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Posts from February 2015

What Churches Commonly Fail To Do

Earlier this week I was asked to lead a Breakout Session at one of our state's denominational regional evangelism conference. I was asked to speak on how churches can stay engaged to reach those in their communities.

1114372_19748099I struggled with a title for the session and was glad I was given the opportunity to explain what it was about prior to beginning. We know in the western church, especially in the United States, there is a definite trend away from being connected to a local church and attending regularly. Carey Nieuwhof recently posted on his blog an article titled "10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders are Attending Church Less Often." He touched on an issue  just about every pastor I know is having to address. Those who aren't addressing it may just be living with blinders on, or could possibly be the anomaly in the church-world.

The title I ended up using for this session was "Reaching the People Near You Who Actually Exist." Honestly, I don't like the title but I couldn't fit "Be Sure You Know Your Community and Stay Up-To-Date On Changes and Open Your Eyes Every Now and Then Or You May Be Closing the Doors of Your Church In the Near Future."

Subtle, huh?

This session was primarily about neighborhood mapping. Though I didn't have enough time to cover all of the info, here's the gist. Church leaders should take this to heart.

An oft-quoted question has been asked over the past few years by pastors and church leaders seeking to live missionally and direct their churches to do so as well  - "If your church ceased to exist today, would your community notice?" - Pastor Rick McKinnley, Imago Dei, Portland, OR.

Button-tweet-this "If your church ceased to exist today, would your community notice?" - Pastor Rick McKinnley, Imago Dei, Portland, OR

The Relevant Church

Relevance in ministry is sometimes scoffed upon. It’s a word that causes people to bristle and push back. Some pastors and leaders will say things like “The Gospel is always relevant” as if that justifies a poorly organized and weak strategy within the local church to fulfill the Great Commission. No one is saying that the Gospel is not relevant (at least not here) but we must come to grips with the reality that sometimes we seek to reach people who simply do not exist. If your church is not making a dent in the culture nor reaching those in the area of your footprint, the sad reality is that you, as well as those reaching many, are perfectly organized and positioned to reach those you are reaching. In other words, while the Gospel is always relevant, your strategies may not be.

Button-tweet-thisWe must come to grips with the reality that sometimes we seek to reach people who simply do not exist.

In Dr. John Fuder's book Neighborhood Mapping he states "In a world that is constantly moving and changing, it is imperative that the church not only know how to interpret the Bible but also how to engage with and and adapt to those for whom the gospel message is addressed."

He speaks of the necessity to continually exegete the community where one serves. Otherwise, we become stagnant and continue to produce events, programs and mission engagement for the people who used to live there, rather than those who now do.

The longer you are in a certain place, the less you see.

As has been stated in various venues, the world is coming here, to the United States. In a sense it always have, but the numbers are quite staggering in today's culture. Our neighborhoods are in a continual state of change. In many cases, the local church is overwhelmed and unable, if not unwilling to respond.

This is why mapping one's community on a regular basis is vital.

Button-tweet-this"A map is the fieldwork out of which strategies can be formed." - Caleb Crider, IMB & Co-Author of Tradecraft.

Here are some basics on mapping one's community (more details may be found in the book Tradecraft: For the Church On Mission.)

A Theology of Mapping

In the 1960s urban planner Kevin A. Lynch conducted an extensive study and developed the five elements of a city or community, which are still vital for mapping today. These elements are:

  1. Paths
  2. Nodes
  3. Districts
  4. Edges
  5. Landmarks

I'll break these down briefly here.

Paths

 

Paths are important because they limit an individual’s experience of the city and shape his perspective of it. If you want to relate to someone, follow his paths. People tend to only know the areas along their paths. This shapes his understanding of the community. Church leaders may travel the route from home to church often and therefore, miss the community between. Over time, the community may shift unknowingly to the established church. This is why church plants often attract people where established churches are, simply because they hit what others miss or cannot see.

The paths one travels leads people to believe a city or community is a certain way or demographic, but that may be skewed to reflect only the areas around the paths.

Alternate routes can reveal a new-ness to a community previously unseen.

Button-tweet-thisTo know your community, you must know the paths people travel.

These can be streets, sidewalks, trails, subways, bus routes, etc. 

Nodes

 

Nodes develop where paths cross.

These are strategic spots in a community where people may enter and allows for interaction. It is a place of intermingling, but it is not intimate and people are often guarded (holding onto their purses or belongings tightly, looking straight ahead, not communicating with others, etc.)

Nodes are important for gaining cultural insight because they provide the opportunity to observe how people interact or avoid interacting (mall watching.)

Businesses use these places – billboards are placed here, signs, people spinning signs,  news stands, etc. These tend to be busy places. This is where flyers can be distributed, but normally no good one-to-one communication will occur. Prior to social networking, these were the promotional spots. These areas are not good for long conversations, but good for information distribution.

Districts 

Most community dwellers develop a sense of identity around the district in which they live, play or work. Each district has a reputation in the larger community. Jacksonville is a city of districts. The surrounding bedroom communities are as well. Districts are perceived differently based on your audience.

You may live in Jacksonville, but that's not descriptive enough. Where in Jacksonville? Are you in the Southside, Westside, Riverside, Beaches, Northside? If you're in a suburb, where exactly? St Johns, Fleming Island, Middleburg, Yulee, etc.?

Then within each area are sub-districts that have their own identities. This is the first place I have ever lived where people are actually very proud and identify themselves not only by city, town, or community but by sub-division. It seems strange to celebrate a builder's planned community, but you'll see license plates and bumper stickers identifying such.

Button-tweet-thisEach population segment has its own subculture, language and rules that present barriers and bridges to the spread of the Gospel.

Edges

These may be the most disregarded elements by churches. Edges create barriers that are not impossible to cross, but improbable. These may be any of the following. . .

  • Boundaries of a District (sub-division exit)
  • Streets
  • Divided Highways
  • Gates
  • Interstates
  • Bridges
  • Bodies of Water
  • Tunnels
  • Railroad Tracks

Until I acknowledged this, I could not understand why people near where I live had no understanding of where my church is located and mostly, would not visit. Then, I looked at these elements and realized that there are at least three divided highways, a railroad track, a body of water and a bridge between my house and my church. Edges. Not impossible to cross, but for those with no reason to do so, improbable.

Landmarks

 

When in your town, what do you use to tell people how to get from point A to point B? What about on how to get to your church? In many cases, our verbal directions do not include all the street names and compass directions, but do include landmarks. You know, "Turn by the donut shop." and the like.

Landmarks may be anything that the community knows.

In Orange Park, where I live, it was the Dunkin’ Donuts. I’d tell people to "Turn at the Dunkin’ Donuts, drive a mile or so, go over the railroad tracks, past the park on the right and turn left by the Animal Hospital." 

We all use landmarks.

Use yours to your advantage.

Most Important

Spiritual mapping is vital and most important. Prior to you planting or serving in your community, God has been at work.

Button-tweet-this

To effectively evangelize your mission field is to first acknowledge that God has tilled the soil. 

Follow His map and work where he has already done the heavy lifting.

Recommended Resources

Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission by McCrary, Crider, Stephens & Calfee

Neighborhood Mapping: How to Make Your Church Invaluable to the Community by Dr. John Fuder

 

 

 


Grandma's Wisdom

I found an old article I wrote for the local paper back in 2002 earlier today. Thought I'd share it again. . .

IMG_5419In October 2001, my grandma, Berna Tarkington, went to be with the Lord. At her passing, a family friend, Stephen Oliver, wrote our family a letter regarding my grandma's wisdom. My grandma used to watch Stephen and his sister when they were children. Stephen wanted to share some things he learned about life from grandma. Upon reading his list, I was reminded about how special and how wise she was.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Be nice to your brother or sister. They may grow up to be just as big as you are one day.
  • Go to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Not only will you learn about Jesus, but the Kool-Aid is good, too!
  • Use a black skillet to fry potatoes. It will always taste better.
  • Always remember to tell the bus driver where your stop is. If you don't, who will.
  • Mountain Dew is much colder in a glass bottle kept on the back porch in the Frigidaire.
  • Don't skip a page when reading a book to a child. They usually know the difference and you never know what you'll miss.
  • At the end of a rough day, it's always a good idea to sit on the front porch in a swing and let someone else help you with your problems.
  • Watch out for cracks in wooden bridges. If you have little feet, your shoes might get caught in the cracks.
  • Play with your neighbor, and let her choose what game to play today. You can choose tomorrow.
  • Quiltins and hog killins always mean good food, lots of neighbors, and tall tales.

I miss my grandma, but wisdom and truth never die. Maybe you can learn from her lessons, too.


Canadian & American Euthanasia - The Growing Culture of Death

When the Canadian Supreme Court ruled last Friday that laws against euthanasia were to be struck down the cultural pendulum continued to swing wide from what was considered right and acceptable just a few years ago. It is no secret that since 1996, culture has shifted greatly in the United States and Canada. This is evidenced in the quickly moving shift regarding same-sex marriages and in this case - the so-called “right to die” movement. 
 
While the Canadian Supreme Court ruling doesn’t actually impact us directly in the United States, the fact that some states have similar laws on the books now (e.g. Oregon, Vermont & Washington) under the title of “Death with Dignity” means that this movement will pick up speed and likely be a federal law in the near future.
 
These laws, as with the case of the Canadian ruling, are direct reversals of previous acts and mandates. In fact, Canada ruled on this in 1993 and upheld the nation’s laws against physician-assisted suicide.
 
While “Dr. Death” (Jack Kevorkian) was mocked and demonized just a few decades ago, he now appears to be a pioneer in an area that is picking up steam. This is unfortunate.
 
As Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently stated, “We’re looking at a massive change in the culture that has affected even the dignity and sanctity of human life. And of course it didn’t begin with euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. It began on other issues, most importantly, the issue of abortion.”
 
The emotional connection that comes with physician-assisted suicide leads people to discount the broader pro-life issues. Some would say that this has nothing to do with the issue of abortion. However, the full issue is one regarding the sanctity of human life. Whether in the womb or on a nursing home bed, at the starting line or life or closer to the finish line, the fact that “death with dignity” becomes a tagline shows that many in our world are excusing what has become a culture of death.
 
Hospital feet
 
Under the banner of “rights” the reality that murder (a word that many would seek to avoid) is now celebrated is troubling.
 
This is a slippery slope and it is growing more slippery. European nations have pioneered this era of death to tragic results. In Belgium, for instance, the aged and ones with severe diseases are candidates for assisted suicide. However, the deeper challenge comes in determining who makes the designation of “old” and the grades the severity of disease. The Hippocratic Oath goes by the wayside as ethics is redefined. Now we see where the Belgian government has ruled that children as young as 12 must constitutionally have access to physician-assisted suicide. This is little more than extending abortion rights through puberty.
 
The culture of death is here. It’s impacting many and its boundaries are continually being moved. This is a sad day for our friends in Canada and for those in our culture as well.
 

"My Child Is Transgender" - The Enemy's Attack on Identity

With all the buzz about Bruce Jenner apparently making a public transformation from male to female, bloggers, celebrities, religious leaders and celebrity watchers are all sharing their opinions. Since the popular trend is to celebrate Bruce's decision, to declare it as anything but "beautiful" will get you categorized as a hater and an LGBT basher. 

However, in the very public battle over Bruce's journey, there are most likely family members and close friends who have no doubt given statements of support and love, but may be hurting deeply on the inside because of Bruce's situation. Of course, that's only an opinion because I don't know Bruce or his family members, but based on stories of families and friends I do know that are similar, but much less public, hurt tends to be a very common emotional response.

A good friend of mine sent me the following story last week. I asked his permission to share it and with changed names, for obvious reasons, he said that I could. So, take a moment, read this story and see if you can understand, at any level, the hurt that is felt by those closest to the stories.

I woke up like any normal Saturday morning in my home and my kids and I went for a jog. The air was crisp and cool, typical for February in Florida, and the sunrise was glorious. We praised the Lord for beauty, for health, for life, and we prayed for those who do not know His limitless love. We returned home and did a devotional together and this was the message:

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble. My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. - Proverbs 4:18-23

We talked about the importance of guarding one’s heart, no matter the cost, and ended with Paul’s words to young Timothy,

Do not participate in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. - 1 Timothy 5:22

It was a good morning.

My wife then asked me if I could go to our dog’s veterinarian and pick up some flea medicine. I entered the vet clinic and was immediately greeted by a former neighbor I had not seen in years. He was chatting with the two vet techs and another patient holding her cat while standing next to his very large pit bull mix. As I am very used to these “divine appointments” I immediately shook his hand and asked about his wife and two daughters, proud that I remembered he had a wife and two daughters. He excitedly began to tell me how the oldest was going to PA school, finishing up at a local university and then planning to enroll in medical school. He then said he had just shown the other patient something on his phone and wanted to show me. He stated something about the young lady and then something about a “Josh” so I assumed it was going to be a picture of his oldest daughter and her boyfriend/fiancé. He held up his phone and my eyes first went to a young lady I recognized who had grown up into a beautiful young woman. I remembered her as quiet, but bright and confident, and the picture showed that. Then my stomach dropped.

Next to the young woman in the picture was another face that looked vaguely familiar. My neighbor said, “Remember Amber? Now she is Josh. She is transgender.”

IStock_000008338936SmallThe room suddenly became completely quiet—even the animals. There I stood with my bright titanium cross hanging boldly on my chest and three women looking at me waiting for my reaction. I will not lie. I was stunned. I remembered the little girl riding her bike on our cul-de-sac playing with my little ones and eating snacks from my refrigerator. I suddenly saw my own young, beautiful daughter, all girl, but not afraid to get dirty. I remembered how my son and I always discuss how in every one of our favorite “guy movies” there is a beauty to fight for and how that makes all the pain of the journey and battle worth it. I looked at this man’s face and then I felt it. It was not disgust, not anger, not judgment. It was hurt. His eyes told the truth. He was trying so hard to be the proud father. What parent doesn’t pull out the pictures when someone asks about the children? However, underneath the mask I could see the truth. He hurt. So I hurt.

“In the beginning…male and female He created them. And God blessed them.”

Enter the Father of Lies and the question that has haunted humanity ever since, “Did God really say…?” I could see the “deep darkness” in my neighbor’s eyes—and in the eyes of the young woman who now called herself a man. A woman whose identity had been stolen by a master criminal who knows exactly how to manipulate and lie to achieve his purpose. You see, our enemy wants to strike at the core of who we are.

Every young man wants to know, “Do I have what it takes?” Our enemy shouts, “NO! You throw like a girl you wimp!”

Every young woman wants to know, “Am I beautiful?” Our enemy shouts, NO! You are ugly and worthless.” The enemy has taken something so foundational, so basic—the doctor proudly states, “It’s a boy or it’s a girl”—and manipulated it into something twisted and we now believe the lie. “Did God really say…?”

As a follower of Jesus Christ I would like to say it became one of those “woman at the well” moments and I handled this moment as my Lord would. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. But I am thankful because My Father opened His eyes and let me see what He sees when He looks upon our world. I genuinely hurt for this man and his family. I do not know his story or the story of his daughter, having moved away long ago, but I do know that our Lord and Savior is still sovereign and still in the business of redeeming a lost people. He is writing the Greatest Story Ever Told and He is calling my neighbor and his family to Himself. The cross is open for this young woman. Jesus died on it for her.

I shook his hand one more time and he opened up, “It was hard and shocking when I first found out, but now I guess I just take it one day at a time.” I told him goodbye and I got in my car and my son and I did the only thing we could do for this family under attack. We lifted them up in prayer to the only One who can save. “Jesus, thank you for being the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Your grace and mercy are awesome. Today is the day of salvation and we pray for our lost friends, family, neighbors, and enemies. We pray for this father, his wife, and his daughters. We pray you do whatever it takes to redeem them. It hurts, Jesus. Thank you for opening my eyes and letting me see what you see. You bought us with such a high price so that all may be saved. I confess I do not always handle these kinds of situations with Your grace and mercy, but this time you softened my heart and I remember that I hurt you the same with my sin. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Help me to love this lost world. I love you, Dad.” 


Leadership Is Different Than Management

For years, John P. Kotter has been regarded as one of the world's foremost authorities on leadership. With numerous books and articles published by the Harvard Business Review, his teachings on leadership and management have impacted thousands of people and organizations. 

One of the key elements of Kotter's teaching is his delineation between leadership and management.

J.Kotter1Kotter states, "In more than four decades of studying businesses and consulting to organizations on how to implement new strategies, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people use the words 'leadership' and 'management'synonymously, and it drives me crazy every time."

In a January 2013 article in the Harvard Business Review, Kotter breaks down the most common mistakes in these terms:

Mistake #1: People use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This shows that they don’t see the crucial difference between the two and the vital functions that each role plays.

Mistake #2: People use the term “leadership” to refer to the people at the very top of hierarchies. They then call the people in the layers below them in the organization “management.” And then all the rest are workers, specialists, and individual contributors. This is also a mistake and very misleading.

Mistake #3: People often think of “leadership” in terms of personality characteristics, usually as something they call charisma. Since few people have great charisma, this leads logically to the conclusion that few people can provide leadership, which gets us into increasing trouble.

The title of "leader" is bestowed upon pastors. It is presumed that because the pastor is called and placed in the position of guiding the church and shepherding the people that he is truly a leader. In some cases, based on personality, giftedness and vision-casting ability, some pastors are actually managers. This may be why there are so many churches struggling to move forward in calling and mission.

Management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you produce the products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this isn enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial - but it's not leadership. (Kotter)

In the church setting, the managers (not a term I'd use in church) are those who are able to focus on the nuts and bolts of the ministries and events provided. This may be committee processes such as property management, budgeting, finances, or even personnel. This also will include the guiding of small group strategies and the development of metrics to better determine "wins" and the continued focus of church ministries.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure. (Kotter)

The empowered leader within the church is God's design for ensuring the church moves forward, without forsaking its calling. These are the vision-casters. These leaders are the ones who have eyes to see and ears to hear and are vital in ensuring the church remains focused on the Gospel while seeking new and exciting ways to engage an ever-morphing culture. 

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that many churches in our nation are plateaued and some are even dying? Perhaps it is because visionary leaders have defaulted into being managers?

Managers are needed in the local church, but apart from a leader, surrendered to the Lordship and ultimate leadership of God, the vision wanes and the church misses the larger story.

__________________

 "Management Is (Still) Not Leadership." Harvard Business Review. 9 Jan. 2013. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. . 


Gay Men & Soccer Moms: A Target Audience That Reveals Much About the Times

After finishing my post about the soon to be released Fifty Shades of Grey film, another film trailer hit the internet and has been making quite a splash. Now, my intent is not to have this blog become a movie review site, but as an observer of culture and one who attempts to keep up with the latest trends, it is quite disturbing how pornography and erotica are seen as acceptable and commonplace. While some would say that this is a sign of sexual freedom, in my opinion, it's a sign of cultural degradation.

I enjoy good movies and as a pastor have used clips and illustrations from popular films (legally) at times to help make points in my messages and talks. Believing that the message of the Gospel is written on the hearts of all humanity leads me to see the value of storying and the parallels in stories or movies that speak of battle and rescue and beauty and honor. Now, in most cases, the films I speak of are not written by believers in Christ. In many instances, these are just visible, moving images that tell a story that attempts to connect with an audience, ultimately for high ratings and profit.

I believe God is the Master Storyteller, the author of the Gospel and the hero in the story. That is why I believe that our Enemy seeks to pervert and destroy all that is good and holy and turn that which was meant for good into evil in an attempt to thwart the movement of God's Spirit in the lives of people.

Some of you are saying in your head right now, "Seriously? You're talking about movies. They're just movies." I know, I know, but foundational to all of life is a story that is deeper and more important than that which is projected onto a screen, streamed on Netflix or burned onto a DVD. 

Nevertheless, there is a trend that seems to be growing. It's not really new. There have been stories of violence, sexual perversion and erotica around for ages, even prior to the advent of the film industry. Yet, as each year goes by, it seems our culture is moving a little deeper within Sodom (referencing the story of Lot in Genesis - living outside Sodom, near Sodom and eventually inside the city.) 

Whether comedy, drama, action or romance, overt sexuality (hetero-, homo-, bi-, trans-, etc.) has become little more than enticement for audiences who seek to justify what they view under the guise of freedom, art or just entertainment. 

771223_23909068

"Artistic" Pornography

Last year, Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 was released and subsequently was being written about, reviewed, and had YouTube trailers shared by many. The film starred some notable actors and actresses (Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, and Connie Nielson, to name a few) and received reviews speaking of it's artistic integrity and depth.

"The film is an intellectual high-wire act, death-defying, dangerous, entertaining, and delighting in its own inventiveness and daring." - Roger Ebert

However artistic it may appear. . .regardless how well edited and developed the film may be. . .it is little more than blatant pornography with a story attached.

No, I have not seen the film. I don't intend to do so. I have seen the trailer. . .and had to stop it due to the imagery presented.

So, Fifty Shades of Grey is not surprising. Neither are other sexually-laced and expressive new films on the way. Boundaries have been moved and Sodom has become home for many in our culture it seems.

With the sexually inclusive society now set in place, Hollywood is now overtly marketing to sub-groups and sections of the populous that will guarantee a strong opening weekend for their films. This is not new. Pixar films have been targeted toward children and parents for years. American Sniper and other war movies have been pointedly marketed toward men. Romantic comedies have a female demographic in mind. Different people enjoy different stories.

Magic Mike XXL

The eye-opening trailer for the male stripper film sequel Magic Mike XXL is clearly focused on two groups in our culture - gay men and "soccer moms."

When the first Magic Mike was released, the theaters were filled. Many women (wives and mothers) had movie nights with their girlfriends and packed theaters to enjoy the Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaghey and Matt Bomer film. The target marketing worked as the film finished second on opening weekend.

The other target group was gay men. I heard one gay man in our community speak about watching the film with his friends (other gay men) and how much they enjoyed it. This was no anomaly. 

“It’s a fun night out with a bunch of gay friends to go see a movie about hot boys,” said Aaron Rhyne, 32, a theatrical projection designer who saw the film with about 10 friends. “We’ve been throwing the trailer around, laughing about it.” (New York Times - "Magic Mike" Is a Big Draw for Gay Men.)

Sex Sells

It's been the mantra of Madison Avenue for decades - "sex sells." The sexual revolution and free love movement of the 1960s was little more than "moving near the gates of the city." Now, we are fully inside.

The trailer for Magic Mike XXL has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times online (well over 1 million if all versions are combined.) The reviews that laud the trailer as wonderful speak openly about the sexuality and openly stated double-entendres throughout. (I presume this allows an R or PG-13 rated trailer, to be viewable in all theaters.)

Even though these are sexually explicit (i.e. pornographic) films and are more common than we'd like to admit, we must realize that these stories are little more than perversions of holiness, morphed to confuse, trap and eventually aid the enemy to "steal, kill and destroy."

So What?

What's a Christian to do? 

The same we've been commissioned to do for centuries - live as salt and light, make disciples, love the unloveable and honor God.

Sexuality is holy. It is God designed and beautiful, when experienced within His guidelines. Those guidelines are clear in Scripture - heterosexual and within the covenant of biblical marriage only. 

Casual sex is only another term for casual sin.

Redeem the day. Don't be taken in.

Boycott theaters? That's NOT my recommendation. Most people view Christians, and especially Baptists, as people who are "against" everything anyway. Redemption shows what we are "for." 

Be for the Gospel.

Be for God's plan for marriage.

Be for God's plan for sexuality and relationships.

Be for God's plan for holiness.

Be for God.

He's for you.


Mainstreaming Porn: A Strategy That's Working, Unfortunately

The Book

The top selling book in 2012 was Fifty Shades of Grey. No doubt you have heard of this multi-million seller, but in case you haven't, here's Amazon's description:

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
 
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

This book is intended for mature audiences.

"Intended for mature audiences" is a subtle way to say "This is a really dirty book with a bunch of sex in it." Funny, I know some really mature people who would say this book is nothing more than mental porn.

Why do I bother writing a post about a book that I've never read? Some would say that must read it in order to give an honest account of the material. I guess that would be true if I were writing a review based on the character development, writing style or flow of the story. I am not. In those cases, the book may very well be good. I'm more concerned with what the runaway success of this and other books in the "erotica fiction" category say about our community and culture.

What truly baffles me is how women (the primary target audience of the book) who post their daily devotional thoughts, attend their weekly Beth Moore studies and serve in the body of Christians have simply added this book and others like it to their regular reading regimens. 

While it is no secret that pornography has a foothold in the lives of many men, evidenced by the vast number of websites dedicated to the subject, the best-selling status of erotica fiction reveals that women are not immune to this attack.

Tim Challies shared recently on his blog about the realities that Fifty Shades unveils about our culture. He lists them as. . .

  1. Erotica is in
  2. Sex isn't just for men
  3. Erotica is dangerous
  4. Erotica is among Christians
  5. Erotica wounds our walk
  6. Erotica harms us all
  7. Erotica shows we need Jesus

Click here for the link to Tim's full article.

The Movie

Why is Fifty Shades of Grey back in the news? Because on Valentine's Day the film will be released. This film will likely make millions and some are predicting it will push American Sniper out of the number one spot, which is likely since Sniper has been showing for weeks.

 

50-shades-of-grey-movie-trailer-screengrab-universal
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in 'Fifty Shades of Grey.' (Universal/YouTube)

 

 

However, the pushback against this film is not just latest effort from Christians who like to boycott everything and preach about how much they hate everything. In this case, there is a heightened effort by groups such as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE) developing campaigns against this and other like films. They state this. . .

"Hollywood is advertising the Fifty Shades story as an erotic love affair, but it is really about sexual abuse and violence against women," said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Hawkins noted that the public sees too much sexual abuse and violence against women in real life and urged Hollywood to take this into consideration when setting the entertainment agenda.

"The porn industry has poised men and women to receive the message that sexual violence is enjoyable. Fifty Shades models this porn message and Hollywood cashes the check," said Hawkins.

I know, I know, it's just a movie (or book) but the wise person will see it for its fullness.

As Michael Medved said years ago, and I paraphrase, "There are no accidental messages portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters. There's too much money involved for unintentional messages to be prominent." That means that under the guise of entertainment and artistic creativity, the bottom line is the bottom line. This is about money and Hollywood knows "erotica sells." 

And, here's a reality as well. The fact that I'm even blogging about this often creates more interest than otherwise would be shown. You know the old adage - "There's no such thing as bad publicity." This happens all the time in the film industry. Just look at how trending the film The Interview was based on the North Korean threats, and from all accounts, it wasn't even a very good movie. . . but almost everyone was talking about it.

The Real Story

I'm not declaring the need for an organized boycott. I don't think there's value in Christians picketing movie theaters. I do think there is value and need for Christ-followers to be aware of how the Enemy attacks. We live in a culture that celebrates sex, as long as it's outside the bounds of biblical marriage. Even Christians struggle with overt justification of sin and fall into the lies of "It's just a movie, or book." It's much more. It's a window into a culture that has heard the lies for so long, they sound like truth.

So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Ephesians 4:14 (ESV)