Watching Movies from a Christian Worldview: 10 key questions to discuss

When it’s hot outside one of the coolest things to do is watch a movie. Aside from going well with popcorn and cold drinks, movies go very well with discussion, because every movie has a message. Every writer, director and producer has a worldview, a view of truth about the way the world works. And it always finds expression in their movies.

A good movie discussion will tease it out and help us think about how it lines up (or doesn’t) with a Christian worldview. What is the movie’s message? Is the message true? Movies are best enjoyed in families and community where we can ask 10 Key Worldview Questions (below) and more.

Movies don’t just tell us ideas, they show them in the context of a story. A well-told story can connect with our hearts in ways that facts and precepts do not.

C.S. Lewis has said that we have two ways of knowing: imagination and reason. By engaging our imaginations, stories/movies can torch our desires, making an end run around our reason.  So we need to take a closer look at stories to see how they line up with our reason and belief. (If you look at Lewis’s life, it’s interesting to see how he stopped writing books on apologetics and started writing books working the same Biblical ideas into stories.)

Celebrating July 4th as Peacemakers

America’s birthday comes at a good time this year. In the midst of escalating cultural and political tensions, the Supreme Court resignation of Justice Kennedy has thrown gasoline on an already hot fire. The anniversary of our founders love for America and their great sacrifice to establish and protect it calls us to recommit ourselves to the same love and sacrifice. How? Quite simply…

@ the Smithsonian

…every one of us can take time from our busy schedules to serve and pray.

Many of us as evangelical Christians tend to live in suburban bubbles isolated from the people who cannot afford to be our neighbors. July 4th calls us to love America by reaching out to fellow citizens who need our time and attention, our prayers and our touch.

Our normal default is to focus our service on our families and our churches. But we can’t just fiddle while Rome burns. We need to challenge ourselves to reach outside our bubble and serve the very people that the Lord Jesus loved to touch. The very people whose needs are often championed by political activists with whom we disagree. Refugees. Prisoners.

What has the Lord gifted you to do? How can you take it to people at the margins?

Here in Columbia, South Carolina I have the privilege to go into prison with a team from Columbia International University. Once a quarter we take in a meal for about 40 prisoners and eat with them. One of the guys last Wednesday said “This is so good. I haven’t eaten fried chicken in 20 years.”

Samson-Making Israel Great Again

The Blinding of Samson-Rembrandt

Reading through the Old Testament book of Judges lately and I’m struck by how God raised up Samson to make Israel great again. The Angel of the Lord visited his barren parents and promised them a son who would “begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” As auspicious a beginning as John the Baptist.

God’s Spirit “rushed” upon Samson and enabled him to kill Philistines who had been oppressing Israel for forty years. When he called out to God for strength, even for water, God provided. He empowered Samson to slaughter 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, then cracked open a rock to replenish him with water.  Samson judged Israel 20 years and is included in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith.”

And yet, Judges 13-16 portrays him as a strongman who was a narcissistic liar, a womanizer, an arrogant and boastful loudmouth, cunning and shrewd, thin-skinned and bent on mayhem and revenge.

A Brief Summary of the Colorado Baker Case in the Supremes’ Own Words

This case is so important for freedoms of religion and speech still to be determined, including your own freedoms, that it’s worth reading this short summary of what the Justices actually said in their own history-making words. 

The Colorado baker who fought for his freedoms of religion and speech

Last week a happy Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, celebrated his religious liberty at the Supreme Court. Maybe you read headlines like, “Court rules in favor of baker who refused to make wedding cake for gay couple.” As you read these excerpts of their opinions below you will grasp so much more of the issues, context, and future challenges to our freedoms than just reading headlines and short quotes. (My words appear in italics.) Here’s a powerful example from Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion:

“Phillips told the couple, ‘I’ll make your birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same sex weddings.’  It is hard to see how this statement stigmatizes gays and lesbians more than blocking them from marching in a city parade, dismissing them from the Boy Scouts, or subjecting them to signs that say “God Hates Fags”—all of which this Court has deemed protected by the First Amendment.

“Moreover, it is also hard to see how Phillips’ statement is worse than the racist, demeaning, and even threatening speech toward blacks that this Court has tolerated in previous decisions. Concerns about “dignity” and “stigma” did not carry the day when this Court affirmed the right of white supremacists to burn a 25-foot cross; conduct a rally on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday; or circulate a film featuring hooded Klan members who were brandishing weapons and threatening to ‘Bury the niggers….’…The First Amendment gives individuals the right to disagree about the correctness of Obergefell and the morality of same-sex marriage.”

Two Hidden Truths that Deepened the Joy and Meaning of the Royal Wedding

On May 19th Great Britain’s Prince Harry married American Meghan Markle. As soon as it ended, the TV commentators swooned : “The whole room was filled with happiness.” “It’s enough to make me believe in love again.” It was a joyful occasion. The prince was dashing. The bride radiant in her tiara. But there was also a beautiful subtext woven into the ancient ceremony that may have contributed to inspiring people to want to get married…stay married…even believe in love again.

In today’s cynical hook-up culture, it lifts our spirits to see a bride and groom promise to love and cherish one another till death. While almost three billion people around the world delighted in the beauty of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s marriage ceremony, I wonder how many of the guests and viewers really grasped the deep truths woven into the familiar words.

My Written-in-Real-Time Blog of Billy Graham’s Funeral

A speaker by speaker, song by song, verse by verse summary, with brief commentary, of Billy Graham’s funeral in Charlotte, NC on March 1, 2018.

To me, it felt a little bit like the days after 9-11. The enchantment of this world was momentarily broken, and the curtain pulled back on the ultimate reality of what is good, true and beautiful. Thank you, Billy Graham, for pointing the way home in life and death.

Setting—Tent for 2,300 people positioned for the view to perfectly frame the Billy Graham library/museum, an enlarged dairy barn-styled building with a silo beside it. And to the left, the relocated dairy farm-style home in which he grew up. Barely pinkening redbud trees line a split rail fence.

It could be the cameras, but it looks like everyone is in navy. (the new black?) President Trump. Melania. The Pences. Ben Carson, N. Carolina governor. Nikki Haley. Sen. Ted Cruz. Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Max Lucado. Beth Moore. Jewish yarmulkes. Orthodox Patriarch in black headgear. A missionary to bedouin tribes  and other missionaries, unknown to us, but some of the “great ones” in God’s kingdom.

Linda McCrary-Fisher sings “Until Then” to open the funeral and David Bruce, Graham’s executive assistant, welcomes guests.

Donald Wilton-Pastor of First Baptist Spartanburg gives Scripture reading and invocation. He reads from Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Graham joined his church in 2008 and Wilton has visited him weekly in recent times. He travelled w/ the family to Washington and will conduct the graveside service.

Hymn-“All Hail The Power of Jesus Name.” Billy’s family singing lustily without programs. Pres Trump and Pences using programs. And I’m singing along too.

#metoo: Sorting through our closeted feelings, the backlash, and the tension between justice and mercy

Yes, #metoo. Thankfully not the seriously damaging kind. Even so, I remember how in years past I felt all the feelings that have been swirling around since the reveal of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predations launched the movement in October…Surprise. Disgust. Did that really happen? Did he really say that? Put his hand there? Why didn’t I say something?

On the Mexico City Metro I did. I turned and glared and called the groper out (quite loudly!): “Que poca educacion tienes!” How little education you have!

But in my 20’s when it came to my boss’s boss, an elected official, sad to say, I simply tolerated the continuous flirtations and jousted back. He was three times my age and a very powerful man in Texas. I played the game and I’m sorry I did. Also sorry I didn’t graciously tell one of my best friend’s husband that his p—- joke wasn’t worthy of him. 

World-weary? “All Things New” torches our hope

The ultimate fix for culture wars and chaos, pain and loss

You probably saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in protest for Right to Life and women’s empowerment last weekend. On Capitol Hill the Democrats in their trench shouted, ‘Protect Immigrants!” while Republicans in theirs shouted, “Protect citizens! Protect the military!”

And we watch. War-weary, just wanting these people to do their jobs and run the government. The shutdown shut down, but the “cultural war for the soul of America” as Pat Buchanan first described it, continues—this daily battle over “who we are and what we stand for as Americans.”

Did you hear any of the speeches from the Senate floor? It was as if Democrat Schumer and Republican McConnell each described the shutdown from totally different planets. As my gut tensed I wondered, “How will this war ever end?” It used to be that the war was fought during election season and now it’s fought every day.

Suddenly, unbidden, words and images flooded in…

A Christian Response to Growing Accusations that Trump is Mentally Unfit

Accusations that not only threaten your job, but your soul

In December Dr. Bandy Lee, a Yale Psychiatry professor and the editor of a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, was invited to address congressmen and women about accusations that Trump was unfit to hold the office of president. And when, in a tweet to Kim Jong Un, Trump boasted about his “bigger nuclear button” she released a statement:

“We write as mental health professionals who have been deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s psychological aberrations…We believe that he is now further unraveling in ways that contribute to his belligerent nuclear threats.”

The movement began with a petition, first circulated as his campaign began, with now almost 70,000 signatures of health professionals who have violated their professional ethics because they believe they have a “duty to warn.”

While most are focusing on attacking or defending President Trump’s mental stability, I was struck by what a corrosive assault it must be to the man’s soul to see this conversation gaining momentum. How should we respond?

3 cheers for Churchill Darkest Hour movie and a tear for the opposition

When the Christmas dust settles and it’s time for a holiday outing, Darkest Hour is that rare film that not only entertains but inspires. Yes, I laughed at the good comedic writing and delivery when my girlfriends drug me to Thor Ragnarok. But our culture offers so much cotton candy and not too many feasts of rich food.

Darkest Hour explores the life and death decision Winston Churchill faced as soon as he became prime minister: whether to negotiate for peace with Hitler and his formidable war machine or prepare to fight an enemy that was gobbling up more of Europe every day they deliberated.

Gary Oldham is the Meryl Streep of male actors–he totally disappears into his characters. Two hundred hours in the makeup chair for this movie and he IS Churchill. The campy villain of The Fifth Element has pretty much disappeared. Oldham plays Churchill with plenty of cheek and bravado, but also as the intellectually gifted statesman, Inspirer in Chief and grand master of the King’s English that he was. He may win an Academy Award for this performance.

Want to watch women laughing, learning and cooking together?

(the perfect primer for holiday cooking)

Take a peek at our Apples of Gold power point below. Based on the invitation (in Titus 2) for older women to mentor younger women in kindness, loving their husbands and children, hospitality and other big issues, we gathered for 7 weeks this fall for cooking lessons and Bible Study.

Liisa and Judi, our cooking mentors taught us how to make everything from pulled pork to cheesecake, how to choose olive oils and knives and whip up a perfect mug of frothy coffee. Then, after Bible study and discussion, they served up the yummy lunchtime results of their labors–the perfect setting for going deeper on our topics.

Luther was anti-semitic. Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. Three reasons we should still honor them.

Jack with Jefferson at Monticello

Last week, the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, I honored Martin Luther in this post and two messages. One person responded, “How can we celebrate a man who was an anti-Semite?” Not just a little anti-Semitic. Which of the following sentences do you think are Luther’s and which do you think are Hitler’s?

“…eject them forever from this country…mercy will reform them but little. Therefore, away with them!”

“…set fire to their synagogues or schools,” and let “all their prayer books and Talmudic writings be taken from them…Let their rabbis be forbidden to teach on pain of loss of life and limb.”

Let “their houses also be razed and destroyed…[and let] safe-­conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…let them stay at home.”

Let “usury be prohibited to them, and all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping…they have no other means of earning a livelihood than usury, and by it they have stolen and robbed from us all they possess.”

“…we let them get rich on our sweat and blood, while we remain poor and they suck the marrow from our bones.”

The rest of Luther’s story, Gods Providence and our great legacy of gifts

It so happened that Luther, an intellectual genius, was also a great Biblical scholar and a writer with tremendous command of the German language. His audience found his powerful Biblical insights and courage to call out the Church almost irresistible.

@ Ransom Center for the Humanities, Univ of Texas at Austin, one of five in the US

In God’s providence Luther posted his 95 Theses not long after the invention of the printing press. In 1450 Gutenberg had published the first printed Bible (in Latin, of course)

Sixty-seven years later, on Oct 31, 1517, Luther hand wrote his 95 theses IN LATIN-a summons to fellow professors at Wittenberg University to a theological debate. His students had them translated into German and printed.

Back in the early days of the printing press, there were no copyrights and no authors’ permissions required. Printers printed whatever they thought would sell. And without his knowledge, sales of Luther’s 95 Theses took off. Within two weeks all the surrounding towns were discussing it.

Start November by Giving Thanks for the Reformation at 500 Years

What does the first post to go viral mean to us and what do we take for granted?

Suppose you wanted to know God and follow him. How might you get to know him? Where would you begin? Maybe you’d like to read what he said…500 years ago your only option would have been a Latin Bible.

Maybe you’d like to go to church…500 years ago your only option would have been a Latin mass.

You could pray…but suppose you felt unworthy. You wanted to come before God but felt you needed to begin by confessing your sin to him. You would need to confess to a priest. Rather than merely listening to your confession, by the 1500’s confessors had been taught to quiz church members–asking them the details of their sin, especially sexual sin with others. Or alone.

Finding Meaning When We Can’t Find a Motive

An LA Times headline blares “What drove Las Vegas shooter to kill? We don't know, and it drives us crazy”

Lennon’s memorial marker in Strawberry Fields, Central Park NY

I watched the most riveting story on CNN of a woman who held the hand of two Las Vegas shooting victims as they died. She wanted to honor the moment of their death with a caring, loving presence, staying with one body for hours until his girlfriend could come and be with him. Meanwhile she was constantly in contact with his girlfriend and his mother, telling them every detail of his passing, listening to their tearful remembrances and stories of his life. She wanted to make his death more meaningful.

At the end of her story the camera slowly faded away with a soft piano musical pad underneath. The first few bars sounded exactly like John Lennon’s signature song, “Imagine.” And I sat transfixed by the idea of that song being played over that story. After a couple of bars the music modulated into other chords, another tune. But I was deeply struck by the lingering idea of the juxtaposition of Lennon’s lyric with the carnage in Vegas: “Imagine there’s no heaven…above us only sky….”

I didn’t realize it, but there is actually a growing tradition to sing or play “Imagine” in the wake of tragedy. The morning after the ISIS-inspired shootings at the Bataclan in Paris a pianist hauled a grand piano in front of the concert venue and played “Imagine” as a plea to end this religious inspired slaughter. The video went viral. How do Lennon’s lyrics and life speak to our motives for devaluing others?

More important than Taking a Knee or Standing…

There comes a point where a certain American citizen cannot honor or celebrate what this nation has done. To do so would violate a conscience that simply cannot value what this nation values. Should that citizen be compelled to show honor or celebrate on pain of losing a job? Or paying fines?

Suppose we are not talking about NFL football players taking a knee, but citizens who could not in good conscience honor or celebrate a gay wedding. They could not use their artistic expression to create flower arrangements or make cakes or calligraphy invitations. Should they be fined so much that they lose their business? That has happened to several Christians, and many believers have united in support behind them. Our tradition tends to honor freedom of conscience.

Do we really want to obligate these athletes to act contrary to conscience?

Do you think of yourself as a patriot? A nationalist? What is the difference?

Is there any tension between being a nationalist or a patriot and seeking God’s kingdom?

As seen in Europe this summer

After his Tuesday speech at the UN, President Trump was again hit hard and often for being a nationalist. Why are so many so critical? Is it the same as love of country? As believing that America, among the nations of the world, is exceptional? Even superior? Is that so bad?

What is patriotism?

Webster’s defines “patriot” as “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” We sing that America is beautiful for “patriot dreams” which evokes the ideals of our founders woven into our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They dreamed of a nation where all of us who have been created with equal value and worth in God’s image will receive equal justice under the law. Where we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Where our elected representatives will govern with the consent of “we the people.”

Things are feeling a little um…apocalyptic lately

Is this God's judgment?

Like an opening fanfare we experienced a total eclipse of the sun. As a native Houstonian living in Columbia, South Carolina, now we are writing checks and sending Facebook touches to Harvey-flooded friends back home and lashing down our deck furniture in anticipation of Irma. What are the odds that two of the worst hurricanes in American history would hit back to back? And then there’s Jose coming right behind…

Friends who were headed to Montana this weekend will have to navigate the smoke from fires that have burned over 1,000,000 acres this summer. The schools in Olympia, Washington, where my cousins live, have cancelled sporting events this week because of the smoke from nearby fires. Yesterday the largest solar flare in a decade disrupted communications. And five minutes ago, as I’m posting this, CNN interrupted their coverage of Irma to report on an 8.1 earthquake off the west of Mexico.

Meanwhile, over in North Korea, seismologists suspected an earthquake last weekend which turned out to be a guy barely out of his 20’s exploding a hydrogen bomb.

As pastor friend Jay Sanders writes, “If you read the Bible, you know what all of this means.

“It means that theological con-men will be coming out from under every rock to tell us that Jesus will be coming back on September 23, 2017.”

Eclipse Photojournal: Our trip through totality

(with a little help from my friends)

Ours is truly a privileged planet. That’s what I was thinking Monday as the moon slid over the sun here in Columbia, South Carolina. Could it just be a co-incidence that…

…the moon perfectly, PERFECTLY blocks the sun’s fiery ball?

…the moon and sun are both perfect circles? (Some moons are shaped more like a potato)

…the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun, but that is perfectly offset by the fact it is 400x’s closer to Earth?

“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the LORD, and there is no other,” (Isaiah 45:18).

I was thinking, He formed it so that we would have a front row seat to see his glory on display like this.

Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist we interviewed for our radio program and co-author of the book Privileged Planet, said he studied all 65 moons in our solar system.

A Christian Response to the Battle over Confederate Symbols

Confederate monument in front of the South Carolina capitol (taken by Lael Arrington)

Last week, as two factions violently clashed over whether to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in the city of Charlottesville, VA, the movie Selma was playing on TV. I flipped the channel between live coverage of young white men attacking those who wanted to bring the statue down and actual newsreel footage inserted in the movie of young white men waving the Confederate battle flag to mock and harass the Selma marchers.

You couldn’t miss the contrast in the two scenes. In the movie, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King was invoking the love of Christ and his non-violent example as he led many young blacks to march and stand quietly with their hands clasped behind them. By contrast, the faces of the young white men waving their stars and bars were screwed up in hate. In Charlottesville you could see the anger exploding on both sides.

What a difference strong, Christ-following leadership made.

Here in South Carolina we have seen that difference defuse the battle over Confederate symbols more than once. Two Christian governors have stood up to tradition and strong emotions at great political risk. Their words speak compellingly to this moment.