What does a 2000 year old letter to a young pastor working on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea have to say to us today? A great deal! Paul wrote to Titus in order to encourage him and direct him in his work of organizing the church of Crete, but this short letter also lays out beautifully a summary of Christian doctrine which serves us still today. He describes the work of Jesus as true God, the Savior of all, the atonement for sin, the Trinity, the work of the Holy Spirit, Justification and Sanctification and much more. This letter continues to instruct and encourage us still today!
As we prepared to commemorate the ascension of Jesus into heaven, 40 days after His resurrection, we consider the word “ascend” today. Did you know that Jesus predicted His ascension, just as He did His death and resurrection? Did you know that His ascension into heaven was foretold in the Old Testament, just as His death and resurrection were? The ascension of Jesus was a very important part of His work as our Savior, which is why we confess it every week in the words of the ancient and historic creeds of the church. Join us to learn more about the meaning and purpose of Christ’s ascension into heaven this week!
The last blog post that I did focused on a Disney movie, Inside Out. I hope you’re ready for another!
It seems like a big trend for this huge media empire is to recreate live-action versions of successful cartoons that they released in the past. I think this strategy makes sense: after all, children who grew up on these movies would be likely to take their own children to remakes of beloved stories they themselves have grown up on.
There have been several attempts at this. They have released a live-action version of Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast. Their most recent attempt at recapturing lightning in a lamp is the remake of the 1992 hit Aladdin, which is set to come out this weekend.
I must admit, I am old enough to remember when the original movie came out. I must have been about 4 years old, and I can tell you this movie was right in my wheelhouse. The 1992 movie still holds up today. I would argue that this movie perhaps has the best soundtrack in the entire Disney catalog (The Lion King is also right up there, whose live-action remake is set to come out this July). I think I found Robin Williams Genie character the most appealing. He did all kinds of celebrity impressions which slew me as a kid. My son also loves this movie, and even though he finds large portions of it to be “scary”, he really enjoys the comedy and songs as well.
Basically, Aladdin is a story about a poor “street-rat”, whose life is changed after he finds a regular, ordinary lamp. That lamp just happens to contain a magical genie, who will grant whoever rubs that lamp 3 wishes of anything their heart desires.
This story has always made me ask the question, “If I could wish for 3 things, what would I wish for?” There are some rules and stipulations of what can actually be granted. You can’t wish for more wishes, you can’t wish for life or death, and you can’t wish for someone to fall in love with you. But that’s about it. If you could be granted anything in this world, what would you ask for?
This is a fictitious work, but there was a scenario in history that reflected this wish granting opportunity. We are told in the book of Kings that God approached King Solomon and told him to ask anything of Him and he would get it. 1 Kings 3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”
What would you ask for? The young King had just come into his throne and truly had much already. But he could see that he needed the wisdom to be able to rule Israel properly. He did not ask for riches or military success, instead, he asked the LORD for wisdom. 1 Kings 3:7-9 “Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. “And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. “Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” The Bible tells us that this request pleased the LORD, and not only did God give Solomon what he had asked for, He also gave him what he didn’t ask for. 1 Kings 3:12-13 “behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. “And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days.
Aladdin is a fantastical story, but it gets us thinking, “If I could ask for anything, what would I ask for?” The fact of the matter is we have something much more powerful than a genie who grants 3 wishes. We have a God who gives us all things! Our God is far superior to a genie. Whereas the genie only grants 3 wishes, God grants us things all throughout our lives. Not only that, but God also gives us things that we would never even think to ask for. More than that even, God gives us the things we need, but He also refrains from giving us the things that we wouldn’t be able to handle. I think one of the things that most people would wish for is to be rich. Having lots of money would make some things in this world easier. But it would make more important things harder. If you had great riches, it would be very easy to depend on those riches to solve your problems instead of the God who gave you everything that you have. Think of the example of the rich young man who came to Jesus, seeking eternal life. He was so accustomed to being privileged, that he mistakenly thought he had kept the law from his youth. When Jesus told him to give up his riches and follow after Him, the man went away sad. This is why Jesus told His disciples Matthew 19:23-24 “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
We do have a God who gives us all kinds of things. How do we make our wishes known to God? We don’t need to stumble upon a lamp containing a genie to get what we want. We simply pray! Philippians 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
One of the plot points in Aladdin is that Aladdin has to preference his wishes with the words “I wish”. It is not enough for him to imply that he wants something, he needs to formally say the words “I wish” before the genie is able to grant him that wish.
The same is true for us as well. Yes, God gives us some things without our actually asking for them. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask for them still. God knows all and He knows what we need even before we do. The real question is, do we have the presence of mind to ask God for the things we need? This is why we are told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We don’t need to reserve our requests to just three. We are to pray all the time, continually asking our God for things, and returning to thank Him. God answers our prayers in a number of ways. He may answer our prayers in His Word and through those who bring us His Word. He may answer our prayers through His representatives, like our pastors and teachers, our parents, or the government. He may answer our prayers after some time has passed. His answer may be “Yes”, His answer may be “Not yet”, or His answer may be “My Grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9), but He always will answer your prayers!
How do we know this to be true? Well, God has already given us the greatest gift we could have ever hoped to receive: JESUS CHRIST! God knows the needs of all, and all people have the same need everywhere. We are all sinful. We all needed to be saved from the sin that would condemn us to eternal hell. And God gave us this gift before we even knew that we needed it. He promised Adam and Eve in the garden that He would send a Savior, who would be born of a woman, to save us from our sins. That Savior was and is Jesus. He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died for us on the cross, and rose triumphantly from the dead 3 days later. God has already given you the best gift ever, the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanses you from all sin. How would God also not give you anything else that you need? Romans 8:31-32 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?
What will you wish for? Riches? Power? All of these things do not last. We need to pray for what King Solomon wished for, we need to pray for wisdom! True Godly wisdom is found only one place, the Word. In that Word, we see that God has granted us the best gift ever, Jesus Christ. It’s all just gravy after that. When we have needs here on this earth, we should turn to God in prayer. But we always pray with the words “If it is your will”. We do so knowing that God already knows what is best for us. Our God is better than some fictional genie. He gives us things all the time, not just three times. He gives us things that we do not even think that we need. He also refrains from giving us things that would be detrimental to our faith and reliance on Him. He has already given us Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins. So, pray, and pray all the time! Do so knowing that He hears your prayer, He will answer it, and praise and thank Him! He has already granted your biggest wish, and we will reign with Him in heaven as a result. What more could we really possibly want? He has given us Jesus!
Pastors Ben Libby and Nathanael Mayhew look into the religion of Shintoism in our ongoing series on World Religions. Shintoism is a religion that originated in Japan but has changed much in over the years of its existence. It has been influenced by other religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. Since the Second World War, Shintoism has become more a cultural experience and drifted from strict religious devotion. While it is less religious than it once was, it still has dangerous concepts which lead people to emptiness and offers no hope for the sinner. Join us to learn more about the dangers of this Eastern religion.