Church Wars! Part II: Attack of Discernment

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By Jeff Foerster

I should tell you, as a matter of public record, that I own stock in the science fiction sector. I have held positions here for quite some time, having grown up with dystopian novels such as Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. I still read Ray Bradbury when I take the time, and I just finished Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. Aliens have long had a special place in my heart as I looked to the heavens and wondered what we may find or what may find us. Prometheus and the Alien trilogy, Close Encounters, Contact, X-Files, and Signs—the list of films goes on and on. As a five-year-old I sat in a theater watching the original Star Wars bright and shining on a screen, loud and larger than life.

Last week’s Last Word may have signaled to you that I recommend abandoning all vestiges of science fiction, more particularly, Star Wars. So, what do I suggest—throw Boba Fett out with the bathwater? Simple answers sometimes result in profound mistakes; I think this is the case here. Before declaring the Star Wars franchise bankrupt and without shareholder value, I think it wise to examine oneself alongside film. God tells us to “keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). So, will Star Wars stain me? Again, a quick answer may do more harm than good. Let me suggest to you this: You know you better than most do. Even more so, God knows you better than all do—including you. Ask yourself and ask God to speak to you what effect your entertainment choices have upon you. Be open to being taught.

George Lucas has been quoted as saying that the price of admission to see one of his films is a price charged for tuition. He sees himself as a teacher, an educator. The impact his curriculum has upon a person depends in part upon what an individual brings to the table; our worldview matters. “Worldview” is a way of understanding and interpreting, even classifying or categorizing the experiences and events of the world around us. It’s like a lens through which everything is viewed and interpreted. Do you remember the “BluBlocker” sunglasses of the 80s-90s? They filtered out all the blue light from the spectrum and everything was washed in a bath of orange. Of course, taking the glasses off brought the world back to normal. It was not the world that changed, but the perspective of the viewer. However, one’s worldview is not as easily changed as a pair of glasses; it is constructed over many years and can shift, but it does so in a largely incremental fashion.

Everyone has a worldview that allows them to make meaning; a follower of Jesus likewise imposes his/her own schema upon the narratives they encounter. This is crucial to understand when any slice of entertainment is about to be consumed. What do I bring to the table? What is my worldview, and what is the worldview of the artist/author/teacher to whom I listen? Does he or she share my goals—that God be given glory? How is truth approached—with honor and deference, or with skepticism and disdain? Many questions are there to ask, yes.

There are a couple factors I’d like to bring into the light: the power of emotions and the strength of worldview. Emotions come in a variety of flavors: some sweet, some sour, some hard to swallow. If followed, they can lead one to acts of kindness or, just as easily, to fits of rage. Emotions are powerful, and when the heart is stirred it can prompt changes in thinking, beliefs, and, therefore, actions that follow. Emotions are good; God created us with a capacity to feel emotion, to enjoy it and be taught by its power—be it a signpost, a warning, or an invitation. Because of this power, it is not to be taken lightly. Scripture tells us not to arouse or awaken love before it’s time (Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4).

These emotions are for our good; they enable us to praise God with joy and enjoy His gifts with enthusiasm. This takes place when we lead our emotions where it is good to go. Even more easily, though, emotions can turn things on their heads and begin to lead us. Instead of pointing us to enjoy our Creator and seek to become more like Him, we can become enamored with what the Father tells us is off-limits, even forbidden. We may do this when fixing our eyes on a character who has attractive traits and, because of these, emotional connection is made with him/her. Then our desire for connection (an element of relationship) can become prioritized over discernment. When especially enamored, we may brush aside warnings and dismiss any criticism, in order to retain that felt relationship.

Doubt what I am saying? Consider how rabidly a true Seahawks fan will defend their team, defending their favorite character (oops, I mean “player”) when they are called out for a penalty or criticized by one of many commentators. How about the political theater? Have you ever heard someone defend a candidate largely by way of emotion? The good is taken with the bad. Some may say when you take them both then there you have it, the facts of life, but I tell you that some emotional attachments, even based on positive characteristics, can merge with less savory traits, leading to defense and even adoption of the very beliefs that will work against the biblical worldview God is constructing in you.

The strength of the individual’s worldview and how greatly it aligns with a biblical worldview will also affect the impact of entertainment choices. Identifying this development as “spiritual maturity” will aid understanding the impact a conflicting worldview will have upon one’s own. The less developed and tested the worldview, the more it is susceptible to being altered by an opposing view, whether that view is confrontational or politely placed in a palatable offering of entertainment. Children (especially in chronological age) are by nature at foundational stages of constructing their worldview. Much care must be given to build on the solid ground of truth. Expecting young ones to be able, unguided, to distinguish between truth and falsehood is folly. We are commanded in Scripture to teach our children at all times:

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

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Church Wars!

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By Jeff Foerster

So, on my journey to the rebel outpost the other day, my transductor gives out. I pop the hood to take a look and unfasten my lightsaber from my utility belt to shine a little light on the problem, but, after a brief crackle, that too goes on the fritz—where is a repair drone when you need one? What a time to be stranded in a less-than-savory part of the galaxy!

Star-Wars-Force-AwakensStar Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has catapulted itself, with a little help from some devoted fans and a devoted entertainment infrastructure, into the hearts and minds of millions of people across the globe.

Everyone loves a good story and Star Wars, like a cinematic buffet, provides narrative nourishment for varying tastes. Action, adventure, and excitement interwoven with character development tell a tale of good and evil, of courage and cowardice, of loyalty and treachery, of pride and prejudice … uh, sorry, that’s another story.

This latest installment of the Star Wars saga is true to its former tales at its core. We are prompted by the trailer, “The force; it’s calling to you. Just let it in.” Just what is this “force,” and how does one “let it in,” if we accept the encouragement of the characters? Though we see characters engage in “good” and “evil” actions in this film, its foundational philosophy does not align with a Christian worldview of either.

Instead, Buddhist philosophy gets a nod, as the force is largely an impersonal power that permeates the universe. However, the yin-yang symbol does more to illustrate the central struggle in this multi-episodic tale. Chinese religious thought is embedded with a duality of powers seeking to use the force for their own ends. There is no clear separation of good and evil, rather each (see Yin and Yang) contain elements of the other. However, we know that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). In Star Wars, the characters seek to bring balance to the force. Instead of the inevitable destruction of evil and the glorious and eternal reign of good through our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest outcome is a ceasing of the struggle between light and dark and the peaceful coexistence of the two sides of the force.

Some sympathy may be given to the idea of struggle between “light” and “darkness” when we look at human tendencies to sin. We may rightly see the consequences of man’s fallen nature in our world, then wrongly understand the nature of darkness. We can see darkness as an opposing power to light, but present in man, and therefore we can suppose it to be present and equal in all the universe in similar fashion. This falsehood can extend its tendrils into Christian theology, seeing the struggle between the “old man” and the “new creation” of the believer in Christ Jesus as evidence of the continuity between film and reality. But this “sympathy” is misplaced and, if left unchecked, may lead one to embrace this ideology alongside Christian doctrine (if possible) or to replace it outright. The result: the sovereignty and absolute holiness of God is dismissed, and the foundations of truth are discarded.

Now, if these distinctive natures of Christian theology and Star Wars philosophy are clear to you, consider one more inroad to the Christian church. The condition of man’s heart is decidedly deceitful. The prophet Jeremiah cautions us that no one (aside from God) can fully know it (Jeremiah 17:9). Combine this disposition with an errant philosophy wrapped into an entertaining story filled with connectable characters encouraging people to access a supernatural force to achieve their own desires. Add a modicum of “Christian” vocabulary and you have just promulgated the “prosperity gospel.”

This ideology (also called the “Word of Faith” movement) claims that faith is a power in the universe that, when connected with and exercised (sound familiar?), will produce results, given the skill, in this case the strength of belief, of the individual in question. This “faith,” as it is promoted by many false teachers, is so great a power that even God Himself is in subjection to its authority. This belief system takes root when we as humans become the point of reference instead of a holy, perfect God. With misplaced focus, humanity and our many desires take center stage, resulting in the supplanting of God and the making of Man the epicenter around which all history dwells.

This is dangerous ground, to put it lightly; it is the same ground that Adam and Eve tread in the Garden that long-ago, tragic day. This belief is in contradiction to the truth that God is the supreme power in the universe, transcending all powers and authorities, even the vastness of the physical dimensions of all time and space. Without a watchman on the wall, a guard for your mind and heart, and a guard to the hearts and minds of your family and others placed in your care, serious damage may result.

“My people perish for lack of knowledge,” declares the Lord (Hosea 4:6). Don’t be one of them. Speak truth to yourself and speak truth into your relationships. We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), but we are also cautioned to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Do this as you watch movies, as you read books, and as you live lives pleasing to God the Father in a world which rejects Him and seeks to nullify the truth of the gospel of Jesus our Lord and Savior!

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Relationships That Are Worth Having

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By Jim DeAngelo

A brief word on my experience and growth in sharing my front and back stage with others. The process for me was long and involved.

I wish my historical lack of sharing was because I found no one of sufficient character to fit this position in my life or that I had no close friends to encourage me. Neither of these were true. What has happened to me has occurred over a period of time. I had to see myself for who I was: a person with many flaws who could only grow in my walk and character through the work of the cross. This had to go beyond an intellectual exercise. I had to understand in my heart that who Christ said I was, is, in fact, who I am. That it was okay if others accepted me or not and I could lose the fear that if they knew me, they would then reject me. That I needed to show myself better than I really was.

I found that protecting myself was more important than the risk of rejection. What I didn’t understand was that to risk rejection was the first step to real relationships with those who would make a difference in my life. The kind I wanted to talk into my life and I into theirs. We all have blind spots. The areas I was afraid to share, I already knew that the Holy Spirit wanted to change, but I wasn’t sure how to let Him. The areas I didn’t know were even more important. I was protective of myself and, therefore, not honest with myself.

The best prayers I have ever prayed were to ask God to change me to be the best husband, father, grandfather, friend, and follower of Christ I could be. I asked God to show me how to change. Through these prayers, God opened my heart to the change process and the work of the cross. I found a new, changed heart and could share the real me with the appropriate individuals, and the transformation has accelerated. Without this sharing, my progress was much slower. I now find myself in relationships that shared with me and I with them, and I understand more and more what it means to have a closer walk with God.

Some of this learning has been a process. When I am afraid for any reason, I ask God for help to change me to meet this challenge. I never ask God to remove the source of the problem; we are to be overcomers, not avoiders. Removing pretense (fear of sharing my story) is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. This has removed the fear of rejection and allowed me to pray and share with integrity and with pure motives. It is no longer about me. My knowledge, trust, acceptance, and assurance in Christ have grown significantly (though I have a lot more learning yet to come). I have significant friends and individuals in my life who are enriching me in ways I could not even have imagined a few years ago.

Start the process today and pray for God’s help in your life to be who He designed you to be. Expect it, anticipate it, trust in God and His word about who you are. Find those who can share with you about our walk with Christ and our walk with each other.

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Lego Lessons

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By Nate Champneys

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I bought my son Legos for Christmas this year. He really loves Legos, but I think I was actually more excited to give them to him than he was to receive them. While he absolutely loves to build Legos with me, he is a little boy, so in the past I have pretty much had to tell him where to put every piece. We started building the new set together the day after Christmas, and it was a funny interaction. Kaelen would look at the picture of the truck on the outside of the box and get ahead of himself. He would start putting the “big” pieces on, such as the wheels, before we built the rest of the set.

“Kaelen, look at the directions. Those go on last,” I said.

Later, he said, “Daddy, I can’t find this piece,” pointing to a particular piece referenced in the directions.

“Did you look in the pile?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t think you looked very hard, buddy, because I can see it over there. Look at the directions. What color is that piece?”

“Blue.”

“Did you look at all the blue pieces?”

He’d look in the pile and, sure enough, he’d find it.

God often uses the experiences I have with my kids to paint a picture of how He feels about me and my relationship with Him. I had the privilege of preaching the week after Christmas, and as I was doing my sermon prep I couldn’t help but think about my time building Legos with my son. As I prepared my sermon, God and I had a sweet time together. I would ask Him questions and He would answer. Sometimes I would hear Him speak to my heart, other times he would direct me to a particular passage. I felt like, in the same way that I had built a Lego set with my son, my sermon was kind of like a Lego set I was building with my Father in Heaven, only I didn’t know what the final product would look like. God gently coached me through the instructions and helped me get to the end. When it was done, I felt total security in my sermon because, even if nobody liked it, it didn’t matter — it was something I built with my Father.

Our life is kind of like a Lego set, and the reality is that, no matter what we are doing, our God desires do it with us. We can try to build it ourselves, but that generally doesn’t go very well. God’s desire is for us to do this thing called life with Him. He wants to teach us about Himself and walk with us. We have to remember that, much like a Lego set is planned out with instructions to follow, God knows everything about us, down to the number of days and hours we are going to live. We don’t have to worry about anything; it’s already been written. But God really wants to build this “Lego set” that is our lives with Him.

Like my son wanting to put the wheels on the truck before the rest of the set was built, so many times we think we know the big picture and we get ahead of ourselves. But God is there, gently bringing us back to the plan. Our job is to be patient and walk step-by-step with our Father, even though we don’t know what the final product is going to look like. We can trust that we have a good, good Father who loves us deeply. He knows the plan, he knows the final result, and life is about being with Him, being loved by Him, as we work through His plans for us.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

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