What a wonderful surprise it was to read the trending news on Monday and discover that the movie "God's Not Dead" not only broke even in its debut weekend, but surpassed all expectations. This small budget movie that showed in less than a thousand theaters nationwide, ended up placing third in the box office standings and made nearly 10 million dollars. Critics, entertainment magazines, and online experts were all quoted in similar ways, "'God's Not Dead' is a box office winner!".
I am looking forward to seeing it myself in less than a week with our Thursday Night Life Group (and families/spouses). I am excited to see Shane Harper play the lead. I'm a sucker for sweet Disney teen romance and his real life relationship to his on-screen girlfriend, Bridgit Mendler, from "Good Luck Charlie" on the Disney channel is the sort of stuff you want to see truly succeed. Throw in Kevin Sorbo, Dean Cain ("Adventures of Lois and Clark") and of course, cameos from the family of "Duck Dynasty" and I can see the appeal. But, after watching the online preview, I believe the real appeal of the movie is that Shane Harper's character is put on the defense to prove why and how he could truly believe in a God that so often socially and culturally appears dead in our society.
I think it's this crossover of such strong opposing viewpoints that will make the movie so interesting - and from the success and reviews I've heard about it, so inviting as it will take the viewer to a place where it's hard to walk away unmoved and unchallenged in their own relationship with God. Needless to say, I'm so excited for the victory this movie represents in drawing people to consider what God in their life could really look like and why they would want to pursue this relationship.
Soooooo, it comes as no great surprise that Satan would launch a cultural and spiritual counter-attack. Why wouldn't he use World Vision's latest announcements to redefine how he would want the world to view Christ, by exposing some of the ugliest of Christ followers.
I am not at all interested in discussing the decision that World Vision made, why they chose their decision, what it's based on in Scripture, or the final result - which was a reversal of their decision. It's the fall-out that has sickened me. As with many other "hot point" issues addressing the church today, this event has turned into an excuse for some to hurl hatred and venom to anyone who will listen in blog comments, Facebook updates, or even on picket signs in public.
In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees (religious hypocrites of the time) what is the greatest command. (They were trying to trick him...) His response is what I feel the whole basis of God's Word is all about -
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
It didn't say, "Go out, expose sin and ridicule!" Nor did it say, "Divide and conquer!" And it certainly didn't say, "Win at any cost!". It's all about LOVE.
Quite honestly, in my own little world of "Spring Break Hibernation", I wouldn't have even known about this debate had I not done my every other day click onto Jen Hatmaker's blog. I adore this woman. She is witty, and Godly, and so very, very transparent. But, she is not perfect, and she tries to make this abundantly clear as she uses writing as her ministry and openly sorts through her struggles in her blog (and Bible Study books). When I clicked on her blog site, I found this:
I read through her very prayed-through response to this very hurtful scenario and found myself thankful someone had laid it all out there for me and led me again to the bottom line of the situation- the need to love.
But, then, I did something I know I shouldn't do (especially right before I go to bed), I clicked on the comments (at last count, there were over 750 on just the blog post - so much, much more if you read the comments on her link on Facebook). I would say that 90% of them were very loving, very thankful, and very appreciative of Jen's writing. But, that other 10%? OHHHHHH.... They made my heart sink. They made me so sad for the best-friend-in-another-life-that-doesn't-even-know-me (Jen), as who can navigate through such personal attacks? Even with the number of supports, as we all know, all it takes is own "barb" to attach itself to our hearts and infect and hurt indefinitely. And, then, I found myself just as bad as "the worst of these", when I began to judge them for their judging, to seek to rip up their characters and categorize all of them as "bad"... which was exactly what I felt THEY were doing. What a cycle it creates. Divisiveness. Pride. Superiority. Hypocrisy. Hatred.
I ended up having some good chats with John and Michele about it, and during our road trip yesterday, Michele and I addressed some of the most scathing of comments and tried to figure out what would possess someone to spend their time just attacking others in words... But, through all of it, I also found some folks who, just like Jen, found words to sum it all up beautifully. One of these is "Courtney Leaf" who commented on Facebook to one of Jen's Facebook post follow-ups that pleaded with folks to consider no longer reading her blog or following her if they were in such disagreement ("Be Free!" she said) and reminded of the love that was needed to remedy the fall-out from the decision reversal. This is what Courtney said:
"After going to a very conservative Christian college, there are very few Christians who I follow anymore due to issues like this one as well as the "church" tendency to demonize certain sins. I look forward to every single blog post [re: Jen Hatmaker] as I know I will be uplifted and challenged. It is people like you that have shown the true potential of the church. Keep doing what you are doing. As for the haters - why do you think the young people are leaving the church in droves? No one wants a faith of do's and don'ts while minimizing the true beauty of the Gospel - relationship."
Well said, Courtney! Which brings us back full circle to why this movie that debuted might be appealing to so many. It focuses in on why someone would want to have a relationship with GOD, which might come as quite a contrast to what the world sees "Christians" demonstrating. While I know I fail very frequently, I hope that my life points to, and draws others to, a God full of love and grace that others would long to be in a relationship as well. Because, let me tell you, there could be thousands of hateful comments directed towards the ways in which I've failed and don't follow all of the "do's and don'ts", but thank God, because of the cross - that is definitely no longer the point.