Monday, April 20, 2015

Secular Media Should Make Us Desperate to Share Christ

I don’t really try to keep up with pop-culture. The world moves too fast and I’m too far behind on my laundry! But recently I read a book series that was written in the last few years and is currently being made into a series of movies.  I saw Divergent last year. I had no idea it was a series until I saw the preview for the second movie, Insurgent (which is currently in theaters), a few months ago. And, I had no idea the movies were based on a series of books until I saw them in Sam’s a few weeks ago. Like I said…not really keeping up with pop-culture!

It seems like every time Jon and I decide to watch a movie, he brings home what I call “weird” movies…sci-fi, futuristic, gritty. I keep saying “Can’t you find something like Sweet Home Alabama?” and he says they don’t make movies like that anymore. So, it’s likely that when Insurgent moves from the theater to the Redbox, we’ll be renting it. And I decided that just once I was going to be ahead of the game. I decided to read the books before I see the rest of the movies.


I was intrigued for a couple of reasons. First, the Divergent series is labeled Teen or Young Adult fiction. Since my husband is a youth pastor I was a little curious about what sort of literature is being marketed specifically to teenagers. Second, I read online that the author, Veronica Roth, is a Christian. That surprised me a little bit, so I wanted to read her books in search of clues that she’s writing from a biblical worldview.  And finally, I saw online that many people were not happy with the way the series ended in the final book Allegiant. So unhappy, in fact, that people were writing alternate endings and making them available online to other distraught readers. I tend to hate surprises if I know they’re coming, so I was really tempted to read the websites and comments to find out what was so bad about the way it all ended. But I restrained myself and read through the series instead.

What I can say for sure is, Veronica Roth is a good writer. The books are gripping. I read all three (500ish pages each) in twelve days. Twelve days. That’s really fast for me when you consider that I was still living my normal schedule of taking care of four kids and I didn’t drop cooking, errands, appointments, or my normal weekly activities. I just slept less. A lot less!   

I can also say that the first movie was amazingly close to the storyline of the book. It’s always annoying to see a movie based on a book and find that the only thing the two have in common is the title. That wasn’t the case here.

Image result for insurgent book

After reading these books I have two reactions that I want to share: 1. Why I can’t recommend the Divergent series; and 2. Why you might want to read it anyway (or just see the movies if they’re all as close to the books as the first one).  So, here goes….

Why I can’t recommend the Divergent series:

*There is some bad language. I’d rather not recommend a book with bad language.

*There’s a lot of violence…shooting, stabbing, blood, war, dying.

*There is too much sensuality. The main characters don’t seem to actually have sex in the books (although the pluggedin.com review of Insurgent suggests Hollywood takes the movie further than the book in this regard), but their physical relationship is still everything I tell teenagers (and any unmarried individual) to run away from. There’s longing, wishing, passionate kissing, hands moving slowly over skin…  

*The series ends with a sense of hopelessness. In the author’s defense, I think she was trying to end it with hope. But I don’t feel like that message really came through. And based on the internet comments of readers disappointed with the ending, I think a lot of others felt the hopelessness as well. A few people said they’d been depressed for weeks. Not really an outcome I like, especially considering the books are geared to a teen audience. One of the final statements near the end of the final book is,  “Sometimes life really sucks…But you know what I’m holding on for?” “The moments that don’t suck.”  That’s it. Depressing. Hopeless. A few different times through the series one of the characters wonders what happens after life on this earth. But she never gets an answer. She never has a hope for any life to come. Maybe that’s just how it is with dystopian literature. Regardless, it’s not a feel-good story that leaves you smiling or full of joy in the end! And, it’s not a Truth-based story that shows the hope we can have for life beyond this earth.

Why you might want to read it anyway:

*Someone you know may be reading these books and watching these movies. In fact, based on the number of similarly themed books and movies that have made it big in the last few years, it’s probably safe to say that lots of people you know are being influenced by this genre of entertainment. It would be helpful to be able to discuss the messages in these books and films and point out how they line up when compared to a biblical worldview.

*These themes are influencing your children/teenagers. My oldest daughter is almost ten and she loves to read. But it’s a chore to find books for her reading level that don’t contain material too mature for her young mind. I do lots of research to find books that are enjoyable without undermining everything Jon and I are trying to teach her about life and Truth and what really matters. With that said, there’s no way I’m letting my kids read the Divergent series (or books like it) in the next five to ten years without me right there walking them through every paragraph and making sure they  read it from a godly perspective and with their feet firmly rooted in the truth of the gospel. These books are marketed to teens and young adults. If someone you love is reading these books, read with them. Fall in love with the characters with them. Enjoy the “edge-of-your-seat, can’t-put-this-down” writing style.  Talk about your favorite parts or the things you didn’t see coming. Then gently but firmly point them to the truth. Remind them that the relationships aren’t Christ-centered. Point out that the characters have no real hope for the future because they have no knowledge of the gospel.

*There are some redeeming threads…one is the idea of sacrificing self for others. In the first book/movie some very important people in the main character’s life sacrifice their lives so she can live. This theme continues throughout the series in both minor and major ways. Its reminiscent of John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” The Desiring God blog posted an interesting article about a year ago which points out Christian themes in the movie Divergent. You can find it at this link http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/divergent-lesson-in-human-depravity.

*As I read the last 50 pages of the final book in the series, Allegiant, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of loss and hopelessness for a few moments.  I actually had to spend some time speaking gospel truth to myself. I had to remind myself that what these characters were missing is Christ. And while I know this is fiction, I don’t think it’s enough to just remind oneself that “This is not a true story. This is just fiction.” I think we miss a great opportunity when we brush it off like that. Because while much of the action and circumstances of the series are unrealistic, the fact that people live and die with this sort of hopelessness, sadness and lack of purpose in their lives is very true to life. Therefore I think it can be helpful to read something from a secular perspective, to be reminded of the hopelessness of the world. These books represent a world that is lost, struggling and Christ-less. If we aren’t reminded of the desperation of that sort of reality we won’t run out to rescue people from despair with the Truth of the Gospel. This type of secular media can remind us that without Christ, life really is pointless. We should use these books and movies as a tool to make us desperate to share Christ with a lost and dying world.


Tim Challies wrote an interesting article several years ago about the benefits of reading secular books (http://www.challies.com/christian-living/why-christians-should-read-in-the-mainstream). But let me be clear…all books are not created equal. There are definitely some books/movies no one should be reading or watching. Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, is another book series made into a movie that is currently in theaters. I will certainly not be reading/watching it, and I strongly recommend that no one else should either. Let's be wise and discerning with what we allow to fill our minds! 


Sweet Cousins!





Monday, April 13, 2015

Preparing Children to Face the World

What are we supposed to do with the world? I mean, isn’t that a question that we as Christians really have to grapple with? How can we love the world, and reach out to the world, but not become worldly? How do we engage the culture without conforming to it? If ministry is messy, how do we get “dirty” without getting stained? And how do we as parents prepare our children to function as Christ-followers in such a world?

Sometimes teaching my children how to function and think biblically in their world means I have to expose them to worldliness and sin. I mean, I can’t teach my children that abortion is wrong without having to explain to them that some mommies don’t want the baby in their tummy. That can be a shattering realization to a child. I can’t explain that homosexuality is not God’s plan for relationships without explaining what that word means. I can’t instill in them a deep sense of gratitude and longing to help those in need without opening their eyes to the daily desperation of starving people.  I can’t teach them how to be safe without informing them that there are people in the world who hurt others…on purpose.   

I want my kids to think biblically, which means I’m going to have to be the one to slowly (and guardedly) expose them to the world. I’m going to have to draw their attention to the ways sin wrecks our relationships and our lives. It seems counter-intuitive…ultimately I want to protect them from evil, sin, and its effects. So, shouldn’t we just hole up, and hide? Shouldn’t we turn off all technology and shut our eyes to everything outside our door?

The sad truth is that that wouldn’t be enough. Because sin is not just “out there”; it’s also “in here”.  In our hearts. In our minds. In our homes. Even when we’re Christ-followers. And I want to teach my kids that truth. Otherwise they’ll learn to turn up their nose at the sin of others, rather than fall on their faces at the realization of their own sin. There’s a weird thing that can happen to us as Christians. We can get all prideful that we don’t fail in a certain sin area (as if that’s due to some sort of innate goodness rather than the grace of God!) and get all judgey when we see others struggling with a temptation we aren’t fighting (at least for now).  Then we tend to separate and sector off, rather than run after others with that very gospel that saved us and freed us to stand firm in the face of temptation.  

Worldliness is all around us, and we are called to go out into the daily mess to reach the lost with the gospel. I want to teach my kids to do that. But I want to know the balance, as they get older and their eyes are opened to some of the junk I so desperately want to hide and shelter them from. How exactly do I prepare my kids to be in the world, but not of it?

Here are just a few thoughts:

1. Walk humbly before them.  Confess my sin…call it what it is and tell them I’m asking Jesus to help me overcome that sin in my life.  I don’t want them to think that I think I’m perfect. That would be like taking a giant step in the direction of the Pharisees!

2. Observe their weaknesses and temptations. Then gently help them see that those are the struggles they need Christ to overcome. Encourage them to repent and turn from sin daily.

3. Slowly, prayerfully, and in an age-appropriate way make them aware of the pain and disorder that sin is wreaking in our world and in the lives of people. We don’t have to show them scary news-footage or questionable movies to do this. We can just read them the Bible.  Our family is almost done reading through the book of Genesis together…here are just a few issues we’ve had to address (in varying degrees of detail):  murder, rape, drunkenness, incest, polygamy, favoritism, deceit, homosexuality, death, cruelty, slavery, prostitution, adultery, and starvation. Some of these topics were introduced in a more veiled manner than others…I still grin remembering the night Jon read Genesis 19:5 as “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, [so we can be mean to them].”  

4.  Teach them that sin is wrong. But also teach them to have a heart of compassion for others. “If you were stuck in that sin, wouldn’t you want someone to rescue you with the Truth of the gospel?”

5. Then show them how it’s done! I must saturate my mind every morning with God’s Word, and then put on my armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) and go out and join the fight. If every interaction is an opportunity for ministry, I need to ask God to show me how to infuse the gospel into every conversation, facial expression, and action I engage in that day.

6. Pray for God’s protection and wisdom every day and teach your kids to do the same. I don’t need to expose myself to temptation in the name of ministry, especially if it’s an area I already know I wrestle with. I need to flee the temptation, and look for a way to minister without giving the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27).   

I want to train my kids to go and make disciples. I want them to be mentally and emotionally and spiritually prepared to face the temptations and evils of this world, and to respond in a Christ-like manner. To flee when they should flee, yes; but also to embrace when Christ would embrace. I don’t want to train little Pharisees, who know the dos and don'ts but have forgotten how to speak the truth with love; who hate the sin and the sinner too. I want to teach my children to run towards holiness; but while they're running, I want them to see the hurting, lost and sin-sick individuals all around them. I want them to stop just long enough to grab others by the hand and invite them to run too...in this race toward Christ and holiness. 

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

"...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1)


Sunday, April 5, 2015

For The Grandparents

After five months of not updating this blog, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do about it...but, our out-of-town family is missing the picture updates. So, this one is for you, grandparents!  :)