Leadership and Love and Why Nehemiah Had the Winning Formula for Today’s Culture

Leadership and Love and Why Nehemiah Had the Winning Formula for Today’s Culture

I moved to Los Angeles in 1991 to work in the Hollywood film and media industry. The community of believers working in the industry was hidden and suffering from an onslaught of protests done by well-meaning Christians who felt that the programs and content produced in Hollywood in movies and on TV were immoral and evil.

However, there was a remnant of dedicated Christians working in Hollywood. We felt a calling to be here and work within the secular industry and do so with love, care, and excellence even if we had to work in the shadows. God has always left a remnant of His believers to bring light and hope in dark places when others have chosen to run away. As Hollywood industry Christians worked on the many challenging stages, production studios and in offices, things began to change.  Relationships were established and rebuilt on the foundations of love and care. Nonbelievers saw Christians as talented, hard-working professionals willing to go the extra mile. They didn’t fall apart when disruptions and challenges happened but instead loved and cared about them personally. The walls of mistrust fell as caring relationships were built. Many began to see God for who He was – a God of love, peace, kindness, and accepted Him into their lives as “The Author and Finisher of their faith” (Hebrews 12:2). There are now Bible study and prayer groups firmly established on studio and production lots and communities of Christian industry leaders who are changing the landscape within Hollywood.

Christian industry professionals began by choosing to pray. Over the years, their numbers grew into multiple groups of writers, musical artists, students and women’s groups who came together to learn to be leaders of God’s love. Most importantly, these groups allied together and stayed connected to the larger community through events like the National Day of Prayer, the Biola Media Conference and other significant community events.

We saw our individual job placements in the industry as more than just a paycheck. We saw ourselves as God’s lanterns of light and His salt of the earth. We labored to rebuild the walls of love, hope, and friendship. Through the efforts of many groups like the Hollywood Prayer Network, Master Media, The Influence Lab, and many others, Christians in Hollywood have become a large, vibrant and active community that is respected and trusted to intelligently and gracefully engage on moral and cultural questions without condemnation.

It was how Nehemiah led.

Nehemiah prayed and then rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days when others had failed. The walls he built were for protection, but they were also necessary to create a united faith community. Nehemiah understood he was an enslaved person within a foreign culture (Hollywood’s culture is often alien and not agreeable with Christian values, morals and beliefs). Yet, he became a trusted and mindful leader. His account of the journey of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem is a book to be studied for all Christians wanting to rebuild their communities where God has placed them. His leadership is a lesson on how today’s Church – the body of Christ needs to lead in a world that disdains the word “Christian” because of its history and past poor leadership practices. Just as Nehemiah did, Christians working in the Hollywood industry recognized that it must start with prayer and personal engagement with God and those they work for and with. It begins with building individual relationships at their places of work and learning to be compassionate, mindful leaders.

How do we lead today in Hollywood and the world?

We continue to love, care and live authentic lives. I love what U.K. evangelist Canon J. John says, “None of us have it together, but together we have it.”  First and foremost, it’s about how much we care, because people don’t care how much we know or what we believe until they understand how much we care. “

Each person in Jerusalem rebuilt their personal wall first. They accepted their leadership role and rebuilt their relationship with God one stone at a time. Then, they physically rebuilt the walls, not outside of their neighborhoods or places of work, but at their own home. They weren’t trained construction workers but were priests, merchants, jewelers, masons, craftsmen, artisans, and women who cared. The words “next to him” were used 20 times in the 3rd chapter of Nehemiah. It takes the whole body of Christ to rebuild the walls of our culture. There are lists of responsible leaders who worked on the walls and repaired the gates written in the book of Nehemiah.

Today each person in the Church is indispensable. Each must share the responsibility to repair the walls around them. Covid has changed and disrupted the physical places we are living and the places we work in many ways. Atlanta is now the new “Hollywood South,” and new media and entertainment hubs are in Austin, Dallas, Nashville, Vancouver, and Canada with lots of production still happening in New York, England, Germany, Australia and India. God is enlarging the tent of Christians working in media and entertainment. We each have our place to build the walls of unity and love as never before, and those places are people who are sitting across the desk from you or standing next to you on a production lot.

It takes one person at a time. It takes you!

 

Empowering Stories of Forgiveness and How They Can Change the Direction of Our Lives

Empowering Stories of Forgiveness and How They Can Change the Direction of Our Lives

It is easy to become a victim of empty promises and lies in the media and entertainment industry. It’s often not a question of “if” you’ll be cheated or taken advantage of; it’s “when.” Anger is an easy button to push, but when the root of bitterness is bitten, it can cause irrefutable damage.

Stories can help us forgive, keep our integrity and move on.

I frequently look at classic fairy tales to find lessons hidden in them. Like parables that Jesus told, many fairy tales have lessons and wisdom to learn from as we examine them more closely. They can teach us about choices and circumstances that occur in our lives, many of which can happen beyond our control.

The story of Rapunzel is one. It was made famous by the Brothers Grimm in their fairytale book for children, but it’s believed that its roots lay in the third-century Italian story of Saint Barbara, whose father thought her so beautiful that he locked her away. The story through the centuries has had many versions with many different storylines. Most recently, Disney retold the story in their animated version entitled, Tangled.

One of the lessons most popularized from the story is that you can’t keep children from the world’s evils. But I think many have missed other hidden lessons. It’s a story of choosing to take risks and make life-changing choices. It’s a story of being set free from bondage caused by sinful acts done to us, whether intentionally or not. Most importantly, it’s a story of climbing up and down the ladder of forgiveness and love and our ability to maintain our integrity and move on despite what’s happened in our lives.

We often see unforgivable acts that cause pain and suffering as singular actions – “the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” However, if you examine unpardonable offenses, one finds that they are usually caused by more profound issues of repeated and layered actions. One of the many versions of Rapunzel’s story tells of her mother, who refuses to eat and yearns only for a root growing in the witch’s garden during her pregnancy. Out of love and concern for his wife’s health, Rapunzel’s father repeatedly steals the witch’s magical root, gets caught and must surrender their child to the witch who locks her in a tower. The love of the prince is Rapunzel’s only escape from her bondage.

Unconditional love is the healing balm for repeated offenses.

Rapunzel’s beauty and eventual saving grace are revealed in the power of her hair. Her hair, like God’s unconditional love, is never cut off but keeps growing longer and stronger year after year. It is her hair that the prince uses to save Rapunzel. It is God’s never-ending unconditional love for us through Prince Jesus that rescued us from our eternal separation from Himself. Jesus was God’s ladder of love used to reach and free us from sin’s bondage. Rapunzel’s hair was woven – braided in three substantial sections of hair which allowed her to be rescued. God’s love and forgiveness are also interwoven with the strength of three – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit  which provide us with an unbreakable bond.

It’s our inability to escape our sins that requires God’s never-ending forgiveness.

Jesus, our ladder of love and forgiveness, is thrown to us daily so we may escape the entrapment of sin. As long as we’re entrapped in this world, we will never be able to stop making sinful choices. Our only hope is to recognize our need for God’s escape ladder – Jesus.

The book of Hosea in the Bible tells the story of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for us. Often misunderstood because of its sexual themes, Hosea is far from a tale of sexual lust and fantasy consequences. Instead, it is the story of God’s unrelenting forgiveness for our continual sinning. He may allow our deserved punishment, but He’ll never abandon us. 

Stories make us think and hear God’s voice.

God used the parable of Hosea and his marriage to a prostitute for us to understand the height, length and depth of His love and forgiveness, and the reason why Jesus came and sacrificed His life for us. Prince Jesus scaled sin’s tower to reach the depths of our hearts. Then God commands us to forgive just as He forgave us. He urges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, who empowers us and allows our eyes to be opened to those entrapped in the bondage of their sin and to forgive those who have caused us pain and suffering. It enables us to turn from anger and the root of bitterness we may have eaten and then clasp onto God’s powerful, forgiving love. Like the voice of the prince whom Rapunzel heard while in her tower, God allows us to hear His unique voice and the heart song of Jesus.

On February 24th, The Influence Lab will host producer Cindy Bond of Mission Pictures International in a free online event. Her newly released film, Redeeming Love, from the best-selling novel by Francine Rivers, was inspired by the book of Hosea. I will interview Cindy, and we will examine the challenges of making the movie and how its story of forgiveness and love is so needed in our culture today. Redeeming Love, like the story of Rapunzel, reveals the effects of evil, choosing to obey God’s direction and not our own, and how His plans for us bring renewed life and a way forward.

Can you hear the Prince of Peace’s voice in your life? Don’t let unforgivable acts keep you entrapped. God desires you to be set free and to live happily ever after.

Don’t miss the Influence Lab webinar featuring Cindy Bond on February 24. Sign up today for this free on-iine event! Register here.

The Wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. and What He Can Teach Us Today

The Wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. and What He Can Teach Us Today

Each year our nation remembers Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. and the significant civil rights and freedoms they fought for. King was more than a champion of civil rights and equality; he was also a champion for freedom of religion. Both great leaders knew that God gives us our ultimate freedoms and that attaining those freedoms means we have to use our God-given minds.

Our minds control our heart, and our heart controls our actions.

Martin Luther King Jr. fully understood how our Creator made us. In our culture today, science is seen as the solution to our problems, and it can bring solutions in many circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly put science on a pedestal recently.

However, science without wisdom can be dangerous. The classic story of Frankenstein is a fictitious story of how science can create more issues and fear if we don’t employ wisdom with it. One of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. is “Science investigates – religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power. Religion gives man wisdom which is control.”  (more…)

Curiosity Killed the Cat, But Will It Kill You?

Curiosity Killed the Cat, But Will It Kill You?

It is no secret that with access to the internet and a world of information at our fingertips and available 24/7, young children, teens and even mature adults get sucked into cultural agendas, movements, and cults easily today. It’s also made us much more emotionally sensitive to cultural issues, and it often stirs curiosity.

Curiosity is a good thing, but it can lead us innocently to wrong thinking and down bad paths.

It begins innocently – “just for fun,” and without us even realizing it. Suddenly we find ourselves in unknown internet cultures and worlds and unable to turn off our curiosity. It all looks so fascinating. Even though we don’t always trust a real person, we often trust an unknown source or site online that somehow seems OK. After all, no one is looking – right? One simple, innocent, curious look can’t hurt. Or can it? One clever story can lead to opening many misleading and dangerous doors. It’s the classic story of Alice in Wonderland. We find ourselves falling into an internet rabbit hole. 

The liar of this world is out to confuse and deceive, and he is using the tools of media to do so as never before.

(more…)

Will You GO in 2022? 

Will You GO in 2022? 

Should I stay or should I go? It was a 1982 punk rock song by the Clash. It originally never made it to the top of the charts until it was re-released as a Levi commercial in the 1990s and subsequently was re-released in 1991 making the Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest song list in 2004.  As we continue to move through the fallout of a global pandemic many are asking this question. Some people have moved to other cities and jobs and even relationships, and others are still pondering their next move. However, as 2021 comes to an end, the pressure is on to make decisions and set goals.

Should I stay or should I go?

Have you been pondering this question? When the angel came to Mary to tell her she had been chosen to bring the Son of God into the world Mary never doubted. She never pondered should I stay or should I go. She didn’t say, “No, I can’t do it I’m not qualified, I am only human and don’t have the skills to raise a divine son of God.” Nor did she ask, “Why me?” She only asked how. How would it happen? She was only curious.

God gave us a curious mind.

Curiosity drives us to explore who Jesus is and His truths and when curiosity is paired with a courageous heart it can create profound acts. Curiosity takes risks, steps into the deep and can transform lives. Mary was curious. She just wanted to know how this unknown, unusual, miraculous event was going to happen. She didn’t respond with “Thanks for asking but let me pray about it,” or “I am not old enough, wise enough, or worthy.” She didn’t push back with, “I will be shunned since I’m not married, and Joseph and my village will toss me to the gutter and then what will I do?” She was all in from the very beginning. Unlike Moses who had to be asked three times at the burning bush to lead God’s people to freedom, or Jonah who ran and had to be swallowed by a whale before he would act, Mary never wavered. In fact, she never had to say, “yes” because God already knew her heart. It was why He chose her.

Does God know your heart? How quickly will you go when God speaks?

Mary of Bethany in John 11:29 heard that Jesus was asking for her and “she quickly” went. She was grieving deeply with her friends over the death of her brother Lazarus. Jesus hadn’t come to heal him. One might think she’d be a bit discouraged and shattered. But when Martha told Mary that Jesus was asking her to come, she didn’t hesitate.  As women, I think God must admire our grit. We are known to be emotional, but it is our willingness to follow our heart when it’s in the right place and go without questioning that He desires. We don’t stop to ask how much it will cost or the sacrifices and pain that might take place; we step into the unknown. We place our lives on the line because of love. Women do it daily in childbirth. Mary loved God fully. There was no hesitation.

God has empowered us to be passionate wholehearted people who are willing to go forward when the way is difficult and uncertain. Through the infilling of God’s Holy Spirit, we are given His supernatural power to move quickly and set aside natural, practical, and earthly minds and act. When He calls us to task, He provides the wisdom and ability.

Rabbinical literature equates salt with wisdom.

In Matthew 5:13-15, Jesus speaks of salt and then refers to lighting a lamp to increase its brightness. Jesus told us that He was The Light of the World and the source of all wisdom and knowledge. We are to be His salted wick. In ancient times salt was put on the wick of a lamp to increase its brightness. When you are engaged with God and immersed in consistent disciplined Bible reading and prayer, you are putting salt on your wick. God’s wisdom embedded in you allows your actions to shine bright with the aura of His love to others. That wisdom radiates into the lives of everyone you meet through the acts of your heart.

In a recent conversation with me, a businessman shared that he had come to know who Jesus was late in life, after the age of 50. He said, “Somehow, I always found a reason to reject Jesus throughout my life, yet interestingly, I found myself being drawn to Christian businesspeople. They were different. I couldn’t help being curious as to why. What made them radiate peace, love, and a steadfast confidence? What was it that Christian businesspeople possessed that allowed them to live with life’s constant struggles, suffering, and uncertainties and still be confident and content?” He desperately wanted what they had but couldn’t reconcile that it was as simple as knowing Jesus. He was drawn to the Light of their salted wick. It was the Light of Peace and the Lamp of Love that kept drawing him in and that led to his eventual commitment to follow Jesus. The Light couldn’t be denied.

It is from the heart that we act.

As Christmas approaches and as we bathe in the joy of the celebration of the Festival of Lights and The Light of the World coming to earth to redeem us, can we start responding wholeheartedly without hesitation? God is whispering His voice into our minds to come and go with Him. Will we let it immediately soak into our hearts and be obedient to what He is calling us to accomplish in the upcoming new year? You may want to ask Him how: how can I help – how can I go? But don’t say “won’t,” “can’t” or “I’m not enough.” Begin now to step into next year with courage and fearlessness and be ready to run with Him and experience crazy joy.

Will you salt your wick with the wisdom of God and go in 2022?

“Salt is good for seasoning. But if salt were to lose its flavor, how could it ever be restored? It will never be useful again not even fit for the soil or the manure pile!” Luke 14:34

-Kathleen Cooke

What Lasting Gift Will You Give this Christmas?

What Lasting Gift Will You Give this Christmas?

A few years ago when I was in the Philippines, I marveled that they had Christmas ornaments and trees already in the stores in August. Have you started thinking about what to buy for your loved ones this Christmas? Trust me; the retailers have given it lots of thought. Getting you pumped to buy has become more important than encouraging thoughtfulness about what to give.

But I’ve discovered that the pandemic has heightened our realization of the love and richness of a connected family and the importance of relationships with friends and colleagues. After being separated from many of them, we have become more keenly aware of the fragility of life and the value of passing on a gift of knowledge or wisdom and not just “stuff.”

Christmas 2021 will be special.  

I have always been told that you should give what you’d like to receive. If you’re like me, you want to give something meaningful, lasting and ultimately cherished. You want to give something special. One of the fun things I have been able to do because of my travels to different countries has been to search for unique and original Christmas gifts. I look for handmade or artesian gifts – those one-of-a-kind conversation pieces from far-away lands. Often, I find antique and vintage items that have a history or story to them and have been able to come home with some pretty fun finds. I have purchased Tahitian pearls straight off the ocean pier from the pearl farmer, hand-painted Russian ornaments and boxes directly from the artist, reindeer rugs, antler mugs, and many other beautifully carved items along with some historic old books and paintings.

(more…)