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Book Review: David and Goliath

David-and-Goliath_Malcolm-Gladwell

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is Malcolm Gladwell’s latest effort at helping people understand the world around them. As in his previous books such as Outliers and The Tipping Point, Gladwell draws upon psychology, business, history, and his penchant for storytelling to describe how the world is not what it seems at first glance.

Gladwell frames the book with the story of David and Goliath. He retells the story to describe how the odds were seemingly stacked against David, a humble shepherd, who decided to fight Goliath, a superhuman trained in various combat styles and armed with heavy weapons. As we know, David won the battle in short measure because he used his knowledge and skill to his advantage. Gladwell makes the point, “effort can trump ability.”

Gladwell uses several examples to illustrate how people born to difficult circumstances can rise above their challenges in spite of their limitations. In fact, they may succeed even more than people without these challenges. For example, Gladwell wrote about Brian Grazer, the successful film producer. Grazer was born with dyslexia and did not do well in school, but he intentionally worked on his skills of negotiation and persuasion to his advantage. Gladwell observed, “Dyslexia—in the best of cases—forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant.”

Gladwell also discovered that many successful people had lost their fathers at a young age. He cites one study which revealed that 45 percent of successful people had lost their fathers before age twenty. Another study showed that 67 percent of prime ministers lost a parent before the age of sixteen. Gladwell stated, “the question of what any of us would wish on our children is the wrong question, isn’t it? The right question is whether we as a society need people who have emerged from some kind of trauma—and the answer is that we plainly do.”

The author’s thesis goes against conventional wisdom. Successful people come from all walks of life. However, people with outwardly crippling disabilities or potentially devastating setbacks may indeed succeed in spite of their weaknesses. They are motivated precisely because of their perceived lowly station in life. They defeat Goliath at his own game.

Gladwell summed up his book thus: “so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine. “

 Thoughtful, relevant, and inspiring.

★★★★☆

 

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Noah: Christian Film Review

noah-movie-poster

Noah, the film, has stirred controversy long before it was released. People complained that the director strayed too far from the biblical narrative and “hollywoodized” it. I intentionally did not read reviews because I wanted to watch the film and judge for myself.

I noticed that many crucial elements of the biblical narrative are included. Some of them are actually surprising considering that Noah is a big-budget film directed by an atheist. For example,

  • God created everything.
  • God hates sin.
  • God decided to obliterate humankind from the earth, except for one family.
  • God told Noah that the earth would be destroyed by water.
  • God told Noah to build a vessel to save himself, his family, and all the animals on the earth.
  • God wiped everyone and everything from the earth but saved Noah’s family and the animals.
  • God showed his love and mercy to the righteous.
  • God promised never again to destroy the earth with water.

The film got these things right. Paramount studio even added a disclaimer:

“While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

So far so good? The film rates very high if one were watching it solely for pure entertainment value. The special effects and computer graphics of the ark, the storm, and the water are exceptional. The acting is also top-notch.

I did discover extra-biblical additions that are not found in the text. There were also many important facts from the biblical narrative that are not mentioned at all in the film. And, the producers certainly exercised creative license.

However, the film captivated me with its attention to spiritual metaphors. Below are three of the themes that I observed.

1. God’s Providence. Noah believes that the Creator has clearly revealed his will to him. He says, “The Creator chose me because he knew that I would complete the task.” And he unfalteringly accomplishes many things. However, Noah’s faith is based on his limited understanding of God’s providence. In the climax of the film he is faced with a paradox: he can follow God’s will but lose his loved ones or he can disobey God and save his family. At first, Noah’s faith convinces him that there is only one choice, but inwardly he struggles. After resolving the problem, Ila, Noah’s adopted daughter, tells him, “The choice was put in your hands for a reason.” Noah realizes that there is more than one way to discern God’s will.

This is a lesson for us today. Our initial assessment of God’s will for us may be incorrect. After listening we may realize that there is another choice. Who can fathom his providence with certainty? The apostle Paul said in Romans 11:33, “How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!”

2. God’s Mercy. The film naively suggests that created beings know what is best for themselves and that their decisions lead to personal fulfillment. For example, Noah’s choices bring about his redemption and The Watchers are restored by their decisions. But depending only on ourselves negates the power of God’s mercy. He was as active in Noah’s time as he is in modern times. God could have justly wiped out humankind from the face of the earth, but he didn’t. He chose to be merciful with a remnant of people. God is just; but he is also merciful.

Rather than viewing God as some ogre in the sky who delights in our misfortune, we need to recognize that he wants the best for us. He created us in his image and desires to bless us—not through our own volition—but voluntarily because of his great love for us.

3. God’s Sovereignty. The film accurately conveys that God sees the big picture but human beings do not possess this ability. Noah makes immature decisions; Ila resigns herself to be barren, and Ham is devastated that he cannot take a wife. At the time, these problems can seem insurmountable, but God is bigger than our human frailties. He is like an enormous weaver who is weaving an intricate rug. The colors, fabrics, and patterns represent our actions and lives. When we make a mistake, God does not give up on us, he simply weaves it into the pattern. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The Good News is that God is sovereign over all creation but he cares intimately for each person on the earth. He heals our hurts, restores our hearts, and repairs our broken spirits.

 

Noah is far from a perfect film; but, it compelled me to revisit the biblical account. All the believers I have spoken with that have seen the film echoed this. Anything that drives us back to the Word is a good thing. My main regret is that I wished I had taken an unbelieving friend with me to get their reaction. It would be excellent fodder for spiritual engagement with unbelievers. Perhaps if I see it again…

If you are seeking a film based on a literal rendering of the Bible, you will not enjoy this film. However, if you are open to alternative interpretations of the text that initiate spiritual dialogue with your family and friends, you may benefit greatly from Noah.

 

Fair warning: the PG-13 rating is accurate. It is not a movie for young children.

★★★☆☆

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Old Model Church vs New Model Church

 

Matt Carter is right on. Most people today—especially young people—are no longer content to let church services define the depth and length of their spiritual walk. They are seeking significance; they want to feel like they can make a difference in the world. It is time for the church to recognize it is not a fortress for believers but a hospital for unbelievers. How can we do this?

1. Seek Unbelievers. Jesus makes our mission clear. He tells us to, “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Instead of waiting for people to come to us, we must go to, “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). In other words, unbelievers are not the seekers—we are. This is what we need to communicate to all believers.

2. Serve Others. This is what Jesus came to do (Mark 10:45). It means getting out of our comfort zones and looking for ways to serve people in our community—no strings attached. What are the needs in your community? Talk to your mayor and social service agencies. Take a poll in a coffee shop. Find out what you can do and then take a young person to serve with you.

3. Schedule Time. Evangelism does not happen by accident. Our schedules are already so busy that we need to plan times to be with people outside of church, family and work. I wrote about this is in Living Dangerously. “What are your interests? Become involved in activities you enjoy, with the distinct purpose of meeting others in places like health clubs, community sporting clubs, and parent clubs. Volunteer at hospitals, rest homes, or at community events such as car shows, parades, or charity events. These activities bring people together, and provide opportunities for establishing relationships” (p. 120). Our role is make disciples that make disciples, so we need to invite someone to share these activities with us.

 

What else can you do to challenge and mentor young people in the church today?

 

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