Monday, February 15, 2010

Movie Themes

Where to start.

In recent weeks a whole spate of movies has come out that touch on biblical issues and spiritual concerns.

Serious evangelical Christians can use the perspectives expressed in these films as discussion starters with seekers and skeptics who surely have been to the cinema lately. The Apostle Paul modeled that ministry approach in Acts 17 when he observed and then utilized aspects of Athenian culture to launch a conversation about Christ in that pagan city. In Colossians 4:5 he stresses the importance of using every opportunity to cultivate an interest in Christianity among those outside the faith while Peter, in 1 Peter 3:15, advises believers to always be alert and prepared for chances to speak of the hope we have. In today's world, we can draw seed thoughts from movie plots to engage people in reflection and then present the biblical worldview.

Take, for example, "The Lovely Bones", the story of an adolescent girl, brutally raped and murdered by a neighbor who happens to be a sex offender. She goes out into a sometimes beautiful, sometimes fuzzy afterlife where she views her family's grief and desire for justice and where she pines away at lost youth and tries to orchestrate her killer's punishment. OK. It's just a motion picture, but its depiction of what happens at death sure is at odds with the biblical description. For starters, scripture makes it clear that not everybody goes to Heaven when they die. Only those who embrace Christ for salvation will show up there. And those who enter that tangible, material, beautiful place will not harbor jealousies or lusts or regrets or bitternesses anymore. Their bodies will be whole and their spirits will be perfect.There will be travel and art and learning and creating and growth. Contrary to this film's interpretation,though, the center of attention in Heaven will be God, who will receive worship and adoration forever. Even though the amenities will be indescribably awesome, it will not be simply a zone of self-indulgence. And there'll certainly be no possibilities of reconnecting with those left behind or somehow influencing earthly events.

Another cinematic piece, "Legion", weaves a tale of God capriciously, angrily deciding to completely destroy mankind and sending angels Michael and Gabriel to accomplish the deed. Only problem is that Michael feels that this isn't a good idea and proceeds to join forces with the frightened human race and thwart God's plan.

This film regrettably throws together a whole bunch of bits and pieces of significant biblical themes into a tangled mishmash(Flood, God's wrath, birth of Christ, end-times events, angels and demons, etc) that makes no sense. Worse, it offers up a God who is evil and mean-spirited, perhaps mentally ill. It depicts a God who is changeable and probably powerless. It leaves out the wonderful grace of God in Christ and assumes that God has no foreordained, long-standing plan for what will happen to this world. It portrays a heavenly world in chaos and divided just like the human one which is trapped in sin. God is reduced to human attributes and flaws. How completely opposite all this is to the scriptural presentation of God as sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient,immutable, holy, yet patient, and loving, willing for people to repent.

What about "The Book Of Eli", a post-apocalyptic story starring Denzel Washington? It's about some future time when the world has been largely destroyed by some cataclysmic disaster. One lone man travels across a barren landscape, facing all kinds of dangers, and carrying what may be the last copy of the Bible to a place where possibly it might be used in the refurbishing and reestablishment of the earth and culture.

Three cheers for a movie that seemingly exalts the status and significance of the scriptures. Nevertheless, there are problems here. First off, the predicted, ultimate devastation of this planet associated with the second coming of Christ in the last days won't be quite like what's dramatized in this film. At that time, according to the Bible, there will be no second chances for restoration. There will be no possibility of any man-made renaiisance.No prospect of simply pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, working hard, and starting over. Judgement will commence, and then, for believers, a God-directed renovation of this messed-up earth will occur as eternity begins. Also, you get glimpses in the movie of wrong ways to use the Bible. One evil-hearted individual attempts to steal the book from the wanderer so that he can utilize it to control his band of thugs.That kind of mindset is with us all the time, isn't it? And,sadly, at film's end, the delivered and copied Bible is seen as just one more book among many in a redeveloped library of great works of literature, not as the unique, life-changing book that it is.

Finally, "The Wolfman" opened recently. Here is the popular tale of men who are reduced by a curse to a wild, savage wolf-like status when the moon is full. The term for it is lycanthropy. Most people don't know that there's a similar story in the Bible, in Daniel 4. No pagan curse and no full moon business but rather an act of God's judgement, after strong warning, against the uncontrolled pride of Babylon's ruler, Nebuchadnezzar. He became more like an ox than a wolf, but for 7 years lived an animal-like existence until he learned the lesson that before God's sovereignty we are to be humble and grateful and submissive. The Lord usually doesn't use methods like that today, but He will get our attention. We would do well as individuals and as a nation to abandon prideful self-seeking and self-will and submit to God, who made us and knows what's best for us. One of the sins that God hates most is pride, and it is so destructive to human relationships.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hand Signals

Sarah Palin again created quite a stir when she spoke at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville a few weeks ago.

The part of her speech that garnered the most attention and generated the most buzz among the media and pundits, though, seems to have been her cute remark teasing President Obama about his apparent overuse of teleprompters when he speaks to groups. What made her comment so bizarre was that even as she was making it, the TV cameras and photographers could easily see jotted notes of an apparent outline of her talk and seed thoughts for responses to questions scribbled on her left hand!

It's laughable. She's been pilloried in the press for what seems like hypocrisy.

All of us certainly should guard against saying one thing and doing another. Jesus frequently warned about a hypocritical lifestyle. I suppose that politicians and educators and us preachers have to be especially careful that we don't lecture our listeners about stuff that we're not practicing ourselves. I am so keenly aware of my own sins and foibles and failures that I really try to be measured and transparent in my sermons and in my counseling. To exude grace, to speak the truth in love. To avoid setting the bar higher for you than I am reaching for myself.

Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson wrote in his blog that the recent Palin incident should caution us to refrain from attacking people personally when we have to criticize their policies or their philosophies. I agree. We don't have to condemn someone's personality quirks and idiosyncrasys and style just because we are at odds with their perspectives on issues. Her silly little barb about Obama's speaking techniques drew attention away from the larger import of his basic views of governing. And it can be a little dangerous to assume that we know another individual's motives when we are essentially opposed to their convictions and stands.

Now, what about Obama's teleprompter use and Sarah's very hand-y cue cards? Is it so wrong to have some notes when making a talk or presentation?

I don't think so. When I was in Jr High and had a girlfriend, I'd be so nervous about calling her on the telephone, scared that I'd run out of things to say and that there'd just be silence, that I actually penciled some conversation points on paper before dialing her number! I use an outline and notes in the pulpit. Probably most preachers do. I tell young people that the key to giving a good report in class is coming up with 3 or 4 talking points or developing a short outline, which makes it a lot easier to stand up and have something to say or write that long term paper. Reflections of substance. Frankly, I'd much rather hear a professor or a politician or a minister speak with the aid of notes if he can thereby talk with intelligence and eloquence and say something thought out and worth saying and interesting to hear. This might surprise you, but I think it can even be helpful occasionally to write out our prayers. What is the Old Testament book of Psalms but a work of prepared, written prayers and praises that we can use even today to recite back to our awesome God? And incidentally, I even jotted down a few notes about ideas I wanted to stress in this article before starting to write it!

Yes, there's a place for extemporaneous speaking. For sharing right out of the heart.No manuscript or note cards. We'll not always have the luxury of time to diligently prepare for proper wording and grammer and sharp, crisp insights when we're unexpectedly called on to pray aloud or to answer a question or to comment on an issue. What that means is that we've got to be continually in a state of preparation by our reading and by our personal, private prayer life and by our attention to what's going on around us and by quality time spent in solitude and meditation. That was Paul's secret for effective witness in Athens(Acts 17). That was Peter's advice in 1 Peter 3:15. Know what's happening. Get God's mind on something.

By the way, Ms. Palin's markings- on- the- hand reminds me that God has done something similarly. In Isaiah 49:16 the Lord says, "Behold, I have enscribed you upon the palms of my hands..."Now I know that's anthropomorphic language(ascribing human form or characteristics to our invisible God, who is Spirit) but what a message it conveys. God loves us and cares for us and thinks about us in such a way that it's like He's got our individual names and situations written indelibly on His hands! Sarah may have scrubbed her hands with lots of soap to erase her memory joggers when she got back to her hotel room that night, but God delights in seeing and considering our enscribed names. Forever.

Let's leave Ms. Palin, and yes, Mr. Obama, alone when it comes to using memory tools for their speeches. Cut 'em some slack. Let's pay more attention to what they're actually saying.

Monday, February 8, 2010

When The Saints Go Marchin' In

How ' bout those New Orleans Saints?

They deserve congratulation after Sunday night's Super Bowl victory. It was a good game.

It set me to thinking. You know one of the New Testament labels for Christians is the word "saint'. It shows up often in the epistles. It doesn't denote a perfect person("She's so sweet and kind. She's a real saint.") Nor does it refer to someone elevated or canonized by a church. It doesn't speak of one who is especially religious.

A saint, rather, is someone called out by God, for God. An individual set apart for God's purposes. The term connects with sanctification and with holiness. It designates a person positionally placed in God's family and service and involved in a lifelong post-conversion process of becoming like Jesus.

I've never researched why the victorious football team of last night has that particular name. I also do not know how many, if any, of the players are believers in Christ. I am aware that the guys were not expected to win that thing in Miami. But they really showed us something!

A lesson emerges.

We Christians are usually viewed by the world as a bunch of losers. As ignorant and backward. Out of step and out of touch. But ultimately we win!

The culture around us may laugh at us now, but one day there will be trophies and crowns and rewards for God's faithful ones. The time clock is running down. Soon the hard fought contest will be over. And surprise will permeate the universe, just as it did yesterday evening in that stadium and in millions of living rooms across America!

Whose team are you on?