Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Is the Televison Series "AD" Worth Watching?



The following is my response to the critics of the TV series AD, based on the Book of ACTS of the Disciples.  I received many letters expressing concern that this series is doing the viewing audience a disservice.  Over the past few weeks, my critics were  concerned that the series concentrated on material that wasn’t in Scripture.  The storyline included a major emphasis on Pilate’s cruelty, a secret plot by Jewish leaders to kill Pilate, and the involvement of Pilate’s wife and Caiaphas’s wife in the minor storylines that led to Pilate’s cruelty. People who wrote me were rightly concerned that AD seemed to be a series about Roman harshness and the subplots that led to the harshness instead of the true story of the Acts of the Disciples. 


I hesitated to express my concern because I didn't want it to appear that Christians were ungrateful to the team of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett just because they weren't producing the series to our "standards."  I kept telling myself that we needed to allow for  "artistic freedom" even when that "freedom" confused the story.  Unfortunately, the "final straw" happened last week. 

When someone asked me if AD was a biblical or fictional account of the early church, I had difficulty answering. That's when I knew that I needed to say something.  A question of "is it true or fiction?" should be easy to answer when it comes to a story based on Scripture, but in this case it is not. AD is certainly based on biblical truth, but much extra-biblical fiction is so woven into the narrative that the story has become very confusing and the truth is getting lost. 


The episodes that I watched primarily focused on the cruelty of Pilate and the harshness of Roman rule. Yes, I was familiar with Roman cruelty, but AD was advertised as “The Story (of Christianity) Continues.” It is necessary to display  Roman cruelty in order to dramatize how this “new religion” survived and thrived during this time.  How did the church develop and grow in grace, beginning to understand and apply of the teaching of Christ?  It seems that the producers are featuring the non-biblical material in the forefront, overshadowing and confusing the truth of Scripture. 

This series is somewhat reminiscent of the recent films "Noah" and "Exodus." Yes, Noah built an ark and Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, but the producers used so much “artistic freedom” that the true stories got lost. Neither of those movies received support from the Christian community.  "Hollywood" couldn't understand why Christians were turned off by "biblical" stories, and the producers of AD are likewise disappointed that the ratings for AD aren't coming close to those of their previous series, "The Bible." Let me give another perspective.  

Believers want to see the TRUTH illustrated on the TV and theater screen, enabling them to answer nonbelievers when they ask, "Is that true or is it fiction?" How does one improve on a story line written by God? There are so many dynamic stories in the New Testament and throughout the whole Bible that they could produce hundreds of programs and movies if they focused on the TRUTH and limited their "artistic freedom" to simply moving the story along and connecting the dots. I don't want to sound ungrateful to Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, for I love and appreciate what they are trying to do, but this series isn’t what was promised.  If it is biblical, it shouldn't be difficult to separate the truth from the fiction.  


We recognize that with their money and "juice" they could have produced trash like "Two Broke Girls" or "Modern Family," but instead they are trying to introduce America to the history of the Christian Church and the struggles of Christ's disciples after His ascension. But when the viewers don't know know if they are watching truth or fiction, what's the point?  I just wish Downey and Burnett would have told the scriptwriters to focus on the text instead of simply being influenced by it. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Killing Jesus: What you need to know before watching!

Killing Jesus: The Movie a Review by Al Menconi March 23, 2015
Killing Jesus is premiering Sunday, March 29 @ 8:PM on The National Geographic Channel

I chose to read Bill O'Reilly's Killing Jesus twice because it contained so much historical information that was unfamiliar to me.  It was like a college class.  I was fascinated to learn when and how Rome changed from a republic to an empire.  I loved finding out about the various Caesars, the wars and the descriptions of the despots who ruled the world at the time of Christ.  So when I heard that the Killing Jesus book would be made into a TV movie, I wondered how they would illustrate all that over abundance of information in less than two hours.  Fortunately, they didn’t.

Instead, they focused on the man Jesus, enhancing the story of His life with interesting tidbits that the average person would not know.  And let me issue an advance warning: this story of Jesus does not resemble any biography of Jesus you have ever seen, for Bill O’Reilly chose to present Jesus as a man, not as God. 

I know that sounds blasphemous, but calm down.  Hear me out before you burn this review and film at the stake.  The film only depicted the various aspects of the life of Jesus that could be proved historically outside of Scripture.  So yes, it portrays the biblical Jesus that Christians love and worship, but not all the stories and details we know from Scripture are included.  Why?  Because they lack an outside-of-Scripture source.

Like all good reporters, O’Reilly and his film writers only used the biblical references that could be verified by non-Scriptural sources.  Jesus’ personal conversations with his disciples and followers are few, as are his miracles, because they didn’t always have a secondary source.  I’m certain that private conversations were enhanced with dialog that could have taken place. 

I expected to see all the old familiar scenes from the Bible, but few were shown.  And the dialog and the excerpts that were featured definitely delineated his human side.  Before we start to criticize, we must remember that Jesus was 100% God AND 100% man.  All the other movies of Jesus that I remember watching emphasized the 100% God element and downplayed the 100% man part of His character.  This film is unique in that it shows Jesus as a man who was human, a mortal who displayed anger or frustration at times, though without sin.

One feature I particularly appreciated: they chose to have Jesus played by someone who wasn’t handsome or unusually attractive.  The protagonist looked like a guy who could have been a carpenter in a dusty, hardscrabble, dingy little village like Nazareth.   This was the first Jesus I have ever seen on film whom I could understand and relate to – except for the sinless part. 

Is it worth watching?  Definitely!  Don’t miss it!  And invite your "seeker" friends.  This film will give you a lot of material to discuss with them.  But don’t expect this Jesus to duplicate all the other movie Jesus figures you have seen and loved.  This One is definitely our God who was crucified and rose from the dead, and the film will offer quite a few “I never thought of that” moments, but don’t hold your breath waiting for Him to walk on the water.  No one had a pocket camera to capture that moment for the non-biblical historians.   

Friday, February 13, 2015

If You’re a Fan of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ Please Seek Counseling

The following is the second half of a insightful article by blogger Matt Welch.  After reading my edited version, you can read his complete blog here.

Fifty Shades of Grey” is symptomatic of a deeper problem, and the problem most definitely deserves our attention. I can tell you this: if my wife expressed any desire whatsoever to go see it, I would be very troubled about the state of our marriage and the condition of her soul (for the record, she hasn’t expressed any interest, and never would, and if she found the book in the house she would probably throw it into the fireplace and laugh maniacally while she danced around its burning carcass).
 
Many other men will feel these reservations deep down, but still accompany their wives and girlfriends to the movie theater this weekend where, like henpecked schoolboys, they will sit by while their women fantasize about being molested at the hands of a handsome billionaire. Or they will stay home and their spouses and significant others will go with their girlfriends, and come home excited by the thought of being manhandled by a psychopath. Hopefully these men have the guts to make their true feelings abundantly clear.

It’s a sad situation. Sadder, still, for the hypocrisy of it. Most women, no matter how progressive they think they are, would be outraged if their boyfriends or husbands went out to a strip club or an adult movie theater. And if the men in their lives became obsessed with reading about other people’s rape fantasies, I imagine a portion of these women would respond with divorce papers and restraining orders. What’s the difference? Only that the culture has declared a man’s piggish behavior repulsive (which it is), but a woman’s charming and liberating.

That’s not really the point, though. Double standards, marketing ploys, bad literature — these are all peripheral issues. We need to consider, or more specifically fans of “Fifty Shades” need to consider, why anyone would find this kind of story entertaining or enjoyable. If you’ve already Fandangoed your tickets and are eagerly anticipating spending your Friday night wrapped up in a twisted fairy tale of fetishism and sexual abuse, ask yourself: why?

This isn’t a neutral thing. It’s not “just a movie.” It is a movie, sure, but it’s a movie with a very particular plot that could only appeal to you for very particular reasons.
If you go and see a documentary about penguins, it tells me that you like penguins, and you probably like penguins because everyone knows they’re fascinating and delightful. If you go and see a “romance” about a wealthy sadist who leads a young woman into a sex dungeon and rapes her repeatedly, it tells me that you like stories about young women being raped repeatedly by wealthy sadists in sex dungeons. That is not just a matter of taste. It’s a sign of something profound and depraved.


Many of us, men and women alike, are walking around with a void in our souls. Maybe it’s because we come from broken homes; maybe it’s because our fathers didn’t love us; maybe it’s because we weren’t raised with a strong faith; maybe it’s because our moral sensibilities have been numbed by the nonstop consumption of violence and sex; maybe it’s because our porn habits have fundamentally altered our sexual proclivities and caused us to crave that which is disordered and perverted. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these, but it’s definitely something.

What I’m trying to say is that you’re watching”Fifty Shades of Grey” to fill some void or find a temporary reprieve from the loneliness and confusion that generally plagues you. I imagine some well adjusted and emotionally fulfilled women read the book, or part of it, a while ago just out of morbid curiosity, but now that everyone knows the story, only people genuinely interested in and attracted to it will be buying tickets to see it.

I wish those people would seek answers elsewhere. I wish they really would talk to a counselor or their pastor. I wish the movie was never produced. I wish Hollywood wasn’t a moral wasteland populated by gutter-dwelling satanists. I wish the author had revealed her torture fetish to her psychiatrist rather than writing it down in a book for 50 million people to read. I wish many things, but it’s all for nothing.

Fans of the book will call me a prude, and the movie will be a hit, and the sequels will be a hit, and 15 years from now they’ll be making romantic films about cannibalism (Fifty Servings of Grey), and we’ll again be told it’s all a bit of naughty fun.

Collectively, our culture is in free fall. Today’s rock bottom is tomorrow’s good old days. I have no delusions about any of this. But individually, we are not slaves to our society. We do not have to float with the cultural current. We can hold ourselves to a higher standard, and I hope you do. Millions of people will see “Fifty Shades” this weekend. You don’t have to be one of them. You’re smarter than that. You’re better than that. Now prove it.

50 Prayers for Our Daughters and Sons by Steve Siler

50 Prayers for our daughters and sons
 Steve Siler
http://www.musicforthesoul.org/resources/somebodys-daughterhttp://www.MusicForTheSoul

Lord I pray that our daughters and sons…

1.  …will be protected from exposure to pornography.

2.  …will learn to honor the dignity and humanity of each individual and treat everyone with kindness and respect.

3. …will develop the inner compass to reject the distorted views of human relationship they see in our pornified culture.

4. …will grow up in a culture that increasingly rejects pornography in all of its forms.

5. …will learn to look to the best interests of others in romantic relationships, treating others the way they would wish to be treated.

6.  …will become adults who see physical intimacy as something sacred.

7.  …will never use sex as a tool to manipulate or to wound.

8.  …will view sex as a gift from God.

9.  …will see sex as something to be shared, not something that is taken.

10.  …will reject voyeurism, unwilling to take something that does not belong to them and giving nothing in return.

11. …will not look for validation or love in the approval of others – particularly with regard to appearance and sexual behavior – but develop a strong inner sense of their worth that is based in an understanding that they are a beloved child of God.

Lord I further pray…

12. …that no girl will think she has to take nude pictures of herself to get a boy to like her and that  ‘sexting’ will become a thing of the past.

13. …that those who have already been damaged by pornography will have their view of sex redeemed and their ability to experience true intimacy restored.

14. …that teachers and mentors would rise up to affirm for them that character matters more than appearance.

15. …that more places of worship will seek to help people find the help they need to break free from the bondage of pornography or heal from brokenness caused by sexual abuse or sexual assault.

16.  …that in the not too distant future advertisers will be called upon to renounce using sex to sell.

17. …that in the not too distant future more film producers will refrain from putting gratuitous sex scenes on the screen.

18.  …that in the not too distant future more television producers will create prime time programming free from sexual innuendo and coarse sexual references.

19.  …that in the not too distant future more music artists and music video producers will feel called to turn away from glorifying causal sex and having women always dress in salacious and immodest outfits.

20.  …that people of faith will rise up and speak for the dignity of all persons.

21. …that people of faith will let their wallets do the talking and pull their support and purchases from companies that profit from pornography or use sex to sell their products – and speak up to retailers when they find material that is displayed within easy view of children to be objectionable.

22.  …that political leaders will hold themselves to a high moral standard, practicing faithfulness in their marriages and refraining from using their position of power to garner sexual favors.

23. …that religious leaders will hold themselves to a high moral standard and set up safeguards that will protect them from scandal and the potential of succumbing to sexual temptation.

24. …that those who create pornography will have a change of heart and that cause them to cease to do so.

25.  …that those who’ve been forced or entrapped into being part of the sex industry will find freedom and healing from the trauma of their experiences.

26.  …that parents will seek strong relationships with their children and have the courage to talk openly with them about sexual issues.

27. …that parents, to protect their children, will be actively engaged in keeping up with changes in technology and the accessibility of inappropriate materials on the Internet.

28.  …that merchants – like Starbucks and McDonalds – and public institutions - like schools and libraries – will be proactive about keeping their patrons safe from pornographic material while online.

29. …that we will learn, as a culture, to look one another in the eye – the window to the soul.

30.  …that prominent spokespeople, especially celebrities and sports stars with influence over our youth, will emerge to speak out on the harms of pornography.

31.  …that our universities will do more to protect women from date rape and create cultures that honor and protect all students.

32.  …that the fashion industry will feel called to a return to modest attire and that this will prove highly profitable.

33. …that the “vampire” craze in youth literature and films will pass as it glorifies violence against women and sexual encounters that are dangerous.

34.  …that male leaders, particularly in the male dominated environments like the military and sports, will rise up to denounce the “boys will be boys” attitude and call for a more honorable view of manhood.

35. …that community leaders, educators, and parents will recognize and work to curb the proliferation of violent and misogynistic video games.

36. …that in the not too distant future the irrefutable brain science on the harms of pornography will become common knowledge.

37. …that in the not too distant future the normalization of pornography created by phrases like “pimp my ride” and “pawn stars” will be considered in horribly poor taste and frowned upon and discouraged in all its forms.

38. …that there will be a new commitment to family and community that gives rise to a paradigm where achievement is consistently valued over appearance, especially for young women.

39.  …that there will be a call for civility in our public discourse that in turn lessens the vulgarity in our media and our personal dialogue.

40.  …that young men everywhere will speak out against objectification of women everywhere they see it or hear it – as if it were being done to their own mother or sister.

41. …that high profile public figures - like former President Bill Clinton - will publicly acknowledge the harm cause by past behavior, ask for forgiveness, and call for a national dialogue on a healthier approach to sexuality.

42. …that women’s rights organizations will be willing to unmask the  “empowerment” claimed by those working in the sex industry.

43. …that “women’s” magazines – like Cosmopolitan - who routinely run sex features will be challenged by women’s leaders.

44.  …that organizations working to tell the truth about pornography – and to help victims of pornography and sex trafficking – will gain more profile and succeed in their efforts.

45.  …that lawmakers will pass and enforce laws that will make it harder for people to profit from the sexual objectification of others.

46. …that, in their lifetime, healthier attitudes about sex will prevail.

47. …that their children will one day inherit a world where it is possible to know the innocent thrill of a first kiss.

48. …that those who have been taken advantage of sexually will find healing and know that they pure and clean in the eyes of God.

49.  …that every girl and every boy will be seen as somebody’s daughter and somebody’s son respectively – as having a family that loves them and a Creator that loves them – and that sexual objectification will diminish all across our land and our world.

50. …that the shades of grey brought on by objectification and abuse will once and for all be chased away by the blinding light of God’s perfect love.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Plugged In Review of: Old Fashioned

I get the best movie reviews from PluggedIn.com.  I know you'll appreciate their review of this wholesome film.   
Al Menconi, AlMenconi.com

Old Fashioned

Amber Hewson has a curious way of deciding where she's going to live next: looking at the gas gauge in her car. Every so often, when she's feeling fidgety, she'll just pack up her stuff, hit the open road and drive until the needle points at empty. That tells her when to coast into whatever anonymous burgh she's near and start the next chapter of her life. It's a pattern that's already propelled her across 14 states.

This time, her destination is an archetypal everytown nestled in rural Ohio. A cursory glance at the classifieds after landing a job at a flower shop yields exactly what she's looking for: a cheap furnished apartment.

Amber's prospective new residence sits atop an antique shop dubbed Old Fashioned. Before long, the store's owner, a quietly intense thirtysomething bachelor, is showing Amber up the stairs to check it out.

Nothing odd about that. But then Clay Walsh refuses to enter the apartment with her, loitering on the landing outside as she wonders what's up with this landlord. "Don't take it personally," he explains. "I made a promise—to never be alone with any woman who's not my wife."

Amber misunderstands, thinking Clay's married. He tells her he isn't. She's amused. She's intrigued. She decides to stay.

When her gas stove won't light, Clay shows up to fix it … handing her a blanket to keep warm with while she waits outside. She thinks he's joking. He's not. "Open that door and I raise your rent," he scolds when she starts to come back inside.

Still, the physical space separating them doesn't keep them from talking. And talking slowly kindles something between this free-spirited woman and conviction-clad man. Something good. Something romantic. Something old-fashioned. 

Positive Elements

Clay Walsh is the epitome of a gentlemanly, chivalrous man. He's crafted for himself a long list of convictions about how he intends to relate to any woman who might one day become his wife: not being alone together, not kissing until after saying "I do," not doing anything that might expose himself or any woman in his life to undue temptation or emotional distress. Those convictions are undergirded by his Christian faith … and they're also a hard-won response to the wild life he once lived. (More on that later.)

His path proves to be a positive one as he learns to balance his guilt and shame with forgiveness and hope for the future. He takes things very, very slowly with Amber. And with righteousness always on his mind, we see him grapple with and finally overcome the hesitancy he feels about moving forward at all due to his deep fears about making more big mistakes.

Clay's great aunt, Zella, wisely and winsomely tries to help him differentiate between faith that is life-giving and an expression of it that's emotionally claustrophobic. She says, "I admire you so much. In all my years, I've never known anyone work as hard at being good. [But] the way you carry ancient, crusty, useless guilt like a trained pet poodle you want to show off, like an excuse—let it go. What are you waiting for? How long? You are loved. You are so loved! Oh, my child, you are. Listen to me, Clay! Enough."

In a parallel way, Amber longs for love in the wake of a disastrous marriage and a string of unfulfilling romances. She needs to know that a man who's interested in her really wants to be with her. And, eventually, Clay does learn to accept Amber for who she is, with her completely returning the favor. It's a journey for them that requires emotional risk, a slow forging of trust, offered forgiveness and letting go of past hurts.

Clay, obviously, believes deeply in the sanctity of marriage. And when his good friends David and Lisa (who have a child together) decide to make their move from cohabitation to wedlock, Clay happily applauds them. 

Spiritual Content

Clay and Amber have barely commenced their connection when spiritual issues begin to pop up. Amber says of herself, "I'm spiritual. I believe in God, but it's not like I believe everything in the Bible or anything." Clay is way past that point, having given himself wholly to Christ sometime after his crazy college days. When Amber blurts out, "Don't even tell me you found Jesus or something!" Clay says, "More like He found me." He says that when he read the Bible for the first time, "I couldn't make fun of it any more. I felt accountable for the first time in my life. … And it was genuine and it was real." When Amber asks if he has any favorite parts of the Bible, Clay quotes, "Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new."

Then, flipping the spiritual coin, the film shows us how Clay's determined drive to control himself and his life—to try to be perfect now after messing so many things up then—has alienated him from other believers. He admits that he quit going to church because "I kind of had my fill of the hypocrite show." But his aunt challenges him to not see his faith as only a self-improvement tool, scolding him, "I, I, I, I, I—stop twisting it. Wake up. Get over yourself. You and your pain. Stop using the grace of God as a brick wall. Do you get this upset over children starving? Over anyone else's suffering? … There's no goodness without mercy. There's no virtue without forgiveness."

When Amber, who has never been to church and wants to experience it with Clay, asks to go, he takes her. We watch as children sing, "God loves everyone the same/He knows your giggle/And He knows your name." It's implied that Amber finally finds our Savior for herself later in the film, tearfully quoting Jesus' words, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you." She then says to Clay at a critical point, "I came here ready to forgive you no matter what. Isn't that the idea? Isn't that the Good News?"

Sexual Content

"So you won't be alone with a woman?" Amber probes when Clay first tells her he won't come into the apartment with her.

"That's the plan."

"Anywhere?"

"Within reason."

When their conversation turns to dating, Clay tells her, "I don't believe dating trains us to be good husbands and wives, you know, life partners. It just trains us to be good dates. That's it. It trains us to be skilled in the superficial."

And so, even as friendship turns to romance, we see Clay flexing only in very small ways when it comes to the sexual boundaries he's set for himself. He holds Amber's hand in church. But he never so much as kisses her on the lips, even when he proposes marriage. When Amber quips early on that not having sex doesn't necessarily make a man a good husband, Clay responds, "No, but learning to control myself might. I mean, I don't know if you know this, but half of all marriages experience infidelity. I never want to be divorced. Love should come first, not the other way around." He also paraphrases 1 Corinthians 6:19, saying, "Your body is a temple." And he philosophizes, "I know making you wait out in the cold wrapped in a blanket seems ridiculous. but a lot of the boundaries that used to be common, that we've thrown away, they're there to protect us."

We do eventually hear about Clay's and Amber's checkered pasts. Spending their "dates" going through a premarital counseling book, they're prompted to talk about their sexual history. Amber counts five men that she's had sex with—including one she was briefly married to at the age of 19—and several more that she's done "heavy petting" with. Clay says, "I can't even remember how many girls I've been with." The life he lived, he mourns, was one in which he held little regard for himself or his sexual partners. And he ended up badly hurting a serious girlfriend named Kelly by having sex with someone else after she refused to have sex with him.

We learn that he and his buddies made a series of "uncensored" Girls Gone Wild-style videos. We see a DVD's cover (there's no nudity) and watch Amber as she cries while viewing a few minutes of one. And a couple of guilt-ridden flashbacks from Clay's perspective reveal drunken young women flirting and partying. (We mostly see faces.) Clay renounced all that when he came to Christ, but his buddy Brad went on to become a popular, sexist and womanizing radio shock jock (in the mold of Howard Stern). Brad, going by the radio handle Lucky Chucky, is now as cynical and debauched as Clay is virtuous.

[Spoiler Warning] Sexual temptation comes for both Amber and Clay late in the story. Each is faced with the choice of whether they'll sleep with someone else. Neither gives in, though the struggle is shown to be hard. (But never, onscreen, in graphic or even sensual ways.) Temptation also comes for David at his bachelor party when a stripper dressed as a security guard shows up. As soon as she takes off her scarf in a seductive way, Clay confronts his friend, asking him to stop her performance, begging him to consider the feelings of his bride-to-be. (Clay then leaves the room, and David does make her quit.)

The stripper's bra can be seen through her white shirt. And Amber wears some off-the-shoulder tops. We see the very top of her shoulders as she slides down into her bathwater. Brad brags about his sexual indiscretions on his radio show, making sexist comments and blasting romantic worldviews.

Violent Content

Clay gets into a very short back-and-forth shoving match with another man. We hear that Amber's previous boyfriend was physically abusive. (Her arm is in a cast at the beginning of the story.)

Crude or Profane Language

Aunt Zella flippantly exclaims "good lord" and "my lord." Clay good-naturedly calls her an old "bag."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Amber and others drink wine, beer and/or hard liquor in several scenes. At a particularly discouraging moment, Amber goes drinking at a bar, seemingly intent on getting herself good and drunk. Flashbacks show partying.

Conclusion

Intentionally released in theaters on the same weekend as Fifty Shades of Greyto try to serve as counterprogramming, or even an antidote to that film's fiercely unhealthy take on sexual expression, Old Fashioned works hard to live up to its title. But it works just as hard to be a really good (in every sense of that word) romance. Clay Walsh's deeply held convictions about dating, sex and marriage are anachronistic outliers in our libertine, anything-goes age, a time in which even Christians all too easily share themselves sexually long before they're married. And yet he wears his growing love for Amber on his sleeve in a way that might warm even the most jaded among us.

But the movie doesn't stop there. And it never implies that this finally happy couple will live happily ever after without doing the hard work of two becoming one. Clay and Amber are no two-dimensional stand-ins who merely move through the motions of a rose-colored courtship. Rik Swartzwelder, who stars as Clay while also writing and directing Old Fashioned, skillfully uses the character of Zella to help our hero realize that spiritual performance and piety, if not properly directed and balanced, can turn your gaze inward instead of upward and outward. Even though he's had a relationship with God for years, Clay still needs to hear and internalize the Gospel message of grace in order to pursue Amber wholeheartedly. It's Amber, while not fully grasping onto faith until nearly the end, who in some ways has a better understanding of grace and forgiveness than Clay does.

Such a complex portrayal of these two characters' growing and emerging faith, merged with the fact that both have made significant mistakes with regard to their sexual choices before meeting each other, adds a layer of realism to Old Fashioned that's sometimes missing from Christian movies. It's a grown-up reality that should keep the film well away from the eyes of younger children. But it's never gritty enough in the execution to unduly repel families with older teens as parents seek to carefully guide them through the world of love and sex and relationships.

That's because amid all the complexity of grappling with life and love and faith, Old Fashioned never wavers in its old-fashioned convictions that Clay so laudably latches onto. The result is a unusual thematic emphasis on purity and self-control coupled with forgiveness and grace … right there in the middle of a grand romance.

How '50 Shades of Grey' Harms Women

FIRST-PERSON: How '50 Shades of Grey' harms women & Jesus saves them

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- We commonly hear today from a secular culture and from many voices of progressive Christianity (so-called) that the Bible is oppressive to women. Men are called to be heads of their home, goes the line, and women are called to submit, and that makes the Bible hugely problematic.


Let me make four points to guide a possible response to this common objection and to "50 Shades of Grey" in particular, which opens in theaters Friday.


1) This is a sham accusation, of course. Men are called to be heads, but in the image of Christ. They're called to lay their lives down for their wives (see Ephesians 5:22-33). The Bible never enfranchises men treating women anything less than purely and lovingly (1 Peter 3:7). The man a godly woman submits to is not some goofball with a title he didn't earn. To the fullest possible extent, with every fiber of his being, he's supposed to love his wife like Jesus loves His bride. Nothing less than perfection is the standard for masculine conduct and manly headship. High stakes, these.

Not so with secular culture. There is no extant moral code for men and women. Christianity is outmoded, bygone and repressive. In its place, the postmodern West has adopted, well, not much of any ethical standard, really. Into the vacuum come cultural fodder like 50 Shades of Grey, based on the best-selling book. In this film and book, a playboy named Christian Grey enters into a relationship with Anastasia Steele. Grey sexually uses and abuses Anastasia, who finds herself drawn to the man despite his roughness.


In the Bible, an abusive male sexual predator is an abomination. In secular culture, an abusive male sexual predator is a celebrity. The difference could not be more stark.


2. Christianity disciplines abusive men. A man who sexually uses and abuses women will be excommunicated from the church, reported to the police, and opposed with the full force of biblical righteousness. Not so with the culture that promotes 50 Shades of Grey. A man who sexually uses and abuses women is cool, mysterious and compelling.


Let me speak as strongly as I should here: 50 Shades of Grey is disgusting, despicable and unerringly awful for women. Don't view this film as just a film. Know that it is much more. It is representative of the new sexual progressivism and its amoral worldview. 50 Shades of Grey speaks to where things are headed in our culture. We should not expect that postmodernism will protect women. It will do no such thing. We should not expect that it will ennoble men and call them to self-sacrificial responsibility. It will do no such thing. We should not expect that postmodernism will bless children and strengthen the family. It will do no such thing.


Those who work against biblical manhood and womanhood, who fight the Scripture's teaching as marginalizing are in fact undermining the last cultural defense that still stands against male predation and sexual suffering.


3. 50 Shades of Grey may seem exciting, enticing and alluring. It is in truth nihilistic, degrading and devastating. Any woman who has been sexually abused will be very clear that there is nothing romantic, fun and satisfying in the experience. It's unthinkable -- but true -- that this is the vision of the good life being offered to and received by many, many women today. Abuse of women is evil to the very core of what evil represents. Yet our double-minded culture decries "rape culture" and then -- in a spasm of confusion -- turns around and extols what it just condemned.


Think about how confusing sexual mores are today for young men and women. There is effectively no standard of sexual conduct on many secular college campuses, for example, outside of mutual consent. But media like 50 Shades of Grey entice young men to sexually abuse women while exhorting young women to engage in harmful sexual practices. Honestly, what kind of twisted, deviant culture is this?


The church must be clear against the backdrop of such confusion. No system of thought more dignifies women than biblical Christianity. Our culture and our world desperately need it. But in a world turned upside down by the fall, many people -- including professing Christians -- make gospel faith out to be the problem. They try to present biblical complementarianism as evil. This is a lie. We must not believe it.


There is evil in every human heart; no church is perfect. Abuse can and does happen even in Christian homes and churches, but we must remember that when it does, no gospel-loving church celebrates it. No movie is made to sell it. Such sin is condemned and opposed and reported to authorities and then dealt with in the household of God. No, it is not the Scripture that harms women and subjugates them. It is a sexualized culture that has loosed men from their role as Christ-like heads and encouraged them to gratify their lusts with women without recourse.


4. There is one, and exactly one, source of ultimate hope for man-woman relationships today. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel, the message of Christ crucified and raised for sinners like us, takes predatory men and fallen women and turns them into trophies of grace. This is not a limited redemption. The worst of the worst can be saved. The abusive, the predatory, the abused, the hopeless -- all alike find everlasting salvation in the cross of Jesus as they turn from this world and run into the strong and safe arms of Christ.


Remember these words when 50 Shades of Grey is lauded in coming days. You're not witnessing something beautiful and hopeful. You're seeing something diabolical and twisted, a force so strong that only one man can undo it: Jesus Christ, the self-sacrificing Savior of His wandering, unfaithful bride, the church.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Do We Confuse God with Santa Claus?

Do We Confuse God with Santa Claus?
Do we ever confuse God with Santa Claus?  What a foolish question.  Of course we know the difference between God and Santa Claus.  I can’t imagine any sane person who would purposely confuse God with Santa, but consider these points:

1. Both dwell in distant places uninhabited by humans.

2.  Jesus has promised to return for His own; Santa will return to your town this Christmas.

3. They both see us when we are sleeping or awake.

4. Both have a list, and show a clear concern with “goodness” and “badness.”

But note the MAJOR differences between God and Santa:

Santa has a “naughty and nice” list, and he only brings toys to “good little girls and boys.” You had better be good because Santa is coming to town with a list that he’s checked twice.  No toys for you if your name is on the wrong list.  This is reinforcing legalism.

Jesus likewise has a list.  His list has the name of every believer in His Book of Life. This list is not a reward based on good behavior but a list that based on His grace. There is nothing we can do to earn His favor or lose it (Eph 2:8-9). This is teaching grace. 

If you make Santa’s “nice list,” he’ll give you anything you ask.  You’ve earned it. By contrast, Jesus gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want. 

Santa serves us by giving us gifts. By contrast, our ultimate purpose in life is to serve Jesus out of deep gratitude.

Santa is a myth.. Jesus is real. 

Okay, we hit the basics.  But how do they affect our behavior?

I have met and read about many believers who conclude that God doesn’t love them or doesn’t exist because they didn’t receive their desired request.  It is my sincere belief that these people are simply confusing the myth of Santa with the reality of Jesus. 

How can we help our children understand the difference between Santa and God? 

First, make certain that you and your children understand the difference between God and Santa (see my points above).

Then explain to your children why you believe the Bible is true.  This will help to reinforce the truth of the Christmas story in your life as well.  As a teacher, I realized that I never really understood a lesson until I was able to explain it to others. 

Second, tell your children the story of the real Saint Nicolas (Santa Claus), the Bishop of Myra (in Asia Minor) during the 4th century (http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/my-kind-of-santa/). Saint Nicholas wanted to honor the Christ child by giving gifts to those in need.  The historical truth provides a better story than the myth about some “jolly fat guy” who makes lists and brings gifts to those on his “good list.” 

Finally, make certain you and your family understand God’s grace by explaining WHY Jesus was born. It’s a great story (Luke 2). 

During this Christmas season, you and your family will hear countless songs about Santa making a list of who is naughty and nice, etc.  May I offer a suggestion?  Every time you hear a song like that, thank God that He doesn’t evaluate our goodness by our deeds.  Thank Him for seeing us only through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.