Father in Heaven! Our thought is turned toward Thee; again it seeks Thee at this hour, not with the unsteady step of a lost traveler but with the sure flight of a bird homeward bound. Grant then that our confidence in Thee be not a fugitive thought, a momentary leap, a mistaken appeasement of the heart and flesh. Grant that our aspirations toward Thy Kingdom, our hopes for Thy glory, be not unproductive birth pangs or waterless clouds, but that from the fullness of our heart they will rise toward Thee, and that being heard they will quench our thirst like the refreshing dew and satisfy us forever like Thy heavenly manna.
I used to hear a lot of talk about evangelism, but not so much anymore. I hear a lot of people talking about what it is to be missional, but not much about evangelism. Maybe there are people talking about evangelism, but I don’t know them. I still hear lots of people talking about reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus. This is still very popular, but the language surrounding it has changed. Evangelism has sort of disappeared or gone into hiding. Why? Obviously, people have not abandoned the idea that we need to share Christianity with others, but more and more people are abandoning the methods that were once used. The evangelism of the 1950′s and 60′s, or even 70′s and 80′s, is no longer effective. This is not just my opinion. It is a fact. The statistics show that we are not even keeping up with the population growth. We are not even maintaining. We are losing ground. Now there are multiple reasons for this, but I believe one thing that is holding us back is our approach to reaching the lost. Some people are still using methods that are out of date, while others may have abandoned these methods but not replaced them with anything. Although the gospel always remains the same, people, cultures, and societies change all the time. It is not going to do any good to take a bundle of Bible tracts to a village that cannot read. There are major shifts happening in our culture in regards to how people receive information and how they learn. This affects how we do evangelism. As we move forward into the 21st century it is important for the church to continue to evaluate the culture in which we live, and contemplate how to best reach all the many people who need Jesus in their lives.
Reaching the lost is not about having all the answers. It is about having a continual conversation about what we need to do to help others. This conversation may look very different depending on where you live and who you are trying to reach. Here are four general principles which I believe are essential if we are going to be effective at evangelism.
Salvation Not Condemnation – When the mission of Jesus is described in the Gospel of John it is obvious that his mission is about salvation (John 3:16-21). Notice what is said in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” We find a similar purpose in the great commission texts found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The apostles are sent out to preach a message of salvation. This message is often referred to as the gospel. The word gospel means good news. It is good news for Christians and sinners alike. If we are going to be effective at evangelism, then we must begin with whether or not we are even bringing the right message to the lost. Is our message good news? Is the focus of our message Jesus? Are we preaching salvation or condemnation? Jesus came to earth so that people might be saved. He showed grace and mercy to sinners. This is why they responded so well to him. They were used to being judged by the Pharisees. The Pharisees even judged Jesus just for eating with sinners. Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. He showed them grace, and because of this many of them responded to his message of salvation.
Ears That Hear – This is a funny expression. Are not all ears used for hearing? Yes, ears are used for receiving audible sounds, but not everyone hears alike. I will preach a message on Sunday morning and what two people hear might be completely different. My message is the same to everyone, but what they hear is not always the same. We cannot control how people hear the words coming from our mouth. This is something Jesus and the prophets recognized. They repeatedly said that their message was for people who had ears to hear. They understood that we do not all hear alike. Some people believe that as long as you tell someone the truth they will accept it, but this is not so. Some people do not hear the truth coming out of a person’s mouth to begin with. This happens for various reasons. Perhaps the person telling them the truth was rude in their delivery, or maybe they never took the time to understand the person they were speaking to. There are all kinds of reasons why we do not always hear exactly what someone is saying. If we are going to introduce people to Jesus, we need to understand it often takes much more than simply telling someone the truth. We must listen to people. We must pay attention to their stories. We must get to know them. People are more likely to hear what we are saying if we listen first.
The Times They Are a Changing – I have already discussed how the methods of evangelism need to change with the times, but this is even more true when a culture is experiencing shifts in thinking, learning, and how information is received. There are times when it seems as if people in there 70′s and people in their teens are speaking two different languages. They have different vocabularies and different ways of understanding the world. A person in their 70′s may send a letter, whereas a teenager has never learned how to write a letter. A teenager may send a tweet, and a person in their 70′s may have never even heard of Twitter. It does not matter whether or not the changes happening in our culture are good or bad. They are happening and if we are going to reach out to people, then we need to know how to reach them where they are at. If you keep talking to a teenager about writing letters or to a person in their 70′s about Twitter, then you are probably not going to get very far. Evangelism involves us learning something about people and the culture they live in. If we fail to do this, then we might as well be talking to them in a foreign language.
Our Best Apologetic – The problem with things like the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate is that there is little movement between the two sides. It solidifies what people already believe. If you believed in evolution prior to the debate, then you likely still believe in it afterward, and vice versa. People hear what they want to hear. After the debate there were people on both sides claiming their guy won. I enjoy discussing ideas and hearing others discuss ideas, but debates and things like it are not very effective methods of evangelism nowadays. Our best apologetic is love. People recognize and pay attention to love no matter what side you are on. Jesus understood this. In John 13:35 he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is a powerful apologetic. People notice love. When you show someone love and kindness they look at you in a different light, and they begin to listen more closely to what you have to say. If we are going to reach people, then we need to break down barriers, not build new ones. Love can do this. Our goal is not to defeat others. Our goal is to redeem that which is lost.
The Lego Movie is one of the most funny and entertaining movies to come out in a long time. It is completely fresh and original. It is a film like you have never seen before. The film stays true to the spirit of Legos. The characters and action all move according to how Legos are supposed to move. If something explodes, then thousands of tiny Legos come bursting forth. If there is a stream of water, then thousands of tiny blue Legos flow like water. The visuals are truly amazing. Anyone who has grown up putting together these small bricks that entertain for hours will find it hard to take their eyes off the screen.
Not only does The Lego Movie keep the viewer’s attention with eye popping visuals, but it also introduces multiple worlds. I don’t know of another movie that can do this and do it well. It feels perfectly natural for the characters in this movie to be in a city one moment and the Wild West the next. It also doesn’t feel strange to mix characters from history, comic books, movies, and sports. In any other film one might question why Abraham Lincoln and one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are in the same scene, but in this movie it works and it makes it very entertaining. One of the best scenes in the movie involves a cameo appearance from a few of the main characters in Star Wars.
The story revolves around Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt), an average ordinary Lego man. Emmet does everything by the book. He does not veer off the path one bit. One day as Emmet is leaving work he meets Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who is on the construction sight, which is off limits. This sets off a chain of events that will take you places you cannot imagine. Emmet, the ordinary average Lego man, learns he is the special. He is only one that can save the Lego universe from Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and his evil helper Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).
The Lego Movie is highly entertaining. There are lots of laughs. It is full of great one liners. It is visually appealing. The story and the layout of the film keep the viewer engaged, but this is also a film with purpose. The story is about how a man, whom most people view as ordinary and average, becomes something more. This is a great lesson, especially for children, but perhaps the most important lesson in the film is for adults. The Lego Movie is a reminder of the magic, wonder, and imagination that we experience as children, but often lose later on. It reminds parents in more than one way of the importance of spending time with your children and connecting with them on their level. The Lego Movie is a great movie for children and adults alike. It entertains on multiple levels, and it has lessons for both young and old. This is a hard thing to do, but The Lego Movie has succeeded in giving us a film for all ages.
The anthem of The Lego Movie is a song entitled “Everything is Awesome” (Warning: You and your children will be singing this catchy tune for days to come). I could not say it better myself. Everything is awesome, including this film!
What About the Church?
Donald Miller started a firestorm this week when he posted to his blog that he does not regularly attend church services. I agreed with some of Miller’s critiques concerning the church, but I found his answers to these problems to be unhelpful. Many people responded to Miller and some of these posts had much to offer. Mark Parker gives a respectful rebuttal, as well as a great discussion of the Greek word ekklesia in his post The Unnecessary Church. I’m not sure Sean Palmer was directly responding to Donald Miller, but he had some great things to add to the conversation in his post Is It Really A Church You’re Leaving. He writes, “If there is one institution in our culture that is specifically designed to remind us that we are not, in fact, the center of the universe, it’s the church.”
The actor and comedian Russell Brand has written a powerful article on addiction. He explains the ins and outs of this terrible disease. He gives people a firsthand glimpse into what it is like to be an addict. There is so much wisdom in this eye opening article. Here are a few of the quotes that really jumped out at me.
“…the disease of addiction is not rational.”
“What was so painful about Amy’s death is that I know that there is something I could have done. I could have passed on to her the solution that was freely given to me. Don’t pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time. It sounds so simple. It actually is simple but it isn’t easy: it requires incredible support and fastidious structuring.”
“Drugs and alcohol are not my problem, reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solution.”
“It is difficult to feel sympathy for these people. It is difficult to regard some bawdy drunk and see them as sick and powerless. It is difficult to suffer the selfishness of a drug addict who will lie to you and steal from you and forgive them and offer them help. Can there be any other disease that renders its victims so unappealing?”
Check out Russell Brand: My Life Without Drugs
According to E.B. White there are no perfect conditions for writing. He states, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” Melissa Donovan takes a look at E.B. Whites’ quote and explains why he is right. Check out Quotes on Writing: E.B. White
Learning to Be a Better Communicator
Courtney Seiter has a wonderful post offering tips from famous interviewers on how to be a better communicator. I am an introvert and conversations don’t always come naturally. I found this article to be very insightful and helpful. I will be implementing some of these tips in my own life and will probably return this post in the future. Check out 6 Powerful Communication Tips From Some of the World’s Best Interviewers
Philip Seymour Hoffman
This week the world lost a great actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman may have been the best actor of his generation. He had so many good performances it is hard to choose my favorite, but I have always been partial to his role in Doubt. Here is one of the homilies he delivers in the film.
A Change Is Gonna Come
Sam Cooke’s powerful song, A Change Is Gonna Come, turns 50 this week. Not only is this a great song, but it is an important song that played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. Of course my favorite version of this song is the original, but the song has also been covered many times. One of my favorite cover versions is by cellist Ben Sollee.
Something strange happened to me on Friday. Twice during the day someone said to me, “Have a Happy Super Bowl weekend.” I was kind of taken aback. I wasn’t aware Super Bowl weekend had become an official holiday. I didn’t know what to say. How are you supposed to respond? Should you say something like, ”Happy viewing! I hope your TV is large and your chip bowl is plentiful.” or maybe you should just wish them a ”Merry Pigskin Day”?
I thought maybe this was just a fluke thing, but then on the day before the big game (I guess this would be Super Bowl eve) my wife and I had to venture out to the grocery store. The entire parking lot was full. I was ready to turn around and go back home, but my wife insisted we press on. I reminded myself of the words God spoke to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous…” Once we got into the store it was a madhouse. People were everywhere. They were filling their carts. It looked like the supermarket version of Black Friday. It was evident what they were preparing for. The vast majority were picking up items for a Super Bowl party. I thought to myself, “Could it be? Has Super Bowl weekend really turned into a national holiday?”
Of course I say some of this in jest, but I did begin to contemplate what is worthy of celebration and praise and what is not. For the most part our country has done an admirable job of choosing what is praiseworthy. We celebrate Jesus on Christmas and Easter. We set aside a day in November to be thankful. We celebrate family on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. We remember those who have made great sacrifices on Memorial Day. We honor a preacher who bravely fought for social justice on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Although each of these is not equal, I think most would agree that they are all praiseworthy. We praise God, family, sacrifice, and justice.
So, what about football? I love football, especially college football. I think it is the 2nd greatest sport ever evented. Baseball still reigns supreme! When one of my teams is playing I get excited. I yell at the TV, even though I know they cannot hear me. I get into it just like everyone else. Football is great, but it is not holiday material. It is not worthy of celebration in the same way God is. It is not a great virtue or a principle we built our nation upon. Football is a sport. It is entertainment. It is a great sport, and it is one of the most entertaining things on TV, but it is still just that.
I hope you enjoy the game. I hope your team wins (I’ll be rooting for the Broncos). I hope you have fun watching the game with your friends. I hope you have a great day, but I won’t be wishing you a “Happy Super Bowl weekend” anytime soon. I’m good with the holidays we have and the things we celebrate. I’m not ready to elevate sports and entertainment to the level of praise and celebration just yet. At the end of the day it is just a game, and perhaps if more people would remember this, we would be better off.
How do we choose what we should or should not watch? How do we determine whether a film is worthwhile? How do we evaluate a movie once we have seen it? I believe these are all important questions we should think about. In this post I hope to set forth a criterion for how Christians should evaluate movies.
I have already discussed this issue in a previous post, but I will say a few more things about it here. The MPAA is unequipped to answer the questions listed above, nor is this their purpose or intention. Their rating system does not tell us whether or not it would be wrong to watch a film. The MPAA makes no judgment in regards to sin. If sin was their basis for judging a film, then they would not have given The Passion of the Christ an R-rating. What the MPAA does is try to determine whether or not a film is appropriate for children or adults. This is a distinction we need to contemplate. All things are not appropriate for all ages. When the MPAA labels a film PG-13 or R, then this should tell us that there is some material in the film intended for adults and we should seek to find out what that is. I do not believe content is the most important thing about a film, but I do believe we need to know what is in the film. Things such as language, smoking, violence, alcohol/drug use, sexual situations, adult situations, nudity, brief nudity, sensuality, and other things could garner a film a PG-13 or R rating. I think most of us would agree that these reasons are not all equal. A depiction of someone smoking a cigarette is much different than a scene depicting sex. Christians need to be aware of the content within a film and then make a decision on whether or not it is appropriate.
Here are some websites that will help with determining the content of a film.
Many people stop at content and never ask any further questions about a film. I believe this is a huge mistake. Content tells us what we will see in the film and helps us determine whether or not it is appropriate, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the film itself. We should be asking deeper questions like, What is the purpose behind the film? Are there any redeeming qualities about the film? We can watch a film that is rated G and be entertained, but if it has no higher purpose then what good is it? Occasionally, I just want to be entertained, but more often I want to learn something or feel something. I want to be moved by what I see. I want to be encouraged to go out and be a better person. I want to understand the world better. The purpose of the film is of upmost importance. The purpose often determines whether a film is mere entertainment or art. Am I simply wasting 2 hours of my life, or am I learning something about myself and the world I live in?
Unforgiven is a film with purpose. It would have been easy for Clint Eastwood to make another Western which glamorized the Wild West and the violence often associated with it, but instead he made a deeply reflective film on what violence does to a man. The Kid With a Bike is a powerful film about what can happen when we choose to live by grace. It also offers us reflections on the importance of fatherhood in the life of a child.
Goodness, Truth, & Beauty
Perhaps, the most important question a Christian can ask about a film is whether or not it is good, beautiful, or true. These are the three great Christian virtues. If the film we are watching or the music we listen to cannot be classified under one of these virtues, then we should consider if it is virtuous at all. Goodness, truth, and beauty come from God and when we are aware of these virtues within the things we watch and listen to, then it is easier for us to see God and point others toward him. In Acts 17 the apostle Paul found truth in the pagan poets and used it to preach Christ. If we are not looking for goodness, truth, and beauty within the movies we watch, then why are we watching them? Are we watching them to escape from reality? Is not this the same reason why some people use drugs? Watching films is fine, but I think it is important that we do it from a Christian perspective.
The Tree of Life is a film that reflects all of these virtues. Beasts of the Southern Wild shows us beauty in the middle of a terrible and catastrophic storm. Goodness is seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn where Spock sacrifices himself to save the lives of everyone else on the ship. 12 Angry Men is a meditation on truth and bias.
Here are some websites that contain film reviews from a Christian perspective.
“Life as it is and life as it ought to be: Let us take that as the only true subject for a film and consider to what extent the cinema is fulfilling its proper function.” Graham Greene
If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know I watch and review R-rated films. I do not watch all R-rated films. There are films released that I find to be inappropriate, blasphemous, and simply not worth watching, but I do not allow an R-rating to be the litmus test for whether or not I will watch a movie. I believe there are deeper and more meaningful reasons to choosing whether or not I will watch a film, then what it is rated. There may be some people out there who have never seen an R-rated film. If this is the decision you have made for yourself, then this is great. I respect your decision. I have no desire in trying to convince someone that they should start watching R-rated films. If you choose not to watch R-rated films and that is working for you, then keep on doing it. My interest is in having an adult conversation about arts and entertainment and why we watch what we watch. I am going to address the question of whether it is appropriate for Christians to watch certain R-rated films, but more importantly I am going to use this as a catalyst to discuss other things involving arts and entertainment (These discussions will begin to develop more in later blog posts).
Where should we begin? How about the MPAA. The MPAA, which stands for the Motion Picture Association of America, is the group that is responsible for rating movies in America. The rating system is different in other countries. If you purchase a DVD or Blu-ray you will sometimes find two different ratings on the back of the case. One is the MPAA rating and the other is the Canadian rating. The MPAA has changed and evolved over the years. This means the way they rate films today is different than how they rated them thirty years ago. They are also a group of human beings, meaning that there is bias and other things that factor into their decision. Sometimes they may be more lenient on a film produced and distributed by a major company, than on an independent film. Politics is always at play. There is much more I could say about the MPAA, but the point is that it is a flawed human system. Is it useful in helping us to discern what we might expect to see in a film? Yes, but the MPAA is not our moral compass. We should not allow them to make decisions for us. We should listen to what they say, and then make a wise decision based on Scripture and other factors.
The Bible contains R-rated material. Christians often do not acknowledge this. They assume that the entire Bible is suitable for all ages. However, the people of God did not always see it this way. There were age limits placed on certain books by Rabbis. A person had to reach the age of thirty before being able to read the books of Ezekiel and Song of Solomon. This tradition recognizes that there are certain things within Scripture that are reserved for adult audiences. This material is not appropriate for children, but once a person matures then it becomes appropriate for them to read (For examples of this see Gen. 38:9; Judges 19:25-30; 2 Kings 6:24-29; Psalm 137:8-9; Lamentations 2:11-12, 20-22; 4:9-10; 5:11-12; Ezekiel 16 & 23). I realize this is a tradition, but I find it very convincing. As a minister, there are some texts in the Bible that make me blush when I have to read them in front of an audience. Many of the passages that contain strong language have been toned down by translators, and although I want to know what the original language says, I am also thankful for this when I have to do a public reading. We need to acknowledge that there are some things that are appropriate for adults and not for children.
We live in an R-rated world. I do not think this is a good thing, but it is a fact. It is important that we retain a proper moral compass based on Scripture. It is important that we retain the ability to blush (Jer. 6:15). Still, if we are going to reach a lost and dying world, then we are going to have to interact with people who use R-rated language and find themselves in R-rated situations. We are told several times in Scripture that Jesus ate with sinners. We do not know the content of what was discussed at all these meals, but I’m guessing it was not all G-rated. If you have ever gone out and dined with sinners, then you know that objectionable things are often said and discussed. This is what makes them sinners. We find R-rated material on the news, radio, and TV shows. We find R-rated material on magazine covers at the grocery store and at live sporting events. Many of our soldiers, the heroes of our country, perform duties that are considered R-rated and are known for their R-rated language. This does not make it right. We are to live in the world, but not be of the world. This means we will see R-rated things as we live in the world, but we are not to do these same things ourselves.
We do not like to admit that there are gray areas when it comes to what we should and shouldn’t do, but sometimes it is this way. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 we are commanded to give as we have been prospered. Obviously, if someone is giving too little, then it is a sin, but how do we know what that amount is? Giving varies from person to person. Gluttony is condemned in Scripture, but how much does a person have to eat in order to be considered a glutton? Some people have a high metabolism and a large appetite. They may eat and eat and still be hungry, whereas another person may eat a small portion and be satisfied. The amount of food someone would have to consume in order to be a glutton varies from person to person (I believe the sin of gluttony is more about one’s attitude towards food, but it still plays itself out in a physical and measurable way.) I believe that what we are able to watch is very similar. It varies from person to person. One person may be extremely bothered by violence, whereas another person may be able to watch it. If something bothers your conscience, then don’t watch it. As a Christian you should know how much to give, how much to eat, and what to watch, or you should at least be wrestling with these questions.
Where is the sin? Is the sin merely in hearing a bad word or seeing an act of violence committed? I do not believe so. Again, we are expected to live in the world, but not be of the world. If it were a sin to simply witness a sin, then we would have to live like the Amish and even that wouldn’t be good enough. I also recognize that it is not necessary for us to participate in the sin, in order for us to commit a sin. For example, if I watch an act of violence occur right in front of me and I take pleasure in it, then I have sinned. This gets us to the intent of why we watch what we watch. If I take pleasure in seeing people on film getting mowed down with a machine gun, then there is something wrong with this. It is not always wrong for me to watch a film which depicts sin, but it is wrong for me to take pleasure in seeing violence in films. If I am watching a film with the intent of deriving pleasure out of seeing people get hurt, then this is an issue and I should not watch anymore violent films until I get it resolved.
So, what about those R-rated films? Let’s consider a few examples.
The Passion of the Christ received an R rating from the MPAA, and yet entire church groups rented out theaters so they could watch the film together. There are many stories and events within Scripture that if they were portrayed accurately on film would receive an R rating.
Schindler’s List is one of the most graphic movies ever made. On the IMDB parent’s guide to the film it gave the movie a 9 out of 10 for sex & nudity, a 10 out of 10 for violence, and a 7 out of 10 for language. Even though the film contains all this objectionable material it was shown unedited on NBC in 1997. An estimated 65 million people tuned in to watch. The reason most people do not object to the content of this film is because it is attempting to accurately portray an event from history. We watch knowing we will be horrified. We watch in order to remember a tragedy that should have never happened, and hopefully will never happen again. We watch in order to understand the injustice that so many people suffered. (These same reasons could be given for watching 12 Years a Slave.)
Saving Private Ryan received an R rating for showing us what war is really like. The film makers could have chosen to tone down the violence and the language, but essentially they would be lying to the viewer. Is it better to present truth as it is and receive an R rating, or lie about the truth in order to have the film rated PG-13?
I picked Short Term 12 as the best film of 2013. It is rated R for language and adult situations. The film is a fictional account of life inside a group home for kids. These are kids that have been abandoned or orphaned for some reason. They have been abused in various different ways. Some of them suffer from mental illness. This is life and the film depicts their situation as accurately as possible. It is a film that helps a person understand a situation that they probably know little or nothing about. It is also a film that realistically depicts our fallen world, but still offers a glimmer of hope.
There are some good reasons to watch certain R-rated films. I do not think it is wise to completely dismiss a film because of its rating, but I also believe we should not assume a film is ok just because it lacks an R rating. Sometimes the messages in films targeting teenagers and other young adults is worse than what you will find in an R-rated movie. The Transformer franchise has been an extremely popular one that has earned Hollywood a lot of money. The target audience for these films are young men in their teens and twenties. Notice how the makers of the film chose to advertise Transformers 2.
Megan Fox is used as a sex symbol in order to get hormonal teenage boys excited about seeing the film. This is sexist and degrading to women. This message is more dangerous than anything in the above mentioned films that are rated R. It does not matter whether she has clothes on or not. This image from the film sends the same message as a pornographic movie. Hollywood is selling sex to teenagers, and they will continue to do this because they know sex sells.
Should you watch R-rated movies? I cannot answer that question for you, and I do not think it as black and white as some people make it out to be. I would recommend all adults watch a film like The Passion of the Christ. I believe films like Schindler’s List and 12 Years a Slave are beneficial for our society. I think it is important for these films to be preserved and showed to future generations. I think film makers should tell the truth, even if it means their film will receive an R rating. I also think some films are extremely beneficial in helping us see and understand a world that is often confusing and mysterious. Powerful films that accurately depict certain situations can help us to empathize with people we might have a hard time connecting with or understanding.
This is not a blanket endorsement of all R-rated films. I recognize there are some films that are not worth watching, and there are films that a Christian should avoid. I am not trying to provide a free excuse for you to watch whatever you want. I would like us to think more deeply about the content of the films we choose to watch. There are some worthwhile films that happen to be rated R, and there are some other films that are rated PG or PG-13 that probably aren’t worth your time. The rating is not the most important thing about a film. The content and the message is far more important, and this is what we should be paying attention to.
It is interesting to compare the sermons and speeches that are found within the book of Acts. Throughout the book the apostles and others speak to two different groups of people. Sometimes a sermon will be delivered in front of a Jewish audience, but other times the audience is comprised of Gentiles. The Christians who are speaking have one message to deliver, and that is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, but they go about delivering this message in different ways. When a person like Peter or Paul is speaking to a Jewish audience, the majority of the sermon focuses on the Old Testament. If Paul or someone else is speaking to a Gentile audience, then the Old Testament may not be mentioned at all. Instead the apostle will appeal to other things like pagan alters or poets. The point of the message is the same, but we see in the book of Acts that there is more than one way to get there.
I believe this is relevant to how we present God’s word within our modern culture. Preachers need to ask themselves: Who is in the pew? What are their backgrounds? What do they know? What is important to them? Our message is always the same. We preach Christ crucified! However, the way we go about presenting this message may differ from congregation to congregation. There may be some who have an audience of all believers or unbelievers on Sunday morning, but most of us probably preach to a mixed crowd. We get up on Sunday and we see the face of believers and unbelievers who have come to hear what we have to say. This is difficult. Unbelievers probably don’t want to hear an exegesis of a passage in Leviticus, and believers are going to be bored with a steady dose of watered down lessons.
Instead of choosing one method of preaching and sticking with it, ministers need to be diverse. We need to play with style and presentation. It may be good to change the way we approach a text from time to time. We need to think outside the box. We need to be creative when preaching God‘s word. The heart of our message is still the gospel. We need to make the death, burial, and resurrection central to what we preach. I believe the best way to do this is by using Scripture. The word of God is powerful! It is able to convict believers and unbelievers alike. Preachers need to preach Scripture. At the same time, we do not have to limit ourselves to Scripture only. Many preachers tell stories that people connect with, just as Jesus did. This is great, but maybe we could also take a lesson from Paul. In Acts 17 when Paul addresses the Aeropagus, he does not quote one Scripture. Instead, Paul quotes two of their poets.
Let me suggest that one way we can reach believers and unbelievers alike is by paying attention to our poets. The poets Paul quotes from must have been widely known. The people he was speaking to were aware of these individuals and what they had written, and so Paul uses this to preach the gospel. Who are our poets? If you are going to quote a modern day poet who spends his or her time writing poems for a book poetry, then most people are not going to have a clue who you are talking about. However, if you quote someone who has written a famous song, then most everyone is going to know who that person is and be somewhat familiar with their work. Ministers should pay attention to thoughtful and intelligent songwriters and use this material from time to time.
I have done this before in sermons and classes. The two I quote more than anyone else is Bob Dylan and U2. These artists are widely known and they have written numerous songs that contain religious overtones or directly appeal to Scripture. An unbeliever at church on Sunday morning may have no idea who Moses is, but they may be a big fan of Bono and if that gets them closer to Jesus then that is great. Paul used this approach with Gentiles and I believe we should seek to do the same. Quoting poets is not only helpful with reaching unbelievers, but it also helps people who have been Christians for years. Sometimes poets have a unique way of connecting with people. Their words often stick with us, and if they are words we hear on a regular basis, then we are also going to be reminded of the message of the sermon each time we hear the poem or song.
Where to start?
This is easier than it might seem. There is an abundance of great material that is readily available. I would suggest you use popular artists who people are familiar with, but try and avoid shallow artists who do not have much to say. Do not use poets just to use them. Paul used them to make a valid point and we should do the same. It helps if the artists are familiar with Christianity or writing from a Christian perspective, but this is not necessary. Paul quoted poets who were likely pagans. Truth is truth no matter who says it. Here are a few artists I have used and quoted from over the years.
I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one – U2
The city’s aflood
And our love turns to rust
We’re beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust
I’ll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name – U2
See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out
It was a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
A beautiful day – U2
When you’re like a broken bird tell heaven
Battered wings against the dark and day
When your worries won’t let you sleep tell heaven
When the tears won’t ever go away – Roseanne Cash
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody,
yes indeed You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody – Bob Dylan
Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm” – Bob Dylan
He’s young and on fire
Full of hope and desire
In a world that’s been raped and defiled
If I fall along the way
And can’t see another day
Lord, protect my child
There’ll be a time I hear tell
When all will be well
When God and man will be reconciled
But until men lose their chains
And righteousness reigns
Lord, protect my child – Bob Dylan
Well now, everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back – Bruce Springsteen
The times they are dark, darkness covers the earth
This world’s filled with the beauty of God’s work
Hold tight to your promise, stay righteous, stay strong
For the days of miracles will come along - Bruce Springsteen
Forty days and nights of rain have washed this land
Jesus said the money changers in this temple will not stand
Find your flock, get them to higher ground
Flood waters rising and we’re Caanan bound
We’ve been traveling over rocky ground, rocky ground – Bruce Springsteen
It seems that all my bridges have been burnt
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works.
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start – Mumford & Sons
Should a Christian Watch R Rated Films?
Alissa Wilkinson offers a lengthy but well reasoned defense of why Christianity Today reviews R rated movies. I have thought a lot about this question myself, and contemplated writing a blog post on it (which I may still do). Wilkinson does a good job handling this touchy subject. She gives an informative, yet brief history of the rating system. She also deals with what criticism is and explains what they are trying to accomplish at Christian Today. If you are a Christian who watches movies, then I highly recommend you read Why We Review R-Rated Films
Scot McKnight has written an interesting and informative post on the controversies that arise concerning translations of the Bible. He writes,
If you don’t know the Greek, avoid standing in judgment. I’m not trying to be a hard-guy or an elitist, but let’s be honest: only those who know Latin should be talking about which is the “best” translation of Virgil or only those who know Middle High German should be weighing in on the “best” translation of The Nibelungenlied. This isn’t elitist; it’s common sense and intelligent.
If you are interested in translations and how they are perceived, then this post is well worth your time. Check out Your Bible and its Tribe
Becoming a Better Teacher
I am always looking for resources that will help me become a better teacher and preacher. This article on teaching critical thinking was recently recommended to me and I found it to be helpful. Check out Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking
Apps for Preachers
Are you a preacher looking for ways to save time and be more efficient? If so, you might want to look at this post on the best iPad apps for ministers. Check out 24 of the Best iPad Apps for Pastors
What Not to Say to Someone Who is Grieving
Most people want to comfort others who are grieving, but often we end up saying the wrong thing. We want to do what is right, but sometimes it comes out all wrong. When I have done classes or lessons on grief ministry I have always spent time on what not to say. Here is a good article on 6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent
At the Movies
Two great films were recently released on DVD/Blu-ray. Short Term 12 was my favorite film from 2013. It is a film about hope in the middle of a fallen world. I highly recommend it. It does contain language and adult situation. I will admit that language and other adult material in film is often unnecessary, but in this film the filmmakers are striving to be as accurate as possible in trying to depict the situations people find themselves in.
Another one of my favorite films from last year is 20 Feet From Stardom, a documentary about backup singers in the music industry. You will recognize many of the songs in the film, but you probably didn’t know the story behind them. There are super talented people working in the music industry who never become a household name. This is their story.
Bruce has done it again. This time he has taken a collection of outtakes, covers, and unreleased songs and turned them into an album that will rival anything else you hear in 2014. Springsteen never completely reinvents his sound (Why mess with something good if it isn’t broke?), but he does add elements and layers that are new. This time he brings in one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Tom Morello, and this gives the album an edge that is not heard on any of his previous albums. This album, which debuted at number one in the U.S. and several other countries, is filled with Biblical imagery. It begins with hope and ends by asking us to dream of a better future, and in between it is filled with songs about heaven, justice, love, and quotes taken straight from Scripture. One of the highlights of the album is the reworking of The Ghost of Tom Joad, which appeared as a folk song on an earlier Springsteen album. On this album Springsteen and Morello have turned it into a full fledged rock ballad. Check out this recording from a few years ago where Springsteen and Morello trade licks on the live version of the song.