By / Oct 30

In the opening pages of Russell Moore’s latest book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, he discusses several reasons why Halloween is his favorite holiday:

I’m supposed to hate Halloween, but I just can’t do it. Since I was a very small child, Halloween brought to me, well, tidings of comfort and joy.

As a child, I took seriously what the old people said about the holiday as a “devil’s night,” about the veil between the spirit world and ours being especially, and dangerously, thin that night. That was what I liked about it. Halloween, it seemed, took seriously what I intuitively knew to be true: the world outside was terrifying.

The night also seemed to reinforce what I read in my Bible, that the universe around me was alive with invisible forces, some of which meant me harm. Halloween seemed to be the night when grown-ups would admit this, at least a little bit. It seemed to my younger self, too, that if there were scary realities out there, the idea of calendaring out a night to recognize them for what they were made sense.

The best part of the night for me had nothing to do with candy or costumes, but was rather when the night was over, when I was tucked away in bed, knowing that my parents were asleep on the other side of the sheetrock wall. The night outside might be howling with witches and werewolves, but all was safe at home. That seemed far from pagan to me. It seemed, as a matter of fact, right in line with my biblical ancestors in ancient Egypt. The angels of death could lurk around outside the house all they wished, but the blood was on the doorpost, and all would be well.

I read these words from Moore days before watching A Quiet Place, a film that captures this passage and much of Moore’s book on family quite powerfully.

As the parent of two young boys, I don’t see movies as frequently as I used to. So I caught up with one of 2018’s earliest surprise hits recently. This movie was John Krasinski’s directorial and writing debut, starring him and his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. If you can tolerate a PG-13 thriller in the vein of some of Hitchcock’s more tense films and M. Night Shyamalan’s earliest hits (The Sixth Sense, Signs), this could be a fun and redemptive film to watch this week once the young kids are in bed and all tuckered out from trick-or-treating and/or trunk-or-treating.

John Krasinski, best known as Jim from The Office, refers to A Quiet Place as the most personal professional project he’s ever worked on and a love letter to his kids. And while the film has some thrilling moments that will make you jump, the biggest jumps and exclamations are reserved for moments in which the two parents in the film are selflessly sacrificing for their young children, one of whom is hearing-impaired and another who has special medical needs. There aren’t many films today that show families living life together in mundane moments, from praying at dinner and doing the laundry, to playing board games and doing chores. But it’s the high-concept of the film (blind creatures have invaded earth and hunt only by sound) that makes these moments as high-stakes as they could be.

And it brought me to the brink of tears numerous times. Maybe it’s because some of the children in the film reminded me of my two young sons. Maybe it’s because culture today rarely shows how fathers and mothers, daughters and sons can love each other in simple times, overcoming grief, miscommunication, and stress to bond together and love effectively.

But perhaps the power of this 90-minute thriller is how central human dignity is to every part of the story—the dignity of our friends and neighbors with disabilities, the dignity of every single life even before she is born, the dignity of simple sacrifice by parents, the dignity of grace and forgiveness, and so much more.

I don’t want to spoil the entire film, but its tension is continually ramped up around the lengths to which this family is willing to go to protect and love one another well. In the post-apocalyptic landscape of the film, hope seems to be lost, but, to borrow from Cormac McCarthy’s somewhat similar The Road, this family is keeping the light alive by loving each other well.

It’s the husband and the wife’s tender moments together. It’s the children fighting, arguing, and reconciling. It’s the father asking for his child’s forgiveness and the mother teaching her children how to grieve. It’s a mother doing whatever it takes for her unborn child, even in the most dangerous circumstances. It’s putting everything on the line and being willing to lose it all so your children may live.

It’s the Christian story shining through in a Hollywood film. Like Moore recognizes about Halloween, perhaps fear in the darkness can best remind us of the power of love and the light.

By / Mar 2

Each year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offers up nominations for what it believes to be the best work in film from the previous year. This year’s upcoming ceremony looks to be particularly interesting after last year’s debacle in which the film “La La Land” was mistakenly named Best Picture only to have to bow out quickly once it was realized that “Moonlight” was actually the big winner.

On top of that, many high-profile Hollywood men have recently fallen from grace as the #MeToo movement has gained momentum, and women are more empowered than ever to speak out against abuse. It will be very interesting to see how both of these issues are addressed at the ceremony.

That said, you’ll have to judge whether watching the awards is worth your time. But the films being celebrated are worth interacting with, even if it means just knowing what they are about, simply because they are well-told stories. And good or bad, stories give us a way to understand the world around us, revealing the wrestlings of our day and age.

So, here are the nine Best Picture Oscar-nominated films and their synopses.

  1. “Call Me By Your Name” offers a coming-of-age story of a 17-year-old boy who engages in a same-sex relationship with an older man.
  2. “Darkest Hour” tells the true story of Winston Churchill at a crucial moment in world history as he is forced to choose whether to negotiate or fight.
  3. “Dunkirk” uses a fascinating story structure to tell of a massive Allied evacuation in an intense battle during World War II.
  4. “Get Out” takes a genre story and offers up insightful social commentary on racism when a young black man goes to meet his white girlfriend’s family at a secluded estate for the weekend.
  5. “Lady Bird” drops us into the coming-of-age story of a dramatic high school senior who faces off against her loving but overbearing mother.
  6. “Phantom Thread” shows a famous London dressmaker whose life is complicated by the arrival of a beautiful woman who will both irritate and inspire him.
  7. “The Post” tells the true story of a female newspaper publisher in the 1970s who risks it all to speak truth to power as a major U.S. cover-up is unearthed.
  8. “The Shape of Water” is a fable telling the story of a mute janitor and her relationship with an amphibious creature that is held captive and studied at a secret research facility.
  9. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” follows a heartbroken and angry mother who seeks justice after her daughter is raped and murdered in a small town.

And as long as sin remains we will continue to long instinctually for love, peace, justice, racial reconciliation, truth, hope, and ultimately, for a Savior.

While I don’t recommend many of the top films from 2017, the reality is that they all seem to express longing. Indeed many of the best stories we hear, read, or watch express this notion of a desire that remains unmet. Whether it is the longing for truth to have its day in “The Post,” a longing for salvation in “Dunkirk,” or the longing for justice in “Three Billboards,” these films voice something that dwells within all of humanity. This is fitting because of the broken world in which we live.

And as long as sin remains we will continue to long instinctually for love, peace, justice, racial reconciliation, truth, hope, and ultimately, for a Savior.

By / Jul 20

Today, film director Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk opens in theaters across the U.S. The film tells the true story of Operation Dynamo, a heroic effort to save Allied troops who were stranded on a beach in France and surrounded by the German army during World War II.

Here are five facts about the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” the biggest evacuation in military history.

1. In September 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, the British army was sent to support their allies in France. When the Germans subsequently invaded France in May 1940, the British army, three French armies, and what remained of the Belgian army, found themselves trapped near the Belgian-French border. On May 26, the British military began to implement Operation Dynamo to evacuate these Allied forces from Dunkirk. Dunkirk, is located in the north of France, a mere 47 nautical miles from the UK across the English Channel.

2. In a national broadcast, King George VI called for a National Day of Prayer to be held on May 26, the day before Operation Dynamo was to be launched. The king called on the people of the UK to turn back to God in a spirit of repentance and plead for divine help. According to John Willans, two events immediately followed: a violent storm arose over the Dunkirk region grounding the German fighter planes that had been killing thousands on the beaches, and then a “great calm descended on the Channel, the like of which hadn’t been seen for a generation” which allowed the evacuation to take place. From that point on the British people began to refer to what happened as “the miracle of Dunkirk.” 

3. Operation Dynamo involved about 860 ships, including 693 British ships. Almost 700 were private British boats that became known as the “Little Ships of Dunkirk.” (The smallest boat to take part in the operation was the Tamzine, an open fishing boat that was just under 15 feet in length and was able to carry five people.) Most of the “Little Ships” were owned by civilians but commandeered by the British navy and manned by naval officers or experienced volunteers. They were mostly used to ferry the stranded soldiers from the beach and harbor to the larger warships, though several of the “Little Ships” carried hundreds of men directly to England.

 4. The evacuation occurred over nine days, from May 27 to June 4. On the first day, only 7,699 stranded troops were picked up. But by the end of the operation, a total of 338,226 soldiers were evacuated from the beaches and harbors of Dunkirk. Throughout the retreat, the Allies were exposed to deadly attacks from German fighter planes. During the Dunkirk battle the German aerial warfare branch (the Luftwaffe) flew 1,882 bombing and made 1,997 fighter sweeps. As well as being exposed to attack from the air, many of the men had to wait for hours in water up their shoulders. Despite the risks, the men waited patiently to be rescued. As one British solider noted, “You had the impression of people standing waiting for a bus. There was no pushing or shoving.”

5. Although most of the troops were saved, the Allies left behind 2,472 cannons, around 65,000 vehicles, 20,000 motorcycles, 377,000 tons of supplies, over 68,000 tons of munitions, and 147,000 tons of fuel. As Winston Churchill reminded his people in a speech made on the last day of the operation, “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.” Nevertheless, Hitler’s failure to press an earlier attack and capture the British army on the beaches was one of his most significant military failures during the war, and became a key turning point toward an Allied victory.

By / Jan 24

Based on the 1966 Shusaku Endo novel of the same name, Silence is the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 1600’s to find their mentor and spread Christianity. In remaining faithful to its source material, director Martin Scorsese’s film offers no easy answers but begs many great questions.

The plot

The young priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) have heard a rumor that their beloved Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has undergone torture and as a result, has committed apostasy. It’s also believed that he may still be living in Nagasaki. Unwilling to accept the report as fact, the priests make it their mission to travel to Japan in search of Ferreira.

Upon arrival to China, a man named Kichijiro helps ferry them to Japan and to a village where a small group of underground Japanese believers are hiding. Because of the immense persecution and rampant torture, the fearful villagers must worship in secret, but they are overcome with joy upon meeting the two priests. Having become believers because of the work of Jesuit priests in the past, they have longed for the return of one who can listen to their confessions and administer the sacraments.

The priests are most impressed with the quiet, beautiful faith of the villagers, but all that is interrupted when the authorities get wind of the hidden Christians. Rodrigues and Garrpe are given the chance to flee, yet they remain close enough to witness the interrogations. Inquisitor Inoue (Issei Ogata), a feeble yet cruel man, oversees these interactions with the Christian peasants, and his rules are simple. If a person steps on the fumie (a small, carved image of Christ) they are assumed non-Christians and can therefore go free. If they don’t trample the image of Christ, they’re subjected to torture until they either recant their faith or die. The priests weep as they witness the cruelty from afar, yet their own personal safety is short-lived.

Soon after this event, Rodrigues, as well as several other believers, are betrayed by a Judas-like character and handed over to the authorities. Rodrigues is brought before the Inquisitor. Instead of torturing Rodrigues, the Christian villagers are made to suffer unless the priest is willing to recant his faith by trampling the fumie. Denying his faith and his God would be the only way to end the suffering of the faithful few he has dedicated his life to serve.

The imprisoned Rodrigues is, for the most part, treated quite well. There is a certain civility among his captors. On several occasions, he is brought before the Inquisitor and fascinating conversations ensue between the two men. How can he possibly recant when he has lived his whole life to serve the God he loves? But at the same time, with suffering and death all around, why won’t God speak? Why won’t he intervene? The Inquisitor is adamant that Christianity is not able to take root in a place like Japan. Rodrigues argues that gospel truth can flourish in Japan just like it does in Portugal and elsewhere. What the priest sees as a loving gift to impart on the country, the Inquisitor sees as an arrogant, imperialist attempt to exert power and destroy Japanese culture and customs.

The personal challenge

I won’t spoil any of what happens next, but I will say that this is a meaningful film for thoughtful believers. Some have criticized the slow pace of the film, and indeed it is slow. There are also scenes that are difficult to watch. But for the patient viewer who doesn’t mind being challenged to wrestle with long-held beliefs, the rewards are great.

I was a high school senior when the Columbine massacre happened. I remember hearing stories of students who, when asked by the gunmen if they were Christians, boldly proclaimed their faith. I hoped I would have done the same thing. But the truth is, unless I’m faced with the prospect of death or intense suffering, I have no idea how I would react. Does faith always have to be public to be true faith? What if someone in that situation denied Christ to spare his life, or perhaps the life of another? Would his soul be lost forever? These are just a few of the questions with which we must wrestle as we watch the story unfold.

I’ve also pondered this idea: When I share the gospel with another person, how much of it is truly centered solely on Christ, and how much of it is me bringing in my ideas of Western Evangelical Christianity? This thought has troubled me recently because I don’t want to bring an ounce of myself into the situation. I want to go into all the world and make disciples, not of myself, but of Christ.

Silence is an incredibly well made film, from the directing and acting down to the set design and costumes. It’s a bold film that dares us to put voice to what we may have wondered and possibly doubted about the goodness of God. The characters cry out much like the biblical Job did in the midst of suffering. And yet, we’re reminded from scripture that when we are faithless, he is faithful.

We know that Christ understands our human suffering because he suffered as well. He also felt the sting of God’s “silence” on the cross. And yet, ”for the joy that lay before him, he endured a cross, despising its shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Heb. 12:2). So in the midst of trials, we need not lose heart when we don’t suffer well, because the victory is not won through us; it was won long ago by a silent sufferer who stands victorious and intercedes on our behalf.

By / Nov 4

This fall movie season Hollywood offers up the stories of two little-known American heroes from two controversial filmmakers. In “The Birth of a Nation,” director and star, Nate Parker, tells the story of Nat Turner, a slave who longs for justice and leads a bloody rebellion. Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” recounts how Desmond Doss went into the terrible Battle of Okinawa in World War II offering mercy as an army medic and saving many of the wounded without ever carrying a gun.

Both films are based on true stories and are unflinching in their depiction of violence. Both feature protagonists who are strong Christians. And yet the fundamental difference in these films lies in the way each of these characters interprets Scripture. One story depicts a man who believes he should lay down his arms; the other, a man who takes up arms.

The Birth of a Nation

Nat Turner is a Virginia slave who becomes literate at a young age and is only allowed to read the Bible. As such, he becomes a preacher, encouraging his fellow slaves to take heart and trust the Lord. However, in order to earn more money, his master begins using him on other plantations to preach a message of subordination and obedience to masters, even to those masters who are harsh. At one point, his wife is raped by white men. In anger Nat wants to avenge her, but she reminds him that those who take up the sword die by the sword (Matt. 26:52).

After seeing the suffering of his brothers and sisters on different plantations, Nat begins seeing visions and believes he is being called upon by God to free the slaves, murder their masters and exact justice. The passage he uses as his basis for this comes from 1 Samuel 15, where Samuel gives Saul God’s instruction to punish the Amalekites for their treatment of Israel, sparing no one. Nat holds meetings rallying more slaves until finally, they rebel. The insurrection is short-lived, but in its wake are scores of lives lost, both white and black.

The beginning of “The Birth of a Nation” shows white men and women twisting Scripture to justify slavery. By the end of the film, Nat has also used Scripture to justify his fight against injustice as he and his fellow slaves take up arms.

Hacksaw Ridge

“Hacksaw Ridge” tells the true story of another Virginian, this one white. Desmond Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist who joined the army during World War II. While Nat Turner believed God wanted him to fight and kill, Doss believed God wanted him to lay down his arms and save lives as a medic on the battlefield.

His ideals and convictions are put to the test upon his arrival to boot camp. He is, at least according to the film, quickly singled out as a coward and a man who cannot be trusted to have your back in the heat of battle because of his refusal to even touch a rifle. Of course this couldn’t be further from the truth, as Doss hates the pain and suffering he sees and desires to save life as opposed to taking it. Once he and his division hit Okinawa in the midst of battle, his true mettle shines through as he tends to the wounded and saves the lives of many men. Upon his return home, Doss is awarded several honors including the Medal of Honor, the first of only three conscientious objectors ever to be given the award.

Neither of these films shy away from the faith aspects of their main characters. In both, the Bible is read, quoted and revered. The faith elements never play out in a ham-fisted manner, which is truly refreshing. So how, then, do these two stories that both revere the Bible have such differing views? Nat Turner ends up believing he is an instrument of God’s wrath upon the unjust, and Desmond Doss believes in a turn-the-other cheek meekness that seeks to love the enemy that is mowing down his fellow soldiers. And what, then, does that say about his comrades who are fighting and taking life?

These are the questions I’ve been pondering after seeing these movies two weeks apart. And I don’t have the answers. Instead, I think I’ll pose a new question. How then shall we live? In one story, I see a man who hates injustice and fights for freedom and for the oppressed. In another, I see a man who values every human life, even that of his enemy.

So perhaps my best takeaway from these films is doing what I do with everything I watch, and that is simply to look at it through the lens of the gospel. The gospel offers up so many of God’s attributes, such as justice, forgiveness, love, mercy and grace, to name a few. I’m reminded of Nat’s longing for justice and his sacrifice, and I’m reminded of the mercy Doss offers to those who mistreat him and his forgiveness of the ones who hate him.

These stories are important because they inspire empathy for our fellow image-bearers and inspire us, the audience, to think deeply about complicated issues. But, of course, they are mere shadows of the greater story—the story of a simple man who knew when to turn the other cheek and when to turn over tables. This is the story of a God-man who sacrificed everything for us at the cross, where justice and mercy perfectly coalesced to save sinners.

By / Jun 3

Memorial Day weekend indicated one thing (among others): The summer movie season is here.

Summer has meant blockbuster movies ever since Steven Spielberg sent a man-eating shark into the water and George Lucas sent the Death Star plans to a desert planet. School is out, vacations are on, and Hollywood studios that have saved their most crowd-pleasing efforts until now.

The chances are that you’ll be visiting at least a couple of these summer movies. Here are four questions you can take with you into the cinema that will help you contemplate and savor what you see:

1. Is this movie well-made?

The summer blockbuster is often an action-packed, thrill-a-minute crowd pleaser with plenty to keep your attention. But many times, it will also be a quickly made, unimaginatively written spectacle. Because major movie studios know that people are looking for some quick entertainment from summer movies, it’s common to see an entire season’s worth of predictable “formula films” (let’s face it: The Lone Ranger was basically Pirates of the Caribbean 5) or tired, umpteenth sequels.

While it’s easy to be content with something that merely keeps our attention for two hours, there are deeper joys to be had at the movies. As Francis Schaeffer reminds us, Christians should care about the excellence of art. We should care whether a film script shows creativity and intelligence or is too busy blowing things up to say anything. We should care whether a story is compelling or is something we’ve seen a hundred times before. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask a movie to be well-made. 

2. Does this story resonate with truth? 

Sometimes Christians will exhort one another to test a movie’s worldview and examine it in light of revealed truth. This can be a helpful and often revealing exercise. But the problem is that art, such as film, is not created to be subjected to a rigorous intellectual exercise. Film, like music, is meant to be experienced in an emotional and spiritual sense. It is, as James K.A. Smith says, a “pedagogy of desire,” rather than a purely propositional lesson in worldview.

Instead of plotting a movie on a purely theological grid, a better approach is to ask: “Does this film resonate with truth? Do the arc of the story and the moral journeys of the characters awaken a sense of, ‘Yes, the Scriptures say this,’ or a sense of confusion and doubt?” This kind of questioning requires a well-formed moral imagination and is usually not as black and white as simple worldview tests. But it is exactly the kind of imaginative reflection that art demands.

3. Does this film offer humor or flippancy?

To be honest, I find most new comedy films fairly worthless. Bawdy and off-color humor is one reason, of course; many comedies seem to imagine that raunch is its own reward. But there’s a deeper reason as well: Many comedy movies don’t offer humor; they offer flippancy.

In The Screwtape Letters, the senior demon advises his junior, Wormwood, on the difference between humor and flippancy. Jokes, Screwtape writes, are a species of joy, and joy resides in the orbit of God, not of Satan. Humor is part of the life that humans are given by God, and thus, not in itself useful to the demons. 

Flippancy, on the other hand, is precisely where Screwtape tells Wormwood to keep his patient:

Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it . . . It is a thousand miles away from joy. It deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.

Flippancy is, in other words, a prideful dismissal of life as meaningless, a latent assumption that whatever happens to us should be laughed at for no reason at all, because there is no reason to it in the first place. I’ve seen many “comedies” that make no interesting or warm observations about life but merely guffaw at people and truth because there’s nothing better to do. These are not films that inspire the kind of laughter that leads to joy. 

4. Is this film something you want to exult in with others? 

Whenever we see a great piece of art, our first instinct is to invite others to share our joy. A couple weeks ago, my wife and I saw the latest Captain America film, which I found to be a thrilling and profound summer flick. As we left the cinema, I couldn’t wait to tell my friends to go see it. There’s something about the joy we take in things that isn’t completed until we’ve opened it up to others to exult in.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen movies that I didn’t want to share with others. Perhaps I was surprised by something in the film and was embarrassed to recommend it. There have been times when I’ve thought about what I would tell a friend about a movie, and have realized that I would have so many warnings and caveats that I couldn’t actually recommend it at all. This isn’t a foolproof test, of course; you may have different tastes and expectations than those around you. But it is a useful exercise to ask yourself, “Is this film a pleasure I can share with joy, or is it something I’d rather not talk about with people that I love and trust?” 

Summer is a wonderful season for movie lovers. Make time to catch a flick or two (or 3!) this season, and use these questions to help you not just passively experience a film, but take it captive to the mind of Christ. 

By / Feb 16

Obviously, all comic-book, super-hero movies create a fiction. That’s the point.

Good normally triumphs over evil on a grand stage as the super-hero’s and the villain’s powers are pitted against each other.  

But previous PG-13 rated super-hero movies, such as Iron Man, Spiderman and Captain America, were fictions that most teenagers and even families could appropriately entertain and enjoy.

That is why there is an appeal and an intrigue for young men, indeed men in general, to move beyond the tamer super-heroes to a hero (should we call him that?) like Deadpool, who doesn’t push past, but shreds the moral envelope.

After all, a hero who laces his language with profanity, raunchily enjoys the sexual bestowments of his brazen benefactress (even Ryan Reynolds thought there was too much sex in the film), and is able to define his own rules in fighting “evil,” is a dark fiction many men crave.

Men who would probably be ashamed of verbalizing such fantasies are showing up big at the box office for this new movie. Deadpool grossed over 135 million on its opening weekend, smashing its competition. Its success is already drawing the eyes of Hollywood producers, meaning there will be probably be more films like it.

I agree with Phillip Holmes that watching Deadpool or other sexually explicit and crude films like it is not only morally wrong, but poses devastating moral consequences for the men and women who see them.

The church must decry Deadpool as the toxic danger that it is, and we also must present a more compelling vision—a vision for the less-traveled path to the kingdom of Christ. A vision of how men are to act. A vision for how they are to treat women. A vision for the beauty of sex in marriage. A vision of Christ himself.

The kingdom of Christ offers more

Jesus compared the kingdom of Christ to a treasure that a man found in a field and then sold everything he had to buy that field (Matt. 13:44). The point of the parable is that the joy in obtaining the kingdom infinitely surpasses every wealth or pleasure we could contrive of in this life.

This includes every illicit fantasy, power-play or exotic experience a Hollywood director could conceivably imagine.

The big takeaway is that there is a much better well from which we can drink than what we are offered in smutty movies like Deadpool. There is a much better outlet for the desires of our hearts than staring into the slough of filth, draped with roses.

At the heart of the kingdom of God is Jesus himself. And only Jesus can satisfy the thirsts of our souls (John 6:22-59). These other pursuits, not only morally degrading, fail to satisfy our souls.

Toward a Christ-like honoring of women

The hope of the gospel of the kingdom is not only that we would inherit Christ himself, but that we would be transformed to be like him.

Paul in Romans 8:29 declares, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The hope of Christianity is not only a relationship with Jesus, but the promise of the transformation of our entire being into the very image of Jesus.

This means that Christian men, rather than objectifying women on the screen, should become men who value all women as beautiful image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:27). Jesus clearly delineated the way men should treasure women, by hoisting the standard of purity beyond the superficial, to a new standard of the heart.

“Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27).

Christ’s intention is for men to value all women as image-bearers of God, and Christian women especially as fellow heirs of Christ (1 Pet. 3:7).

There is no room for a hypocritical chink in the armor; no margin to voice allegiance to Christ and then attempt to justify slipping into a theater to see a movie like Deadpool.

In fact, we are to flee from seeing debasing scenes like these. Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29).

Fleeing temptation for the salvation of our souls

Speaking of fleeing, while reading through Genesis, I was recently reminded of the necessity to flee from evil. Joseph encountered a temptation not unlike a Hollywood fantasy many men would crave to see, much more experience (Gen. 39).

Joseph’s boss was out of town, and his wife, pampered and powerful, implores Joseph to sleep with her.

This has all the making of a lustful fantasy, which would sell big at the box office: A female authority figure demanding sex from an inferior male. Many men in that situation would cowardly oblige.

But Joseph resists, not because the offer was not enticing, but because he does not want to “sin against God” (Gen. 39:9). He desires a future kingdom, and not the fleeting pleasures of illicit sex which would be wicked before God.

But the temptation doesn’t end there. She makes repeated advances by asking him to sit next to her or to lie down with her. Again, many would cave under such pressure.

Finally, in frustration, she literally seizes hold of him, ordering him to sleep with her (Gen. 39:12). Now Joseph is faced with a decision: flee at the peril to his very life, or give in to her advances—after all she is superior to him and commanding him to do it.

Joseph flees from her, leaving his robe in her hands, because he seeks the city which is to come, the very kingdom of Christ, more than illicit pleasure (Heb. 13:14).

A perilous crossroads

The church is standing at a perilous crossroads. We can either take the broad road, which leads to destruction and embark on the path which lifts up vulgarity and sexual promiscuity, or we can take the narrow path, the path of righteousness (Matt. 7:12-14).

The path of righteousness seeks the kingdom of Christ and will accept nothing less. The path of righteousness demands that we view women as image-bearers of their Creator and not as twisted fantasy fulfillers. The path of righteousness commends sex as good and beautiful within the covenant of marriage. The path of righteousness extols purity.

At the end of the day, movies like Deadpool, enticing as they are to the modern man, end in one place: death.

Therefore, we must reject such fantasies and like Joseph, seek the city which is to come. We must honor women, and most importantly seek after the kingdom, and even Christ, himself.
 

Editors’ note: Join Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, Alistair Begg, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Darrin Patrick, Matt Carter, and many others at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s Together for the Gospel pre-conference, “The Beauty of Complementarity” (April 11–12). Main sessions are on Monday and Tuesday, with a special women’s micro-conference on Tuesday morning. Register right now and get a free copy of Albert Mohler’s We Cannot Be Silent.

By / Mar 3

South Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak could hardly fathom the reality of what he was seeing in the streets of his city.

What could compel a woman to leave her newborn alone in a cold alleyway, destined to die a harsh and cruel death?

He decided to do something about it.

The baby box

Pastor Lee, who leads a home church known as Jusarang Community in Seoul, built a “baby box” and invited all those who would otherwise abandon their newborns to entrust them to his church’s care. The baby box is a warm, safe receptacle where an infant can be left anonymously. Most of the children left in the box have special needs, birth defects or disabilities.

Focus on the Family’s newest film, “The Drop Box,” tells the inspiring story of this man who has made caring for “unwanted” babies his mission. It explores the motivation behind this sacrificial work, as well as the physical and emotional toll it takes.

To date, more than 600 babies have been left in Pastor Lee’s care. No matter their condition, when the babies are received, they aren’t anonymous additions to a bustling orphanage. Pastor Lee and others at Jusarang treat each of these precious children like a member of the family.

Where does such a perspective come from?

Could it be love?

The boy who started it all

God loves each of those broken children the same way he loves the so-called “perfect” child. And in Pastor Lee’s heart, that love was awakened by God at the birth of Pastor Lee’s own son, Eun-man.

Eun-man was born with severe physical deformities and cognitive disabilities. He spent the first 14 years of his life in a hospital. His twisted limbs are unable to bear his weight. Eun-man, now in his late 20s, has been confined to a bed his entire life and needs constant care.

Pastor Lee is very honest about his reaction when he first saw his son.

“When Eun-man was born, I asked God at that moment ‘Why?’ Why did he give me ‘that kind of baby’? Why didn’t he give me a healthy baby? That thought immediately came to my mind. But it wasn’t even 30 seconds before I repented, ‘God, I am sorry. Thank you for giving him to me.’ So step by step, with faith, prayer and his words, I lived. That’s how I started this work.”

Through Eun-man, Pastor Lee learned the worth of each human life, even those that many might consider to be of diminished value.

That conviction helps drive the work that has saved hundreds of lives and touched thousands of others. That it’s still going on, despite all the challenges Pastor Lee faces – exhaustion, pressure from the local government to close the box, health problems including high blood pressure and diabetes – is a testament to God’s faithfulness and the strength He provides.

The courage to love recklessly

“The Drop Box” will inspire you and it has a unique message for almost everybody.

Churches will be reminded of the impact they can have if they’re willing to venture out into the community and love recklessly. Some families might receive the inspiration or confirmation to adopt. Prodigals may be inspired to come home and freely receive the extravagant love of God the Father.

No matter what God may have in store for those who view the film, I know their lives will be positively impacted after meeting Pastor Lee and the children of Jusarang.

That’s why we’re encouraging church groups to go together, to buy out theaters, and watch “The Drop Box” as a community. Take in the message and engage in conversation afterward. Let that dialogue give birth to dreams, and let those dreams turn into good deeds that visibly demonstrate God’s love to a hurting world.

“The Drop Box” debuts at select cinemas nationwide on March 3, 4 and 5. The special event includes an exclusive panel discussion featuring Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, President of Show Hope, Mary Beth; Brian Ivie, Kelly Rosati, Focus’ vice president of community outreach and myself.

Tickets are available at thedropboxfilm.com.

See you at the theater!

By / Jan 9

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Selma (**** out of 4) is ultimately about the hard sacrifices made by ordinary Americans “in order to form [this] more perfect union” mentioned in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. This sometimes means breaking unjust laws to establish justice or insuring domestic tranquility by disturbing the peace. Our nation’s history and the history of humanity in general is filled with such paradoxes in order to ensure the general welfare of our nation and other civilizations do not leave behind oppressed minorities who have historically been discriminated against and denied equal dignity. The blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity have not always been extended to everyone.

When I taught U.S. History and U.S. Government in a diverse high school, my favorite topics to teach were the causes of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. These topics allowed me to build from foundational knowledge and push my students’ thinking to new levels. One of my favorite activities was dissecting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and discussing non-violent protest with my students, pointing out how restrained and strategic agitation could successfully bring white moderates into the fold, forcing politicians to take action. But my favorite question to pose to my students was this: Would you be willing to be spit on, beat up, called numerous vulgar names, and not respond with any violence or hatred in return? If you knew your name wouldn’t be in the history books, would you still be willing to sacrifice your dignity temporarily so that dignity could be recognized by law and fact for yourself and your posterity?

Throughout my history classes, I tried to demythologize the legends from our own history. I tried to teach Lincoln, MLK, and others as the flawed humans they were so that my students could truly appreciate the obstacles they faced, sacrifices they made, brilliance they displayed, and history God gave them the opportunity to shape. I wanted them to know that these men and women were no different from them and that these eras in history required men, women, and children whose names we’ll never know.

Selma does all of this perfectly, arguably too perfectly as controversy has arisen surrounding the depiction of LBJ as a President trying to make everyone politically happy as Vietnam begins to get out of hand and the nation realizes the 1964 Civil Rights Act didn’t magically solve all racial discrimination. But LBJ is instead depicted as someone sympathetic to Civil Rights, but not omniscient in realizing how history would judge him. This depiction is human and real, therefore resulting in a more authentic tale, meaning LBJ’s ultimate support and work toward passing the Voting Rights Act into law has more power at the conclusion of the film, knowing where he has come from previously. It’s important for Americans of all ages to know that LBJ’s hesitation to push the Voting Rights Act forward in 1964 doesn’t mean he was a racist bigot just as his signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not make him an angel. All humans are complicated. None are perfect.

SELMA

Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is revealed as a Nobel Prize winner in the opening scene of the film who feels detached from the people he is trying to help and navigates the rest of the film (and his life) as someone not dissimilar from Abraham Lincoln – trying to do the impossible by bringing together disparate and warring factions in the name of achieving equality and making that more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquility, and blessings of liberty a reality for all Americans of every race and creed.

David Oyelowo provides a performance that rivals Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, leaving me so transfixed that I often assumed I was watching footage of Dr. King himself. The Dr. King of Selma, just like the historic man himself, is not a perfect man. The film, after dancing around MLK’s infidelity in the first half, addresses Dr. King’s struggles and sins head on. This is not a man with all the answers, but a leader who must overcome his doubts in order to lead in spite of his detractors, his violent critics, and dissenters within his own movement. He often feels alone and like a failure, with everyone seemingly disagreeing and disliking his decisions. This MLK is not a mythological hero, but an imperfect man like us whom God used to bend the arc of history toward justice.

This is one aspect of Selma I appreciated – the film did not shy away from the role of faith and Christianity in Dr. King’s work. Whether it’s the images of rabbis and nuns joining the march or white clergy traveling to Alabama to join the movement, faith is prominent. Dr. King’s sermons are focal points in the film. As Dr. Russell Moore wrote about Ferguson, “The reason African-Americans tend to speak out against racial profiling and disparate sentencing is because often they can imagine their own sons or brothers or nephews in that place. As those in Christ, we have the same family dynamic at work, regardless of whether we are black or white, Jew or Gentile. In the church, a black Christian and a white Christian are brothers and sisters. We care what happens to the other, because when one part of the Body hurts, the whole Body hurts.”

Selmamlk

While the political jockeying and Dr. King’s leadership under fire were enthralling, Selma‘s true power was found in its depiction of ordinary people sacrificing security, comfort, and sometimes even their lives. We’ll never know their names. But they were there on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that Sunday, beat by state troopers. They sat in the pews at the funerals of those who sacrificed everything. They laid the groundwork before MLK came to Selma and continued working to make the dream a reality long after he left.

They showed up at the courthouse to be embarrassed when asked to pay a poll tax they couldn’t afford, pass a literacy test they couldn’t read, and answer questions no white person had to endure in order to register to vote.

They debated around their dinner tables just like Dr. King did with his team, wondering which obstacles to voting and equality should be dismantled first.

They were spit on, beat down, imprisoned, and killed so that the words and principles of our Founding Fathers could become a reality. But what Selma reveals moves beyond America to more fundamental truths about human dignity and equality. It shows what happens when regular people respond with the radical truths of The Bible. Comfort and security is lost but, as Dr. King says late in the film, God sometimes calls us to something greater, fighting peacefully yet forcefully for the imago dei in every human life.

This article was originally pubished at The Wise Guise.

Image Credit: Wayne Taylor
 

By / Apr 30

“What is family?” If you pose that question to 10 different people in today’s culture, you’ll likely get ten very different answers. It will come as a surprise to no one reading this blog that the biblical understanding of the family is in a state of flux. There is simply no longer a consensus on the issue. In our modern context, the word ‘family’ has come to mean almost anything—or nothing at all.

And yet, the answers are right in front of us. We find the blueprint for family throughout history and culture. It is time-tested and reliable. Most importantly, it is laid out before us in the pages of Scripture. If the Church could just recapture that vision and embrace God’s design for family, we could revolutionize our society.

That is the thinking behind Irreplaceable, Focus on the Family’s new documentary film (and its companion small group experience, The Family Project). When our team first started work on these initiatives, we had three concepts at the forefront of our minds: Recover, Renew and Reclaim. We want this documentary to play a part in helping to recover the institution of the family and to ensure that it is enshrined in its proper place at the center of society. When we allow the biblical understanding of the family to become watered down, we’re inviting trouble. Of course, no family is perfect. That’s not what this movie is about. We’re all marred by sin and dysfunction to varying degrees. But it’s imperative that we strive for the ideal.

We also want Irreplaceable to facilitate a renewal of our culture’s understanding about the family. As I have already noted, the historical vision of the family has become so distorted in the 21st century as to become virtually meaningless. But we believe the family offers something unique and important to mankind—something that can’t be replicated when we attempt to tamper with it and redefine it. There’s a reason why God repeatedly uses the language of family to describe our relationship with him. In a very real sense, the community of father, mother and child is a direct representation of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The family is a signpost pointing to the Creator.

Finally, we believe that Irreplaceable will help build momentum to reclaim what has been lost in our culture as a result of the breakdown of the family. If you think about some of the most pressing social issues of our day—divorce, abuse, poverty, addictions, crime, teen pregnancy, academic underachievement and the list goes on—they are, without exception, tied directly to familial brokenness. But research consistently shows that these social ills are dramatically reduced when families are healthy and strong.

The film itself follows host Tim Sisarich (former Executive Director of Focus on the Family New Zealand) on a quest around the world as he consults with commentators and theologians to address questions such as “What is family?” “What is marriage?” and “Why are mothers and fathers important?” Again, you and I might take the answers to those questions for granted. But from a cultural perspective, the answers are very much up for debate.

Along the way, Tim gains insights from a host of renowned experts and theologians, including Eric Metaxas, Michael Medved, Gabe and Rebekah Lyons, Nancy Pearcey and many more. Whether looking at the issue through the lens of theology, or history, or anthropology, all the evidence points to the same conclusion: Stable families are where so many of our society’s wounds begin to heal.

This is true whether you embrace a Christian worldview or not. The family is an expression of God’s common grace to all mankind, and we tamper with it at our peril. So while Irreplaceable is firmly grounded in a biblical worldview, it has a message for everyone. We feel so strongly about this message that we’ve partnered with Fathom Events to host a special one-night screening in movie theaters nationwide on Tuesday, May 6. This would make an excellent event for your church or small group. It also represents an outreach opportunity for colleagues or neighbors who you feel might be open to the film’s message. So invite your friends. To purchase tickets and find participating theaters near you for the May 6 event, go to IrreplaceableTheMovie.com.

We believe Irreplaceable represents a unique opportunity for the Church. As believers embrace the beauty of God’s design for the family and share it with others in their circles of influence, real cultural transformation is possible. In fact, with God’s blessing, it is inevitable. We’ve invested a great deal of effort in this project—and countless prayers. God has been faithful to answer those prayers as he has opened the doors to make this one-night, nationwide screening a reality. Please join us at your local theater on May 6, and please pray that the Lord would use this screening to touch hearts and minds and to help recover, renew, and reclaim the cultural conversation about the family.