As I’ve mentioned before, part of my (unwritten) job description as a Director of Christian Education is to answer the question: “What do you think about the book, movie: (fill in the blank). Quite frankly, I don’t enjoy this recurring question, since my answers rarely gives the questioner a warm and fuzzy feeling. People tend to take their book/movie likes and dislikes very personally!
Every few years, there is a new hot-selling book on near-death experiences, replete with magnificent descriptions of heaven. I remember when “90 Minutes in Heaven” was all the rage in Christian circles. It claimed to be a true story of death and life. Then in 2010, the book “Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” was released. Not only is it the number one non-fiction Christian best-seller over the past ten years, it has now spawned a movie well-timed for the Easter season. No doubt, Christians and other religious folks will flock to this movie, seeking to learn more about the reality of heaven.
The problem is: God’s Word teaches us that no one has gone up into heaven and returned to tell about it. John 3:13 clearly states that only Jesus Christ can claim to have been in heaven and returned. No one else. Even the prophets in Scripture who “saw” heaven were given a vision of heaven during their lifetime. They did not have near-death experiences and come back to write a personal novel on the subject. As offensive as it may sound, people who claim to have been to heaven and back–even cute four-year old boys–either had terrific hallucinations or are deluded by the Enemy. They do not speak authoritatively about what the afterlife is all about.
I would write much more in this post about this subject, but David Platt says it so much more eloquently and forcefully. Take a moment to watch this short clip:
The argument I hear most from lovers of these sorts of books or movies is: “What if God uses it to bring people to salvation?” Now, how am I supposed to respond to that? What I hear is: “What if God chooses to use bad theology or outright heresy to save people?” Certainly, God can use anything and anyone to bring people to faith. But the real question is: Why are Christians so willing to look outside and beyond God’s Word for the truth about heaven? Heaven is for real because God’s Word says it is real. It alone tells us what we need to know about the Christian’s future home. Anything extra-biblical–even if it claims to reinforce the Biblical truth of heaven–is foolish and dangerous speculation.
Do you remember Christ’s Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16)? The Rich Man wanted Father Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to tell his five brothers about the reality of heaven and hell. Abraham refused, saying that they had “Moses and the prophets,” which was sufficient. In other words, they (and non-Christians today) have the very Word of God to show us the way to heaven. Isn’t this enough?
Recently, a parent surprised me with her criticism of our children’s Sunday School curriculum. I was caught off-guard, not because I haven’t received other critiques (I certainly have), but because of the nature of her concern. Her problem was that her children already know all the answers to all the stories that are taught in Sunday School. They know the answers presumably because they are being taught the Bible at home and they are in a Christian school that has a Bible class. So while the typical complaint of our One Story Ministries curriculum is that it doesn’t have enough repetition, she feels like her children are receiving too much.
Now, I could sympathize with this parent if our Sunday School curriculum only covered the 40-50 “major” stories of Scripture over and over again, like virtually all other children’s materials. But what sets our curriculum apart is that it teaches ALL the stories of Scripture over a seven-year span in chronological order with no repeated stories (other than our Drill Time questions). So is this parent saying that her children know ALL the answers to ALL the stories of Scripture? If this is true, that should be a great testimonial for One Story Ministries rather than a complaint!
Upon further reflection, I started thinking about my own upbringing and Christian education. Like this particular family, I too was blessed with Christian parents, a strong Bible education in a Christian school, and a solid Sunday School to boot. When I was in junior high, I also came to believe that I knew all the stories of Scripture and all the answers to the important questions. I even remember a time where I told my parents I didn’t need to come to church every week because I knew what the preacher was going to say! Yes, I know you are shocked by my arrogance and pride. Believe me, so am I.
I’m not suggesting that any of these children in question are saying they know all the answers simply out of pride. They may be particularly intelligent kids with incredible memories. Whatever the case, there is a much bigger question here: What do we do with all that Bible knowledge? If we have children in our churches who know all the stories, and all the answers, what are they to do? The simple answer: Live out those answers! Do them!
Knowledge of the Bible must never be the end goal of the Christian education of our children. Learning God’s Word is just the first step in a lifelong process. Even if our children could recite the Bible forwards and backwards, that’s not good enough. From that knowledge must grow a love for God and His Word. By the work of the Spirit, there must be a hunger and thirst to know more about God and what He requires of us. Accordingly, we need to see our children begin to live out God’s Word. The answers they can recite to Sunday School teachers or parents must be coupled with a change of heart, mind, and behavior. Knowledge is to grow and mature into a Godly wisdom, by the gracious work of God.
So, if your children have truly learned ALL of God’s Word and know the answers to ALL of the questions, be thankful for this great gift in their lives. Hopefully, they are not just bored with learning the Bible! See if they are DOING what they KNOW. As we read in James 1:22-24,
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
What a beautiful thing it is when our well-taught children become doers of the Word of God–LEARNING it, LOVING it, and LIVING it!
I have always loved to read. Yet, for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved movies as well. I guess I just enjoy a good story. So when asked: Did you like the book better or the movie? My answer has typically been: Yes! I think of books and movies as two totally different things. They tell the same story two different ways. I don’t go into the theater expecting the movie to be true to the book. So I ‘m not usually the guy pointing out the errors in the movie version of a novel.
But, over the years, I have drawn the line at one book: The Bible. I just can’t treat movie versions of the Bible as equally enjoyable as reading the actual story itself. Nor do I expect any movie to be an accurate portrayal of a particular story in Scripture. How can it be? But now, I find myself questioning if we even need a movie version in the first place–and if we (Christians) should support the efforts.
I remember watching The Ten Commandments as a child every year it came on television. Even when my own children were younger, I continued the tradition. Why? I knew the movie was filled with errors and extra-biblical information, but it didn’t seem to matter. At least they tried to portray a Biblical story! I also remember being 12 years old and watching the Jesus of Nazareth television mini-series along with most American Christians. Again, much was added that was false, and much that was true was left out. There was the wildly popular Passion of the Christ in which churches across the country rented out movie theaters, using it as an evangelistic tool. Now, we have two major Bible movies in the theaters: Son of God and Noah, both claiming to communicate the meaning of the Biblical stories. This time, I refuse. I would rather just read the book.
Now, I know these, and others, are very different films, so I’m not trying to lump them all together. Some have more redeeming qualities than others. And Noah is clearly the most unbiblical of them all. But where they are similar is that they all must take liberties to transition from the brevity of the Bible story to the full-length tale of a movie. Dialogue has to be added. Real historical figures with little descriptions have to be created and even invented. Gaps have to be filled. Author’s intent has to be interpreted. So these films all have to add significantly to the inspired, inerrant, holy Word of God! Therefore, they will always fall short of telling the true story.
Maybe this shouldn’t bother me, but it does. Again, it makes me wonder why we Christians even want to watch these movies. Are we just seeing how close they get to the truth? Are we looking for the errors; watching for the “artistic liberties?” Or, are we just happy that the Bible story is “good enough” to warrant a movie, so we try to support it? Maybe we are just fine with a movie “based on a true story” just like any other historical work. Again, at least the “message” of the Bible is getting out there.
But to state the obvious: The Bible is different! The Holy Spirit inspired human authors to only include parts of individual stories, not the entire story. The parts that are revealed to us are given for a reason. They force us to focus on what’s important in the story and not get caught up with what is not. This is what every good storyteller does–tells the story as HE means to tell it. And God is the Master Storyteller!
So it doesn’t matter how Noah got all those animals in the ark, even if inquiring minds want to know. It doesn’t matter what the eight people talked about on the ark, or how they kept the animals from eating each other. All that really matters is that humans deserve death for their sins and God has mercy and saves those on whom He puts His favor. And, that the only right response to the grace of God is obedience to God. Is that the message of the movie Noah? If it isn’t, why would we support it?
So, when it comes to movies “based” on the Bible, JUST READ THE BOOK. And when you want to know more of the story, read it again.
While on Spring Break last week, Grandpa took all of the sons and grandsons to see The Lego Movie. Just as I had heard and read, it was awesome! As a long-time player of Legos–and even the newer Lego video games–the film certainly was an homage to the toy that has been a part of many a child’s life since 1949. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to!
The Lego Movie’s opening song sets the backdrop for the central theme of the movie. Entitled “Everything is Awesome.” the first verse goes like this:
Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome, when we’re living our dream
Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side, you and I gonna win forever, let’s party forever
We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony
These opening words are so catchy that someone at our family reunion broke out in song every few minutes for the rest of the week! Yet, without spoiling the movie too much, this overly happy song is really meant to be a negative, cynical commentary on those who live according to the rules. In the movie, the evil Lego overlord, President Business, uses the song as a controlling mantra to keep everyone “building” according to his instructions. So in good Lego dry wit, everything is awesome when we “stick together” and when all the figures are exactly the same. In the end, President Business wanted to make all the Lego people and Lego scenes permanently stuck together (literally) according to his plan. Then everything would be awesome–for him!
Now I’m not suggesting that the creators of The Lego Movie intended to poke fun at Christians here, but the film and song did make me think of our culture’s prevailing view of God (the ones who believe He actually exists). To many in our world, God is only a controlling figure (“the man upstairs”) who simply demands people do things His way as mind-numbed robots. This God doesn’t allow freedom or encourage individuality, but only conformity–just like President Business. So this world rightly rebels against rules and commands, and even makes heroes out of those with “free spirits” who do as they please. All authorities are mistrusted because they just use their power to get people to do things their way.
As with most lies, this view is just a distortion or twisting of the truth. God IS in total control of His universe, but He is also totally loving, kind, and gracious in His sovereignty. He DOES command all people to follow His rules, yet these rules are for our good, not for our destruction. “Sticking together” in Christ IS the only way to live this life and achieve harmony in the LORD. Living our dream is ONLY possible when we live according to the way of our Creator. But, while everything is NOT awesome in this life, God does work out everything for GOOD to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
So here are just a few more hilarious lyrics from “Everything is Awesome”:
Have you heard the news, everyone’s talking
Life is good ’cause everything’s awesome
Lost my job, it’s a new opportunity
More free time for my awesome community
I feel more awesome than an awesome opossum
Dip my body in chocolate frostin’
Three years later, wash off the frostin’
Smellin’ like a blossom, everything is awesome
Stepped in mud, got new brown shoes
It’s awesome to win, and it’s awesome to lose (it’s awesome to lose)
Again, these verses are meant to poke fun at brain-dead people who are just following the rules of this life without question. There is no reason to complain because everything is awesome! But the Christian knows that everything is NOT awesome, because we are sinners who live in a fallen world. The truth is that GOD ALONE IS AWESOME and that being His child gives us great JOY even in this un-awesome world!
Several months ago, I first saw a Cigna commercial entitled “Go You. Believe in Yourself. We do.” The blatant humanistic self-esteem philosophy laced throughout this ad was more than enough to drive me to switch channels. But what ended up being much more appalling was the use of the familiar Christian song: “This Little Light of Mine” as background music to make their point. If you haven’t seen this commercial, take a moment to watch it below.
Harry Dixon Loes (1895-1965) certainly didn’t have this usage of his famous song in mind when he wrote it around 1920. According to Wikipedia, Loes studied at Moody Bible Institute and the American Conservatory of Music, was a musical composer and teacher who wrote, and co-wrote, several other gospel songs. Not surprisingly, Cigna conveniently left out most of the verses of his song, including verse 3: “Jesus gave me the light. I’m gonna let is shine…” Loes knew that there is no self-generated light/goodness that emanates from within our children; this is light that comes from the Light of the World, Jesus Christ!
Instead of teaching our children to believe in themselves and embrace some mythical light inside of themselves, we need to point them to the truth of God’s Word. Consider these words from the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth:
5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (II Corinthians 4:5-6)
There is amazing gospel truth in these two short verses. Let’s just focus on three essential contrasts we see here:
Self-esteem philosophy teaches us and our children to “proclaim ourselves” to the world. God’s Word teaches us to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.
Self-esteem philosophy ends up training children to serve themselves. God’s Word trains us to be servants of the living Christ.
Self-esteem philosophy believes that we all have our own light that we can shine to the world. God’s Word instructs us that is is the light of Christ that shines in our hearts and then shines out to the world.
The Cigna commercial ends with this line: “Tell us how being true to yourself keeps you healthy.” Yes, I know they are just trying to sell some health insurance. But how much better it is when we teach our children about real health. The only way to keep ourselves spiritually healthy is to be true to Jesus! He gives us eternal, gospel, life-giving Light to shine out to the world which lives in darkness. Instead of “Go You,” how about: Go Jesus! Go Gospel!
If you are one of the few Americans who don’t watch football or baseball in October, you may not be aware that it is National Breast Cancer Awareness month (which tends to overshadow the other commemoratives, including the all-important National Pizza Month). Ever since 1991, the pink ribbon has been the symbol of seeking the cure for breast cancer. Recently, you can’t turn on a ball game without seeing athletes wearing pink wristbands, gloves, and even shoes in support of a cure for this terrible disease. As I watched football games this past weekend, even some numbers on the field and other parts of the stadium were painted pink. This color certainly stands out, especially when it surrounds and adorns grizzly, grimy male athletes.
Displaying or wearing colored ribbons to communicate a message is nothing new. I remember seeing yellow ribbons tied around trees as a teenager during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1981. Even before that, there is significant American folklore about colored ribbons tied to remembering those who were at war or even for convicts as a message that they were welcomed home. Today, we have “awareness” ribbons of all virtually colors symbolizing various cancers, autism, diabetes, mental health issues, etc. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all of their meanings. Color certainly has a way of provoking our memories.
When I see all of the pink ribbons proudly displayed in October, I can’t help but think of the story of Rahab in Joshua 2:18-21.
18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down,and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
I know, Rahab tied a red cord or rope in her window, not a pink ribbon–but it still works. If you recall, Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who hid the men that Joshua sent to spy out the land. She hid them because she believed that their God would certainly destroy Jericho–and she wanted to be saved! So her act of saving the spies was out of her young faith in a God who is Almighty, and a God who saves. The spies then gave her that famous red cord to display in her window to send the message that everyone in her house would be saved. Only because of the red cord would they be rescued from destruction!
Now some of those more cynical around us may believe that the red color of the cord meant nothing–it’s just what the spies had available at the time. Well, it really doesn’t matter if the spies recognized or believed in the symbolism of the red cord. It doesn’t really matter if they didn’t think about how it connected to the Passover and the red blood painted on the doors in Egypt to save Israel from the tenth plague. But we can see the picture as we read the entirety of God’s Word. It is only by the red blood of Jesus that we are saved. We must have the blood of Jesus applied to our souls in order to be rescued from the only “disease” that will send us to eternal damnation–our sin. Only the red blood of Christ will bring us the healing of our souls!
So when you see all of the pink during October, you will inevitably and rightly think of the victims of breast cancer. Hopefully, as Christians, it will provoke us to pray for God’s mercy and a cure for this disease. Yet it is also proper and fitting that when you see pink, or any other colored commemorative ribbon, to “think red” and recall that red is the very REAL color we need in to save our lives. Praise God for the blood of Christ, shed for us!
God’s people had been suffering in captivity for about 90 years. A new generation was given the opportunity to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of the LORD. It was an awesome task that would take great strength and courage. The Promised Land was infested with their enemies, adding to the difficulty. Look at just a bit of the story in Ezra 4.
1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.” 4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.
Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the heads of the families of Israel were not being unkind to the pagans who wanted to help them. They wisely recognized that these interlopers were simply troublemakers, looking to frustrate their plans for the second temple. So their biggest challenge was not the work itself, but the people who were trying to DISCOURAGE them. These discouraging people were seeking to turn their hearts from the fear of God to the fear of man.
Isn’t that much of our problem as Christians living in this world today? Sure, we have our own internal struggles, weaknesses, and sins which keep us from serving the LORD and building His Kingdom. But we also have people in our lives who discourage us in our efforts to do the LORD’s work. So who are these discouraging people? Here are just a few examples…
A member of your family, or even many members of your family may be discouraging you. They may think that your faith is too radical, or your choices make you seem sort of odd. Maybe they question your choice to homeschool, or spend all that money on a Christian school for your children. Or, you have been discouraged to go to seminary or to the mission field. To make matters worse, some of these discouraging people may even be Christians themselves.
Or maybe you have some discouraging people on your committee or ministry team or even your church leadership. These folks would rather critique what is wrong rather than participate in doing what’s right. They question everything, and sometimes just show up to vote “no.” They frustrate plans and work against what would bring spiritual growth to the church. These sorts of discouraging people make you just want to quit.
Or these discouraging people may be your peers or so-called friends. While you desire to grow in Christ and strive for holiness, they seem to be pulling you more and more into worldliness. But this isn’t just obvious sin or rebellion–more like frivolous, time-wasting sorts of things. They get busier and busier with things that build their own temporal kingdoms rather than God’s kingdom. So their very presence in your life discourages you to live a different sort of life.
So what can you do with discouraging people? I guess you could try to eliminate them all from your life and build up strong barriers around yourself. But that isn’t typically realistic, and will prevent you from learning to love the discouragers in your life. If you read the rest of Ezra, you will see a much better solution. The Israelites sought the help of King Cyrus who decreed that the work would go on, silencing the discouraging people. Then God’s people finished the work with all their hearts, deeply encouraged and thankful. Well, we have a much better King who hears our prayers and subdues our enemies! Seek King Jesus, and He will give you the strength to follow Him. Then, go do it with all your heart. Stop seeking encouragement from the people around you, and find it in Christ and in the Word of God. That may sound like the Sunday School answer, but it’s the right answer that keeps us focused on serving the LORD in the midst of frustrating people!