize we’re desperate for an intimacy beyond sharing toxins and transient, meaningless pleasures with others. The truth is that we take on all these habits to escape because we are unaware of—or placing doubt in—the reality of God. When we are unaware of God, we replace His missing piece with as many pieces as we can find to fit into the size of His void.

What does that tell us about how many habits we feel the need to pick up in order to replace God? 

When we discover smoking, drinking, coitus, or even video games, we find all these things to fill our souls with: Exposure to drug abuse, the flooding rush of dopamine through sex, the entertainment of video games and the fuzzy sensations of drunkenness. The sad truth is that so many people are unaware that this is the process we fall prey to. We pledge our allegiance—that is, our loyalty, which innately belongs to relationship with God the Father through Jesus His son—to these ephemeral experiences because what only God can do, so many countless transient Earthly pleasures must try over and over again, repetitively, to replace. Even with such adamant consistency, these experiences aren’t satisfying: We need them over and over again to remind us (yet they never do so adequately)—otherwise, we’d have our fill. But with God, we pour our desires into Him, we talk to Him, worship Him, read about Him, listen to Him, and desire HIM above all else, and what happens is that all these pointless desires fall away; games may remain fun, but only in small spurts of times; alcohol retains its unique taste for pleasure (even Jesus created barrels of wine! His first miracle—John 2:1-11), but it will not seem worthwhile to become drunk (which is spoken against in the Bible—Galataians 5:21)—and sex becomes special and unique to a marriage relationship blessed under God—not just a promiscuous act of copulation between two emotionally uninvolved strangers seeking anonymous pleasure.

From this article, what I want for you to take away is how loyalty doesn’t start with people, but with God; that God is good, and that all of our experiences from this world could never add up to the thrill, excitement, passion, and purpose of relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I tried this for most of my life—my loyalty was misguided. In fact, for most of my life, I denied Him His existence entirely. Through disbelief, I tried living a life where the only places left to place loyalty were lust, music, and movies (depending on music to influence my character, movie characters to inspire me to be who I am, and lusting after women to keep me impassioned for life) instead of placing all of my loyalty in Jesus as Lord—who is more than capable of doing all three at once! Now I journey after God’s heart to inspire me to be a better man, I declare His will above my own because I trust what He wants is better for me than anything I could never conjure up in my wildest dreams—and I believe patience in His will for me will outweigh every disappointment I’ve ever encountered while trying to search for short-lived pleasures in my past. I’m forever convinced that purpose in Jesus is more fulfilling than any other worldly distraction, and I would love to see others come to understand the difference as well. That is my reason for writing this article and for having a blog at all. I want you to understand how we can find our identity in Christ and discover all that we long for by loving Him above all other things. When we put God first, He lifts us up and blesses us more than we could hope for, and the experience of this lifestyle is more satisfying than you could imagine unless you embrace it for yourself. 

If you like what you’ve read here, and you would like to read more, please follow my blog and pass word along. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at lpblog2017 , or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think would benefit, and feel free to write in the comments below–I would love to hear from you! May God bless you!

Replacement

Movie Review: “Fences”

“Fences” is a film that stays with you because of its powerful message, but it also eats at you because of the heavy subject matter. After the long lapses of drawn out monologues by Denzel’s character Troy, we start to unveil and receive the hearts of the other central characters; such as Troy’s humble and assertive wife, Rose (portrayed flawlessly and poignantly by actress Viola Davis), their brave, bold, and endearing teenage son (portrayed by talented Jovan Adepo), Corey; Troy’s mysterious and distant son Lyons (portrayed by Russell Hornsby), and the stellar performance of mentally challenged Gabriel (portrayed by Mykelti Williamson).

What I loved most about “Fences” was its heart. Behind every scene of elongated confabulation, there is heart and intention. There are a limited number of main characters, which is one of the greatest strengths of a film like this. “Fences” is not a film about baseball, and it’s not about racism or politics. Based within only walking distance of the film’s opening scene, “Fences” takes the heart farther than the eyes, capturing the spirit with the challenge of the family drama, focused on the message of the veracity of character and the loyalty of blood.

In past movies, Denzel has seemingly adhered to his pro bono work of a classically laid back fellow, sauntering without worries. In this film, although there is still a strong undertone of Washington’s past performances, Denzel provides a stark new facet of himself—the broken heart of a man who’s sacrificed his life for family, and is so doing, destroyed himself over the course of a family’s lifetime. There is an extremely sentimental backdrop of character-development that I deeply appreciate about this film, mostly in the respects of Denzel and Viola’s work as a married couple fully encompassed in the heart-wrenching pain of time and secrets.

Viola Davis’s talents are golden and brilliant in her portrayal of Rose, whose heart is emboldened with loyalty, promise, and the subtlety of hope. Undoubtedly, her scenes with Denzel are worth the price admission by themselves, truly revealing the broad scope of her daring ability to be vulnerable and emotionally resilient, and held strong by a heart left to fend for itself by the convolutions of this world.

I was amazed and impressed with Mykelti’s touching portrayal of Gabriel, the mentally challenged brother of Troy. With a heart of gold defined by faith, his character is the most refreshing yet causes the most ruefulness due to his condition. His dialogue and inflection imitate the reality of his experiences, as he causes us to genuinely smile and yet sigh out of sympathy.

The pertinent and extremely real theme of “father and son” is incarnated here, brought to the light with painful precision by Denzel and Jovan. Their scenes together are by far some of the most emotionally tense scenes between any father and son in any movie, with the battle of time, culture, and prejudice weighed against them both. Matched with the scenes of Troy and Rose, these scenes build up to create an array of poignant, tense, and yet satisfying scenes of emotional exhaustion; refined with the reality of familial atrophy, distance, and the weight of living under the roof of a God believed to be assigning turmoil with punitive judgment.

Truly, this isn’t even a film only about family; this is a film about faith—where the image of God is clearly distorted, misunderstood, and dramatically misinterpreted by the lies of the world and the deviations of equality. Though this is not a film about racism or prejudice, these themes are implied throughout and utilized to as a means of allowing the audience to understand the context of the world these characters live in. The real message sneaks behind every argument shared between Troy and his various family members throughout the movie. The heart of “Fences” lies in these dialogues, the message carrying itself even into the instrumental score of the credits.

I highly recommend seeing this on Redbox if you missed it in theaters. Though the introduction can feel tedious for a good half an hour (unless you enjoy hearing dialogue about baseball and alcohol), the central story does eventually pick up and become the central focus of every conversation. This is where the movie’s ingenuity is ignited.

Parental Advisory: 

This film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references. There are about three references to sexual conduct dispersed sporadically this film; quick and brief, yet still adult-only when understood in context. Most of the purpose of the rating is due to the drama of the altercations throughout the movie. This film centers on the strained relationship relationship between a husband and wife, and a father and son. These themes are emotionally heavy and can be taxing for the viewer. Children under 13 will likely misunderstand what is happening, and therefore would not take anything useful away from a film such as this. Adults will appreciate the honesty and rawness of the actors’ performances, but children will likely get confused and bored from a film made with 98% dialogue. The 2% I will not reveal here, but I will say it is quite impactful with what happens. I would highly recommend this film for its vulnerable performances alone, and for its strong message about family.

If anything is to be taken from “Fences,” I would say it’s a lesson in familial love, making sure every moment counts; living in the present, showing you care, allowing others to be free and creative, and choosing selflessness for the sake of familial unification. This film reminds me what it means to love; to truly love, and not because of what the film shows, but because of what it intends to teach.

I give Fences 4/5 stars. If you like what you’ve read here, and you would like to read more, please follow my blog and pass word along. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. I do hope this review aids you in your decision whether or not to view this movie. May God bless you!

Transformed From Within: How We Are Meant To Live

Life is precious. Every breath is significant as any one of those breaths could be our last. That is an exhilarating truth; both an invitation to truly live, and a heeding not to do anything less.

Would you miss the sound of wind rustling through the trees if it stopped? What about the cool, slow ripples through the water of a pond? Feeling the tender, fragile petals of a beautiful flower on the pores of your skin? These preponderances of life are the delicate and ubiquitous complements to existence, and reminders that we are still alive; yet so few of us pause in appreciation of these details, as if they have little or no value.

These examples aren’t all there is of course, God also provided human relationships—the closest relational bond we can have to that of experiencing relationship with God Himself (because we are made in His image).

There are people in this world who are gifted (through time and practice, intention, and humility/surrender of the self to God) at making the best of every situation; pleasant or unpleasant; ideal or less preferred. Oppositely, there are others who dwell in the negative aspects of the same situations, adhering to hedonistic downtime as a means of an escape from the Hell that is life at times of adversity.

For the unbeliever, life on Earth is Heaven since this is as close to an idyllic life as one gets when they deny the existence of Heaven—the promised eternal home for believers of Christ who live changed lives; loving on those who hate them, forgiving those who hurt them, putting God before themselves, and living selflessly in the name of Jesus—denying the world its offer of transient hedonism in exchange for our eternal soul. Under the closed eyelids of the unbeliever, Jesus and the Bible are the most conflicting, confusing message of love, miracle, testimony, and intimacy in the history of humankind.

Furthermore, for many the unbeliever, to believe in Jesus as Lord and to follow Him as such is to relinquish the freedom to live autonomously, and, therefore, to lose the ability to enjoy life. The implementation following this deliberation of disbelief is distorted in two ways that I want to mention. The first, as Timothy Keller intuitively writes in his book, The Reason For God:

This oversimplifies, however. Freedom cannot be defined in strictly negative terms, as the absence of confinement and constraint. In fact, in many cases, confinement and constraint is actually a means to liberation.
If you have a musical aptitude, you may give yourself to practice, practice, practice the piano for years. This is a restriction, a limit on your freedom. There are many other things you won’t be able to do with the time you invest in practicing. If you have the talent, however, the discipline and imitation will unleash your ability that would otherwise go untapped. What have you done? You’ve deliberately lost your freedom to engage in some things in order to release yourself to a richer kind of freedom to accomplish other things
.”

We may choose to allocate our time practicing disbelief, but the freedom that we lose in that is the assurance of eternity; sacrificing the peace in knowing every moment is purposefully spent preparing for the promise of Heaven. Without deliberation aimed in the direction of an eternity permeated with unconditional love and infinite peace and joy, one’s life culminates in deprecation; disappointed that all our Earthly endeavors lead to the dilapidation of time, the ultimate degradation of egocentrism in a world indulging itself with fanatics commercializing humanity’s greatest weaknesses for the admission of our humility, and the downfall of pride in a world seeking purpose while castigating the desire for meaning in life beyond emotionless copulation, soulless entertainment, and the disparaging lies of media and politics.

Yes, believers choose to give up their freedom—in exchange for not living a life full of constant disappointments and without reassurances for any kind of turnaround or comeback. When we believe the comeback to this life is the promise of an eternal home where there is no pain, death, suffering, wickedness, sin, tears, or disappointments—there isn’t much to consider or think about—it’s pretty black and white: Why choose a life of disbelief when following Jesus not only changes our eternal home, but also encourages us to live more fully here and now? Belief in Jesus is entirely incomplete if one believes that faith in Jesus only means “You get eternity in Heaven” without rebirthing their soul in this very moment. Believing in an eternity in Heaven is spiritually lustful when we take the gold without thanking the Miner; living our lives fully believing we are going to Heaven should change more than just where we believe we’ll go when we die: It relieves us of the disappointment of believing everything that happens between now and then is purposelessness in that everything we experience while on Earth is only for here and now. The eternal promise of the Bible is the exact opposite: Everything we do here and now matters in that it leads us directly to where we go next. In other words, if every word we speak, every action we take and decision we make leads us towards Heaven, would we not want those words, actions, and choices to be the very best in the name of the King who provided their route? If not, can we authentically admit that we have faith in what’s to come, or just lust in the idea of receiving what we do not deserve? This question leads me to the second distortion of implementing disbelief: We sometimes think that believing we’ll go to Heaven is the end of the story of belief; but entering Heaven isn’t even the beginning. 

Make no mistake, Heaven is not anything we earned, nor anything we deserve, rather—it is what we are given freely through the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ sacrificing His life for ours on the cross. Heaven isn’t about what we do on Earth, it’s about what Jesus did on the cross. Let me repeat that for emphasis: Going to Heaven has literally nothing to do with anything we could ever do on Earth (as if to prove our worth to God), it has everything to do with Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. This isn’t about shaming us for His death—He chose to die for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to pay the eternal price for ourselves. That is the relief and hope of believing in Christ; not that we get a free life living in sin and then expect Heaven—NO—the hope of Christ is that as a byproduct of having faith in Jesus as Lord, we have hope in what’s to come because of what Jesus did in our place. This isn’t some kind of eternal freebie, it’s a life-changing grace and alteration of our soul substance. Before we have Christ, we are lost in our sin; selfishness, greed, lust, gluttony, pride, etc. When we accept Christ, we become aware of our sin (like Adam and Eve after they ate fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and became aware of their nakedness with shame (Genesis 3:7).), we realize that sin is wrong, we pause in reflection of how we can better ourselves by surrendering to the will of our loving God—who, by the way, literally clothed Adam and Eve Himself right after they had sinned (Genesis 3:21). What kind of God rebukes the sin but loves the sinner all the same? This one does; the God of the Bible.

Do we live our lives in thankfulness that a God like this loves us so much that He came and died for us in the flesh so that we wouldn’t have to pay for desiring lust, gluttony, idols, obsessions, blasphemy, stealing, and killing (among the others)? Not that we live perfect lives, no, but do we live transformed lives? Different than before? Refined by gratefulness, thanksgiving, submissiveness to God, surrender of our will and our desires? That is Christianity; that is rebirth.

When we awake one more time, are we aware of how much godly beauty is in this world, or do we take it for granted? Are we aware that every breath is given to us? When we aren’t suffocating for air, that is a blessing. That is a gift from God. Every time. Do we spend our lives thanking Him for these gifts, or do we spend time taking them for granted and splurging ourselves? This kind of lifestyle is like (in the most rudimentary, basic sense) a parent, after carefully and lovingly baking a batch of delicious, savory chocolate chip cookies, and watching their child stuff the cookies in their mouth and leave without so much as a smile or “thank you”. The parent still loves their child, and I imagine the parent would still want to make more cookies for their child just because they want to see their child take pleasure from what they know their child enjoys, but—where does that leave the state of the heart of the child? Will they go into life expecting everyone to treat them with such consideration and love without thanking them for their generosity and selflessness? If they don’t, and they die one day in that state of their soul, should they be judged as “normal” (“like everyone else”), or as selfish and hedonistic? Does that kind of soul know God? Are they transformed and living a life in thanks for the gifts they are given, in effect leading others towards the same God of love?

How would the parent feel, ultimately, every time they make cookies and the child just walks away after taking everything? Hurt, maybe? How do we expect God to feel when we ignore Him, reject Him, and live carelessly when we get what we want? And yet, a life of closed-minded disbelief does not lead us to a selfless life of purpose, but to a life of meaningless gain and purposeless suffering. Even those who give in the “name of love” do so without giving credit to anyone but themselves; even their “selflessness” is rooted in narcissism. Without giving credit to God, how do we thank the Giver of life?

I urge you to consider these thoughts and, if you’re truly living a selfless life in the name of Jesus, I commend you and urge you to continue shining your light towards Jesus so others will continue to notice that you’re different from anyone else they know for a specific reason. You aren’t the way you are “just because”. The love we give comes from Jesus, or it is meaninglessly selfish. Which kind of love do we want to share; selfish or selfless? How do you define what is selfish and what is selfless? Perhaps this will change your definition of what living in faith means when compared to “living in peace but without God”.

My hope and prayer is that this article opens your eyes to the way God loves us all, and how the way we live our lives impacts not only God’s reception of our thankfulness, but others’ witnessing of His love through our lifestyle and decision-making. The way we treat others matters for this exact reason, and the way we respond to this truth ultimately defines our view of faith, the authentic transformation that comes with that faith (or lack thereof), and finally, the way we lead ourselves to our eternal future— in hope or in fear/ignorance. Where are you today? I pray you find Jesus today, and that you come to accept His grace, mercy, love, and promise of hope in His resurrection from the dead. He did not stay dead—He came back to life, and that is why we all must live a life of worship, thanksgiving and praise; implementing a life of gratitude in the name above all names: JESUS.

Oversight

God Is In Control

All of my hope, all of my faith, all of my trust, and all of my purpose is in Christ, and Christ alone. Where is yours?

When I look at the world today, I have pity—but not fear. I am constantly reminded of the reasons why I know we are called to be the light in the darkness. Here is what I remember—this is what keeps me inspired. May the following words inspire you and nudge you towards the hope of what is to come when you place everything you are in Christ.

There is no status or title in heaven:

“The last will be first and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16).

On Earth, we will have trouble (pain, suffering, affliction, death):

“But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Our lives are like a mist (James 4:14). Constantly, I am noticing how fast time flies for me each day, as if life has become a race to the finish. But I am unafraid, because:

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

“What if I can’t accomplish my personal life goals?” “What if I never get married?”  “What happens if the world ends before I get what I want?” :

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17)

What is most important to you right now? I spent too many years of my life living selfishly, lustfully, ignorantly, naively, and purposelessly. Life is too short for this kind of lifestyle. There is so much room for love; what’s better, there is so much room for Jesus—if you look at the news and the country right now, Jesus fits right in. He didn’t come to Earth when all was calm and happy. Jesus understands life when everything seems upside down; that’s how He spent the last 12 hours of his Earthly life. But that didn’t end His story, and our story doesn’t end with fear.

In the end, what doesn’t matter is who is in charge on Earth. Ultimately, God is charge, even if we can’t experience His full glory yet. And it matters not what people say; God will have the final say. It doesn’t matter how we die; what matters is how we live. It doesn’t matter if people reject us; God constantly invites us back to our relationship with Him. He loves us at full capacity, 24/7, and He never tires of loving us more than we can take.

Be lifted high today, there is nothing to be afraid of. No matter how life looks on the outside, everything is under control behind the scenes. Keep praying, keep reaching out and loving people no matter what the world is doing or saying. Keep forgiving those who hurt you and keep loving those who despise you for finding joy in the love of Jesus. Keep shining your hope and faith into the world, and keep moving forward. Keep going, keep going, KEEP GOING! There no God but one, no King but one in charge. Let this truth lift your spirits and calm your heart. Jesus is alive, and He is going to come back. Until that time, be ready. Love Him with every fiber of your being, and show your love for God to others by giving your time to those in need; listening and not sabotaging; loving and not judging; helping and not harming; praying and not complaining. People need godly love, and when we love others with a godly love, they can tell the difference.

Will you be that difference in the world today? Jesus is calling us to make way for His return. Open your hearts, ears, and mouths, praising God with joyfulness. There is nothing to fear! This is a new day, and God is in control. Everything is going to be alright! In Jesus name!

Overworked

Soaring with Him Ministries

Movie Review: “Split”

Readers, this is new. You’re familiar with me writing solely spiritual-related material. Though I will most heavily continue to focus my articles on faith, purpose, and our journey of life, I will start sporadically including movie reviews in the mix. Here is the first—my review for M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split”. If you’re interested in seeing it, I provide a spoiler-free review below to aide in your decision-making. 

Undoubtedly, this is on par with my second favorite film by M. Night Shyamalan, The Visit, right after The Sixth Sense (everyone has their favorites—). The Village is quite easily my least favorite (I’m sorry to The Village lovers!) of his past films.

While there are the strengths, there are also the weaknesses. I would say there is a fair ratio of pros than cons, but we’ll start with the cons and end on a good note.

My first problem with Split was the humor. This may just be an opinion of my own so take it as you will, but I feel Shyamalan’s use of humor was underdeveloped and a bit distracting from the overall tone of the film. In Split, we come to enjoy watching (through genuine intrigue of the talents of James McAvoy) the main “antagonist” (Or protagonist? You decide) and his multiple identities, therefore the humor here is nearly required to provide balance and interject some humanity to the incredulousness. The problem here, however, is matching the humor of the story with the humor of the audience, and I get the impression Shyamalan has trouble understanding how to connect the two; he seems to either provoke humor for the actors on-screen to enjoy themselves, or the characters’ dialogue is so forcefully intended to make us laugh that it undermines the humor altogether; like a comedian telling a joke and pausing to wait for the crowd to start laughing. It is this forced intentionality that ultimately spoils the end result, making the humor feel more embarrassing than befitting.

Another example of the humor gone wrong is the unbalanced proportions. For example, there is a brief moment in the opening scene when a main character so blatantly jokes about her dad’s driving skills that it’s hard not to assume we’re “supposed” to laugh, immediately ruining the humor with a wince of awkwardness—like saying “Ha ha, funny,” just to say it. After this moment, the only evident humor occurs during some later moments with McAvoy’s multiple personalities—but clearly the humor in these scenes is intended to be our reaction to examining his extremely unusual character, not so much any humor related to the story the character is a part of. In other words, the humor and the story seem separate, therefore the humor is distracting rather than complementary. Lastly, the humor isn’t dispersed evenly throughout, making the few and far in-between moments seem unnatural.

Secondly, the nature of this movie primarily revolves around the idea that a man with 23 identities can morph into something inhuman and monstrous. That alone would cause anyone’s eyebrow to raise superstitiously. Easily, this is just Hollywood bait posing as a reason to see the movie (And guess what? It worked!). The trailers all made it obvious that the selling point of the film was “the beast”—not even so much the multiple personalities. The movie slowly narrows its attention from the various characters embodied within “Kevin” (McAvoy’s main self), skinning the fat away until all that’s really emphasized is that a beast is coming. As much as this builds suspense, it also feels a bit cartoony since it is not relatable to the majority of viewers. Tied to point number two of the cons is that this movie ultimately has no underlying message. There is nothing remotely challenging about this story; nothing for anyone to take home with them; there isn’t any psychologically soluble about viewing Split; as soon as the credits starting rolling during my screening, everyone immediately stood up and walked out. Ultimately, Split is a fun pop-corn flick with a great actor in the lead role. Which leads me to my third and final main con.

The one thing that stood out most as a letdown about Split is the number of identities we actually get to see. We are manipulated in the trailers, led to believe there are 23 different identities within one man who we will get to see. Wrong. Of the 23, we get to personally watch about 8, 4 more heavily for the first 3/4 of the movie. 4 out of 23. As much as watching McAvoy portray 4-7 different people is, others may enter the theater expecting to be amazed with 15 more, and they will be sorely disappointed. All that said, McAvoy does a phenomenal job in this role, truly nailing every facet of each character portrayed in the man named “Kevin”. In fact, that is my first choice for pro number one.

In the lead role, James does an impressive job juggling not just 7 names, but seven diverse personalities, each replete with unique accents, body language, facial expressions—the whole nine yards. Very impressive. At almost 38 years of age (looking quite young still), James certainly has tricks up his sleeve and flawlessly implements them without so much as a second out of character. In every moment his eyes are 100% committed to story-telling, wrapping the audience around the horrifying reality of a man stuck with 23 different minds.

Second to note is the story-telling itself. Shymalan does a fine job swiftly implementing the story beginning with a birthday party, and transitioning into the horrors of Kevin’s multiple personalities as they undulate through him, carefully unwrapping each scene by scene until the drum roll is over and and we’re eagerly awaiting what will be revealed after the clash of cymbals. There are twists, and though they are not draw-dropping or truly mind-boggling, they are interesting enough to leave us feeling as though the story of Chapter 1 has been efficiently unraveled without forcing the viewer to watch the paint dry.

Finally, for anyone, like me, who believes in shielding certain content from children of the appropriate age, I want to provide precautions for the parents out there who need to know whether or not to take their children with them.

Parental Advice: This film is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language. Without spoiling the movie, let me warn you that this film is not for children under 13. Understandably, there are many movies with a PG-13 rating only for a few F-bombs (if you’re complacent with your child being exposed to vulgarity), but this isn’t one of those. The theme of pedophilia is used quite heavily, teenage girls are shown in their underwear for large portions of the film, and cannibalism is also implied more than once. The film grows more violent in the third act, and I would say this is disturbing enough for the film’s rating on its own. Though the scenes referred to here are not extremely graphic (much is implied off-screen), thematically, this material is quite heavy and not suitable for young children. For the theme of pedophilia alone, I would strongly urge caution.

Altogether, I would give this film a 3/5. The acting is impressive, the story is satisfactory, even if the humor is entirely off-beat and there is some disappointment in the paucity of personalities than was advertised in the trailers. The ending alone is quite a nice surprise for some of you who are a fan of Shymalan’s earlier works, and here is where I will stop.

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Faith, Fairy Tales, & Our Ultimate Reality

Just as the broken heart takes time to heal, the lost soul takes time to acknowledge the light; understanding that the light even existed in order to believe it was ever in darkness.

When we live a certain way for long enough, sometimes we tend to believe our perspective encompasses all others’ reality. Put differently, some people tend to believe their reality is the one everyone sees and lives inside of. Because of this, we argue over perspectives because we believe ours so earnestly. 

One of the perspectives we have are made up of the concept of spirituality and the soul. An atheist’s perspective is that there is no God, no soul, no Heaven or Hell; no such thing as sin and, for that matter—no need for redemption. Since these factors don’t add up, they don’t make a lot of sense to the unbeliever, whose disbelief stunts open-mindedness and leads to a nihilistic viewpoint, rendering everything as pointless and ultimately culminating in death. With nothing further to look forward to or anything to put their hope in, they live passionless lives and argue over the idea of a loving God because, to the unbeliever, death and meaninglessness make more sense for human life without a soul. This is their reality.

One of the many arguments of the atheist, following the derivations of disbelief, is that the perspective of those who have faith have become believers by the process of convincing themselves of an unnatural reality— that basically, after we tell ourselves enough times that we believe in Jesus, that eventually we just feel convinced by our own words; like a spiritual mantra to rev up our spirit. Many believe that once you repeat something (whether an action or a phrase), it becomes habitual the way anything does through repetition; like a child learning to speak by consistently repeating syllables until words are correctly articulated. Similar to speech and children, adults also develop habits. In this case, our spiritual “articulations” might be considered our strength of faith—since this particular articulation requires faith in order to believe it even exists. The question then becomes: How is teaching someone to have faith different from teaching someone how to put on clothes, chew and swallow; rinse, dry, and repeat? Let’s take a step back to view the bigger picture, and discover the difference together.

Outwardly, learning to speak or to wash dishes can be as mechanical as it is physical; repetition teaches the body, and the movement eventually gains momentum, the rhythmic motion guiding the continuity more than the thinking brain. Eventually, the new reality for the young child is that their speech has become as natural as it is for adults. Of course, by that time, this “new” reality for the children as been the reality for adults for many years. This “advanced” ability of adults to speak has become their reality. 

Unlike the mechanical repetition of an activity like learning to speak, spirituality is not developed by the any repetitive motion of our arms or hands (apart from expressing worship and praise), but with the desire of our heart and soul. How can we train what we cannot touch or see? What kind of push is needed to start the rhythm for the momentum of spirituality? 

The push of spirituality is the desire for which reason alone cannot explain nor be understood by empiricism or pragmatism; an intense desire which is grasped by the soul’s indisputable need for and search of purpose. The soul is an eternality transcending beyond the physical threshold of pain and suffering, of life and death, and when we recognize and acknowledge this reality of the soul for its truth, we will discover that the desire of the soul is the foundation of our purpose, laid in place by the love of Christ before we were even born. To break this down, the push we yearn for—we might call it the “articulation of faith”—can only be found by the heart after it is willing to recognize how worldly remedies (like Band-Aids on a hemorrhage; sex, drugs, alcohol, food, obsessions, addictions— all in the face of circumstantial pain in life) only mitigate our pain without extirpating the source of trauma (the cause of initial pain) with forgiveness, surrender, and restoration. Basically, when we realize what we’ve already tried doesn’t work, we will dig deeper for answers; the deeper we dig, the closer to the truth of the soul we get.

From our soul spawns desire, longings beyond mere food and shelter. We long for something more meaningful and transcendent of our daily rituals. These desires come to us in the earliest shell of childhood where our most precocious dreams of conquering the world and living happily ever after are developed. As adults, we refer to this world of “happily-ever-after” as a fairy tale, and we tend to label a child as naive or innocent for believing in such a la-la land. Why? Fairy tales are typically based in a reality without pain, suffering, malady, or death, are they not? They bring to life for the child what is in their mind, but also, I believe, what is in their soul.

For the boy, fairy tales are his means of transforming into a knight in shining armor, saving the damsel in distress, conquering the world, and changing life forever. For the girl, the story may be finding prince charming, being swept off her feet, and living of life of bliss and harmony. Are these “fictitious” realities not based from the desires of a child’s heart and soul? They truly desire these tales of fantasy. So what is this story, this place, of fairy tales in a child’s mind?

Let’s take a small step back to understand. Of the many fantasies of a child’s mind, relationship is rudimentary but prominent. For the child, the image of relationship isn’t imbued with sexuality or romance, not until years later. However, what becomes of a child’s imagination with regard to relationship later on will vary depending on the direction of those thoughts as influenced from outside sources along the way. Marriage and romance is, and always has been intended to remind us of our intimacy with God; the marriage of Jesus and the church. For the child-becoming adolescent in a non-Christian home where belief in Jesus isn’t talked about, read about, or encouraged—the marriage relationship becomes a fantasy of selfish infatuation; the seed to the desire for pornography, promiscuous sex, and other distortions are planted with or without awareness of such a convolution of true intimacy.

However, when these tales are completed with the pursuit of Christ in our hearts, this relationship is molded not only around our relationship with Christ, but to the place of bliss and harmony described in child-like fairy tales manifests as a new reality, inspired by Jesus Himself as an actual, physical place called Heaven in the Bible (Rev. 21:4, John 14:2, 1 Corin. 2:9, Rev. 22:1-5, Luke 12:33-34, Rev. 21:22-27, Rev. 21: 1-5, and more—). When we leave Jesus out of our reality, our fairy tales of “love and romance” eventually drown in the ocean of lust and infatuation” (reference my article: “Lust: The Darkest Lie About Love“); but when we desire Jesus, our desire for relationship is not founded in lust, but in unconditionally loving another person through our love for Jesus. Reiterated, these fairy tales which start out with the child-like perspective of what romantic relationships represent, eventually mature and parallel our desire for the Lord, complemented by (but not replacing) marriage to a significant other (For more on the desires of the heart, please find two great reads in John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart, as well and John and Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating).

If we have faith in Heaven, and if we can recognize our desires are rooted in Heaven, then what comes next is that our soul originates in Heaven. Would it not follow-suit that these “child-like” fairy tales stem directly from the desire for this place where we were created?

See, the promises of Jesus Christ culminate in a world without fear, pain, suffering, shame, death, or tears. Does this not sound like that of a fairy tale? Furthermore, Jesus Himself told us that we must be like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3). For me, this includes the ability of a child to see past the darknesses of this world and to hope for something greater. Is this not what Christ-followers believe in when they accept Jesus as Lord and experience the joy of desiring Heaven on Earth? Does that mean we believe in a fairy tale (fictitious realties), or a tangible, Heavenly reality barely comprehensible to that of the human mind? 

To connect the dots, the difference between teaching the practice of learning to speak (or even brushing their teeth, cleaning the dishes, etc.), and the significance of having faith in God obviously extends beyond the mechanics of physicality and breaches into the metaphysical nature of spirituality; more specifically, the nature of desiring what we cannot touch, but what we can sense, desire, and come to understand through time, experience, and belief. Put more simply, the difference lies in the desires of the soul. In one example the soul is held captive in the stubbornness of illogical disbelief (raised without the invitation to know Christ), and in the other it is extended ever so slowly from skepticism until entirely entrenched in the flood of peace and the ever-transforming nature of faith. 

Let’s be open with each other. Do we want to believe in a reality that is inching closer on the eve of Jesus’s Second Coming—inspiring us to experience a hope this world is incapable of offering? I do. My Christ-following friends do. But I also know many, many people who view the story of Jesus and scoff as if considering the idea of the tooth fairy. I understand that scoff very well. When I disbelieved, I scoffed at everything spiritual. I also scoffed at my deprecation in not having a passion for life; in not feeling or sensing a purpose in my life. I didn’t even want to live. Without any passion, life was meaningless—again, like nihilism. For me, passion is commensurate with faith, because without faith, our endeavors—passions, desires, goals—are rooted in narcissism, where purpose dies and selfishness suffocates the meaning of friendship, community, intimacy, and purpose. In order to live like this, we would have to accept the stubbornness of adulthood while forgetting the open-mindedness of maturity. In this way, I would say children are in fact more mature than adults in that they are able to place hope where others search for a reason to doubt; children find light where others refuse to seek what lies beyond the darkness—into the reality of Jesus’s love for us. 

Where are you today? Do you believe faith in Jesus and life in Heaven is more of a fairy tale than a reality that is possible when declaring Jesus as Lord in your heart? If you don’t believe that this is a possible reality, what is holding you back from wanting to believe in such an inspiring place, and the possibility of living there forever? How does the picture of living in Heaven impact the way you view pain, life, and death on Earth? How does knowing that Jesus died and rose for you so you could live a changed, shameless life impact the way you view His commands to love God, others, and ourselves through our words and actions? How do you think your purpose is affected by these commands? How does all of this play back to your soul and the way you feel towards your life?

My hope is that this article helps you to see that you must desire faith to find purpose in Jesus, and that repetition doesn’t teach faith as it does the method of practices such as washing dishes, brushing our teeth, or learning to speak. Faith requires us to desire the pursuit of our God-given purpose, and our pursuit requires us to believe in a soul, because without our soul, our “purposes” are rooted in narcissism. In realizing this, we can choose to change our ways and live selflessly in the name of Jesus, impacting others’ lives for the best in Jesus’s name; or continue to live the same lives, allowing others to see us the same way they see the rest of the world. So, do you want to make difference, or just fit in? All of these choices draw us back to whether or not we believe in our soul purpose. I hope you join me in passionately pursuing Jesus, aiming to change the world with His love running through our veins, emanating through our thoughts, words, actions, desires, and adventures. There is so much to be done.

Where does your faith look like today? 

If you like what you’ve read here, and you would like to read more, please follow my blog and pass word along. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog, Twitter at LPBlog2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please share this with anyone, and feel free to write in the comments below–I would love to hear from you! May God bless you!!

Invitation

Niceness and Vices: What Lies Underneath

When genuine Christ-followers (those who live authentically different lives after declaring Christ as Lord) meet me, they recognize my faith and smile at my joy. When unbelievers meet me (atheists/agnostics, and those only attaching a religious title to their unchanged lives and hearts), they’re taken aback by my joy, curious about what lies underneath. I’ve been told that I seem nice, and I can sense others want to dig deeper to know why I am the way I am. One man even asked me, “So do you have any vices?” After years of meeting a large diversity of people of various religious beliefs and faith-based backgrounds, I’ve come to understand these people looking for vices are either trying to 1.) Prove that I have a weakness underneath all the smiling, and 2.) Compare levels of shame, proving how much better or worse they are compared to me. Since I used to be an unbeliever, I empathize with their position. But since I am now a believer in Jesus Christ, I can’t leave this unaddressed. There is a deep misunderstanding about this concept of “niceness and vices”. I want strip away the misconceptions and divulge the main reality.

When everything is said and done, it all comes down to shame.

Shame lives as subtly as it does explicitly. You can find it in addicts just as you can find it in the countenance of a single mother or father whose spouse has possibly given themselves over to drugs, or other selfish pursuits (whether it be alcohol, gambling, or even an affair). Some single parents carry the shock of defeat in their eyes, ashamed for having found themselves in such a precarious position and perplexed that such a storm has seemingly destroyed the same life that seemed so idyllic. This shame is relatable, but it is but one of many manipulations of reality dropped on us like bombs from the enemy.

If shame has the power to roll us into our grave, why do we smear it all over our hearts? Sometimes we live masochistically, thinking the feeling of shame is the appropriate punishment for a wrong we’ve committed. Too often we live in a reality where either everything is our fault, or one major thing is—which, in turn, makes everything else seem to point back to us (at some point or another), proving us punish-worthy. Shame in this example seems justifiable—BUT—justifiable according to who? Us? Do we ever slow down enough to catch ourselves trying to play God? More importantly, what kind of God do we believe we’re playing?

I’ll return to this. But first: “Do you have any vices?”

Yes, of course I have vices. We all do. I’ve been writing about my past in placing women ahead of God, lusting after them following the trauma of my parents’ divorce when I was 11. I’m not proud of this, but this ugly truth doesn’t define my life. That isn’t me dismissing my sin; that is surrendering my past to the birth of a new lifestyle in Christ. If anything, this blemish in my history is more evidence of God’s love— insofar that He has been helping me to turn my life around by changing my perspectives, views, and thoughts towards women in ways that I hadn’t even tried to when I was an unbeliever. When others try to compare their shame, I feel sympathy for them: “Wouldn’t you rather believe in a God of love than of a God of impending doom?” are my thoughts. Others who want to find the weak spot, where I give in and admit that I have a weakness—honestly, you don’t have to dig far; I became Christian because I was so flawed that I was desperate for a Lord who could save me from myself. Even though I may be considered nice, that doesn’t mean I’m hiding; it means I don’t have a reason to hang my head in self-deprecation. Jesus was waiting for me when I opened the door of my reclusive house of shame and secrets. When I invited Him in, everything changed.

Along with God’s direct intervention are His gifts to me: Christian friends who support me, who care about me and who lift me up in prayer, listening to me and not judging me. That is the body of Christ I’m talking about—the church itself.

Until I finally accepted Christ, the shame I felt was dark, heavy, and without a remedy–the shame itself acted like a teeter-totter: I would feel the shame without having the capacity to justify it anymore than the capacity to fully condemn it. I had no Biblical framework. Basically, it was my view versus the view of the world. When you argue with the world, you get several billion voices, and the numbing effect of such a castigating cacophony would eventually run anyone numb and stale inside. For me, turning to lust was opening the bottle of liquor for the alcoholic.

Shame, in this case at the time, didn’t make as much sense because, along with society’s castigations to consider, I was judging myself with a worldly morality (I’ll touch more on this later in this post). Soon after accepting Jesus as Lord, the shame finally began making more sense from the perspective of moral obligation, wherein the shame flooded through me from a deeper spiritual place (my belief in hurting my relationship with God), tearing me apart. I came to understand, from God’s point of view, the unbearable disconnect of lust (God, who made woman in His image too, shared with me His love for women, helping me see how detrimental lust really is), and the reason why lust is a sin and not just a frowned upon blemish (or dismissed as a commonplace excuse for dirty jokes) in the eyes of society.

As a believer of Christ, I do not believe shame is the intended punishment for my life or anyone’s life—that is a lie of the enemy. The difference between that lie and the truth of God is found in the argument of the source of morality. The unbelieving world tries to define morality for itself, defining good and bad as it sees fit, each person judging another for having a different point view, completely ignoring the source of morality–God–therefore misunderstanding its His authority which draws the line between good and bad, right and wrong—for us. To see morality from this angle, shame is a lie man takes from the enemy’s hands and feeds himself—this isn’t of God. A contrite heart, ready to apologize and surrender the specific area of selfishness which we are struggling with (to God)—that is of God. That is what we feel when we humble ourselves enough to admit that we’ve disconnected ourselves from God. A contrite heart and shame are not compatible; one is of the world, the other is our way back to God.

What kind of God is this?

Above, I brought up the question of what kind of God we try to play when we repudiate ourselves with shame. To answer our question about God, let’s consider something. What did God do when He found us choosing the world over Him? He came in the flesh through Christ and died for us—a death that was our punishment for sin—so that we wouldn’t have to be punished; if we surrender our lives to Christ and receive the love of His sacrifice in our hearts. Does that sound like a God who wants us to feel shame, or a God who wants us to feel loved?

See, for me, the punishment for my lustful past isn’t shame—it’s what Jesus did on the cross. For others’ vices, whether it be anger, gluttony, drugs, etc.–the punishment is the same thing. How does this make you feel, knowing someone else took your place, taking your punishment away from you so you could live a better life? Personally, this feeds me hope. My future looks and feels hopeful in Jesus because I have been forgiven, and because I’m not standing in the middle of my sin, waiting to do it again. I’m fighting my battles with the support of community as encouraged in the Bible, and I’ve formed healthier habits to replace old habitual patterns; such as reading more frequently, talking with friends about Jesus and the things which make me passionate, sharing Jesus’s love with them by giving them encouragement and praying for them; listening to worship music, not watching sexualized TV shows; practicing the art of talking from a place of love to each person I interact with, and being productive with healthy chores around my apartment when I’m alone—all things that lead me to a healthy relationship between myself and Christ, and also a newfound respect for women which I didn’t have earlier in my life. Do I battle shame still? Of course! But it doesn’t define me, and it isn’t the basis for what drives me in life. God inspires me, Jesus gives me hope and love, and these gifts have been changing my life in a visible, noticeable way to others around me.

I’m “nice” because not only do I believe in treating others the way I want to be treated, but I believe even more so in Jesus’s command to love others as God first loves us. I choose to be nice because I want others to know Jesus through their interactions with me. I am nice because I want others to know there’s someone (one of many) in this world taking their faith seriously—intending to be a light leading to Christ in a world that can be so corrupted and cruel.

Now, why have I been open and vulnerable about stating my vices and the battles I fight alongside trusted Christian friends? I know my blog articles can be seen by the world, so why would I be so personal? I’ve explained why before, and I’ll explain it again: Truly, my life isn’t my own. My life is God’s, and I want others to read my articles because my only intention in writing is to bring others to Jesus through the truth of my story. I want you to know, no matter what past you have, Jesus’s love for you is infinitely greater than your darkest sin. I believe this for my sins as well. My joy and hope come from believing in this truth, which feeds me peace and freedom from not only shame, but also from living in banality and monotony. Sharing my story is but a means of hopefully opening a way for you to see that you are not alone, and that God is good.

From another point of view of mine, every moment of my life leads me to the reason I exist (and the reason why everyone exists, if we would accept it as truth): Life with Jesus in Heaven. Beyond sharing my story and seeing others recognize how they, too, are loved by God through Jesus Christ through my words and actions, nothing else matters as much to me. I extend myself to others in hopes that they will feel the warm love of God through the inspiration of Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf. This isn’t about being nice, this is about sharing my hope with others; the very hope which inspires me to live my life and share my story with people I’ve never even met, all in the hopes of encouraging them to live their life differently—and in so doing—allow God to transform them from the inside, consequently effecting others’ lives in the process. What could be better than helping others learning to see what I see and feel what I feel in order to live a more fulfilling life in Christ?

On yet another note, I’m single. This is only relevant in regards to the truth that whether or not I get married before I die doesn’t matter to me as much as impassioning others with the zeal to know Jesus. It would be nice, marriage, but what is more important is bringing people to Jesus? I have life goals—yes, of course—but in the center of my personal goals is being close to God through Jesus. If that isn’t there, nothing else falls into place, nor does anything make any sense. There’s no explanation for our lives, our challenges, our successes or failures beyond the love of Christ. Jesus works through our best moments just as he does our worst defeats. I write this paragraph for those of you who want marriage as deeply as the way I have. Marriage has been my most significant dream, but I’ve been willing to surrender that—especially since it became something of an idol for me—to the love of God, in faith that if His will is for me to marry, He will provide the right woman, and if His will is for me to remain single, I accept the glorious life of praising His name. That choice is a win-win. I want to extend this humility to you, readers, who dream of marriage, to let go of clinging to this world and remember Jesus created marriage to remind us of Him; not to replace Him.

I cannot impact people’s lives by being nice “just because”. That is an empty, uninspiring basis for acting in any way. Is it nice to have someone do something just because—okay, sure. But how much more powerful is it for someone to actually believe in Jesus so strongly that when they ask, pleasantly surprised to a selfless gesture of yours, “Why did you do that?”, you can answer, “Because Jesus loves you, and He wanted you to know.” Personally, that would catch me off guard, but ultimately the encounter would humble me because that’s exactly my perspective. I don’t do what I do “just because” anymore—that no longer holds any weight for me. It’s not enough. If Jesus is not at the center of the reasons why I do anything I do, then it would make just as much sense if next time I didn’t do anything nice, helpful, thoughtful, or selfless. “Just because” simply doesn’t explain niceness because someone could just as ruthlessly kill “just because”. We cannot immediately associate ‘just because’ with some neutral sense of good if with the same words we can associate unspeakable evil and cruelty.

All that matters to me is that others know the way I speak and act is grounded in my faith. I don’t have another reason to be who I am beyond Jesus; there’s just no reason to be this way without Him. Basically, I have just as much reason to be a thoughtless punk as I do a thoughtful Samaritan if I don’t declare Christ as Lord in my heart. There is honestly no viable argument for secular morality because morality cannot be based on an emotional whim and retain a firm foundation. Innate morality (a secularist view of our worldly, situational, and emotional sense of what is good or bad, right or wrong), as it is many times referred, is ungrounded on anything infallible. Moral obligation however, is bound by God, and indelibly written in the Bible. That is also why being nice “just because” is a dangerous game of contradiction. For the rest of the world, it’s “I guess I just got lucky, catching you at a good time,” whereas the Christ-follower has something deeper and more promising than the fluctuating emotions on a good day. Even the sacrificial “I’ll do this because I know it’s the right thing to do” undermines itself on the same level as ‘just because’ since there isn’t a baseline reason beyond sentiment for such an act; selfless or not.

In the Christian mind, we have everything to look forward to; everything we do, think, speak, and act upon takes us one step closer to being in the presence of our Lord for eternity. There is no greater hope than this to inspire us to transcend mere niceness and extend mercy, compassion, forgiveness, love, and selflessness. This is the basis for unconditional love; that forgiveness and love wouldn’t be searched for by us, but given to others from us as an overflow from Christ. We are loved and forgiven by Christ’s through the shedding of His blood on the cross. In accepting this life-changing sacrifice from Jesus, we love others, knowing this promises us eternal life beyond Earth. Everything on Earth pales in comparison; including Earthly pain, heartache, suffering, confusion, trauma, sickness, and yes–even death. When we see the depraved colors of death diluted by the bright light of Jesus’s love for humanity, and we find ourselves in a state of peace unlike anything we can imagine— that’s because what we’re experiencing is a glimpse of something literally out of this world: We’re experiencing a glimpse of Heaven, the location for which our soul is intended. We were created for Heaven, despite how so many of us live our lives as if we believe our lives only end here—and when we can see how our life here is just a bridge to get there, it truly changes the perspective of life while we live it.

Coming full circle, that is the basis for my niceness, which isn’t merely niceness as it is joy in the Lord for giving me hope, even in death. I fear nothing, not even telling the world my ugliest secret so they understand God can remove anything to help us make more room for loving Him through everything in our lives. He can remove addictions of any kind, habits of any depravity, mistakes and sins of all depths and levels–if we would surrender ourselves to Him, pick up our cross (release our shame and our Earthly desires into His mighty hands) and follow Him in all our ways. One of those ways, for me, is releasing myself through my blog, that you might know God’s love through my testimony; that you may know men like me are not merely nice, but that we are joyful in our faith—impacted and encouraged that we don’t have to cling to our sins of the past—that we can cling to the love of Christ as Lord of our lives, loving everyone through Him until we draw our last breath, inhaling our first in the glorious Kingdom of Heaven.

Be encouraged, readers! You are loved by the God of all creation, and He doesn’t want you living in shame, He wants you living in the freedom of His love; freedom to love others whole-heartedly through the confidence and faith in His love for you. He died for you because He loves you that much. He rose again to prove that He wasn’t only man, but God Incarnate. What will you do with this Truth? What will you do with this testimony? How does this change your life, and your very reality? How will you move forward knowing someone—God Himself—wants to know you and lead you through this life, and all you have to do is ask Him to? Have faith, readers, and be steady, knowing He is God. There is nothing to fear; not gossip, not bad news, not a lost job or relationship breakup. There is nothing more important than knowing how loved you are by Jesus. This world will let you down time and time again. No matter where you travel to, the world’s corruption follows; but not without the love and God following to remind you that there’s hope. Which one you heed more will determine the way you live your life, and how you explain your kindness, your niceness, and how much or how little shame you will feel based on the world’s censuring eyes or God’s loving embrace. I encourage you to pray over this and wait for God’s reply. It may come faster than you think, or in a way you don’t expect. I hope you will do this for your own sake, that you may know the Lord, His love, and His promises for you. There is no one like our God!

Unseen