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Who is Afraid of Stories?

When I was young, I began to realize that towards the end of a movie, when the superhero comes from the depths of ashes to defeat the villain, something in my chest would shoot to my eyes and I would get an emotional response to the resolution of a series of event combined into a featured film. It was weird, not normal, and made me think that I may be less of a man. Until, I started to get that feeling from a story I heard a million times. The story of a famous teacher who was falsely tried and then given the death penalty. If you haven’t picked up, this is the story of our Lord and Savior. Because of the gospel stories in the Bible, we get to learn about the amazing freedom given to us by our God. It is a story that has shaped so many people’s lives for thousands of years. With that said, have you ever been afraid of a story? To go back to my childhood, I would be afraid to go to the movies. It wasn’t because of the dark atmosphere, or the terrifying prices for popcorn and snacks, but it was because of the feelings I would get from watching a captivating film. I didn’t want to cry in public. Sometimes, if I may say, as followers of Christ, we can be like young Levi, afraid of stories. We may think that it will impact us. We instantly want to ban books like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and quickly only allow ourselves and our family to enjoy the countless tales of Christian only materials. This goes with movies and books. I do not want to say this is completely a wrong thing to do, but it may be premature. What if we read, listened, and watched, with discernment. Leland Ryken explains, “Writers intend meaning, and their works are carefully contrived system of persuasion to get the reader to accept their view of the world. In other words, literature is affective (The Christian Imagination, 29).” So, why are we afraid of stories? Because stories impact people. This may be why Jesus taught with so many parables. Thus said, can we find ourselves believing that to win people over, to spread God’s glory, to show the ultimate death for sin’s humanity, is by sharing a systematic approach to doctrine? Can we be quick to blindside people by screaming, “You are going to die and go to Hell!” Or, can we influence the people in this time towards a tool that our Lord used? This is the vehicle of truth, the emotional reaction that captures my heart, this is the tool of story. The last movie I saw in theatre was Avengers: Endgame (Be advised I am not a movie critic). But, I found myself ugly weeping at the end of this film. Here’s why; while I have watched ever movie up until this point, nothing was ever going to save the world from the evils that would come. No matter how strong Thor was, or how loyal Captain America could be, there was only one way (As doctor Strange reminded us). This resulted in Iron man’s ultimate choice to put himself into harms way and snap the evil away. Spoiler alert: this kills one of the greatest superhero’s in the cinematic universe, leaving the audience in shock. But, is that not what God did for us? No matter how hard we try to live by the rules of “being a good person”, there is no way we receive salvation on our own. The ultimate sacrifice of Jesus is what defeated evil. Now of course Avengers is not an exact replica of the gospel, but it bleeds the greatest story of all time. The story of Jesus. To wrap up this blog, let me ask some questions. How come many movies and books bleed a gospel narrative? Could the ultimate story of Jesus weave itself into the very fabrication of human writers? Can we do better at sharing stories? Can we listen to the stories from our fellow neighbors? If we know that storytelling is affective, I think there is two things we can do. Firstly, we are welcomed to read, watch, and listen with discernment. The heart of writers, directors, and story tellers show up in their creations. And secondly, we can be affective through the art of sharing and listening to stories. I know when crowds gathered and questions were raised, that teacher, who would be found guilty, would often share a story to awaken the heart of the listener.

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A Tooth For A Tooth

It was third grade and our class was shuffled out the door in time for what was my unofficial favorite school subject; Recess. One of my buddies grabbed the basketball from his locker and we made a mad dash for the basketball court, we had to reserve our spot before the girls tried to jump rope or play hopscotch. The warm weather intensified the game. Something about being outside without a winter coat made us all feel like we just got drafted into the NBA. I remember being passed the ball at the corner of the court. Heavily guarded, I turned my back towards the defender as I tried to figure out what I was going to do. He pushed against me eager to get a hold of the ball. I began to lose my footing from the pressure and soon I fell forward while my friend guarding pushed his arms out against me. I instantly hit the ground in an unnatural way. My cheekbones stung and my eyes pressed tightly together, as I realized, I had hit my teeth against the concrete. As the feeling of my teeth vanished from existence, I began to reach for them with my hand to see if there was a problem. My front tooth was sharp and chipped. The boy guarding me stood there, eyes open wide, “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?” I couldn’t reply, my mind was running many directions. What did I look like? Why is there so much pain? How could this have happened?  My best friend picked me up and the court fell silent as the ball bounced away as like it was avoiding the awkward tension. We began to make our journey to the nurses’ office, the place for all the fallen recess all-stars. The rest of the day consisted of calling my parents, holding an ice pack to my cheek, and receiving notes from the kid, who pushed me onto the concrete, apologizing for what he did. He was devastated by what happened. I can imagine he took all the blame for the event. He was my friend and a really nice kid, but there was one thing I had to chose to do as a young third-grader. I had to decide how I would handle my interaction with him. Was I mad at what the guy did to me? Or, could I forgive him and understand that accidents happen?

It can be very easy, as humans, to be hurt by someone and give ourselves the right to hold it against them until things get even. Of course, if they disrespected me, I must disrespect them in return! This is immediately where my brain goes. But, a mind that meditates on the scripture might be slower to such a response. Read this parable taught by Jesus and recorded by Matthew,

“23 Therefore, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt (Matthew 18:23-34).”

As I third grader, I don’t think I was perfect, but I was able to forgive my friend for a minor injury. Thus said, I sit and wonder what habit would I have created if I blamed everything on this kid and grew my anger at him? You see, Jesus does what the King, in this parable, is doing. He forgives something that cannot be repaid by the indebted servant. As we observe the gospels, Peter betrays Jesus and Jesus forgives him. Prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners are people that have gone against the faith, and yet, Jesus sits with them, which is a form of acceptance and love. But, most importantly, Jesus takes compassion on his people and dies on the cross for humanity. Even while on the cross Jesus forgives a man being hung on the cross next to Him and the people who stand and watch! He asks the Father to forgive those who are busy shouting and taking part in gambling for his clothing. So while we have a master that has set us free from our debt, are we guilty of grabbing our neighbor by the throat? Can we find ourselves seeking revenge rather than compassion? Do we really know our master if we can’t forgive our sister/brother? As we examine this parable, and maybe read it more than once, may our hearts be changed by Jesus’ teaching and realize that it is because of His example we can grow to have compassion for our fellow neighbors in this world, just like Christ has for all creation.

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About Me

Here goes the typical introduction. Hi, I’m Levi Elarton and I am writing a blog. If you made it to this page, you’re either interested in my blog or you are my Grandma just checking in on her favorite grandson. Either way, welcome! So, to start this bio, it would be wrong of me not to mention my beautiful wife. May 29th, 2020, I got the honor to marry the brilliant girl of my dreams Macy Maraugha (but now with a much better last name). Macy and I walked the halls of High school together and grew up in the same Church. We also attended the same preschool at a young age. Our parents have photos of us playing in the sandbox together and standing next to each other as we sing in the choir. Both the youngest of our families, we are students invested in our undergrads. As Macy tackles the challenges of pre-med, I am hitting the books as a ministry leadership major. I love to read and collect books. But, it’s hard storing them all in a one-bedroom apartment. Ready for whatever God has in store for us, we hope to further our educations and grow in Christ each day.

 

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Less Makes Me More

As the congregation files out to the parking lot, my wife and I open our car doors. The unforeseen cool day brings pleasure to my heart, yet I’m unsteady. My conceited thoughts wrestle from the message given that morning from the speaker. Was it theologically incorrect? No, but there were a couple of problems (or I proceed to think so). You see, Macy and I are currently attempting to do what is considered “church shopping” but there is one problem; the critical Bible college student in the pew. Every Sunday I find myself in a tussle with my thoughts challenging the pastors on the stages before me. My zero years in the ministry finds a problem with the message a pastor put together along with their hospital visits, calls from congregants, and funerals/weddings they also had scheduled during the week. Yet, my pride takes over and I look down upon a simple mistake or misspoken phrase. As we begin to drive back to our apartment, I ask my wife her thoughts on the guest speaker. “He was good,” she responds with honesty. As the conversation goes on, I decide to allow my pride to win, “That church is great, but that pastor said one thing I have to say. He said that God changed Saul’s name to Paul. And I hate that because you see that is nowhere in scripture. It has to do with something my professor in school once said but you see……” I look over at my wife staring out the window checked out. This is my unhealthy Sunday liturgy.
Why am I sharing this? It has to do with a personal confession. Perhaps my experience can help you identify an instance when you didn’t allow grace to run over your pride-just like me. As I walk through life, it’s these times that I place myself at a higher caste than the people around me. I don’t believe in such a system, yet by doing this, I can subconsciously label people as inferior. Wrestling with theology, biblical ideas, and phrases is not the issue. It’s the way in which I do this that can cause my heart to be darkened. My mind goes with this logic:
The pastor said something, “wrong”. Therefore, they aren’t as (insert a reason; smart, prepared, etc.). Thus, I corrected them so I must know more than them.
This allows pride to own my grace won heart. You see, if my quick to reason mind just remembered the man that carried the cross on his shoulders, I would realize the grace given by Him. When Jesus walked this earth, because he is 100% God, he could have treated people as inferior. But we all know Jesus never did such a thing. He knelt on the ground and washed his followers’ nasty feet, he sat with the lowest people in society, and he died for the sins of humanity. As we journey through life, whether it be church shopping or a simple trip to the supermarket, can we identify the subconscious thoughts that hinder our growth with Christ? When we place ourselves greater than the bad driver who just cut us off, pat ourselves on the back when our lawn is mowed better than our neighbors, or think we are smarter than the speaker because we knew one fact they missed? The Jesus that comes alive in the scriptures would be proud when we decide to let our pride go and resemble His actions.