I am a big fan of movies, but there are some genres I don’t care for. Horror is at the top of that list. I don’t like anything with ghosts, demons, monsters, creepy aliens, or oversized-sharks. So, I have a hard time explaining how I became a fan of the Netflix series, Stranger Things.
Stranger Things has a TV-14 rating based on language, some sexuality, and, most of all, some very scary monsters. I wouldn’t recommend it for pre-teens, even though many of the lead actors in the show were under age 14 when the show started in 2016.
The third season hit Netflix on July 4. Watching it, I still have to close my eyes or hit fast-forward during some of the gorier parts. But I don’t watch it for the gory parts. I watch it for the characters. In any genre of story-telling, my favorite characters have always been ordinary folk who step up and become heroes during extraordinary circumstances. Stranger Things is all about people like that.
There is something else I like about this show, something you only get from fantasy, science-fiction, or horror shows. It provides a visual allegory for the battle between good and evil being fought on a spiritual level. In Stranger Things, the monsters come from another dimension—the “upside down”—after a “gate” is opened between their dimension and ours. In our world, we are also called to do battle against enemies who are not like us.
The Bible tells us, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). We don’t fight these enemies with ordinary weapons but with special armor God provides—truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 6:13-18). Learning how to use this armor takes time and practice, but with our armor in place we can heroically stand up against our enemy and make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of everyone around us.
I’ve noticed another similarity between Stranger Things and the real spiritual battles we face. Although the stakes are high in each season of the show, the characters who know about the monsters are reluctant to tell anyone else what they know. In season one, a mother “knows” her missing son is near, but her knowledge is based on flickering lights, strange sounds, and something that seems to be alive inside the walls of her house. How can she explain that to anyone without sounding crazy? Who would take her seriously?
It can be difficult for Christians, as well, to talk about spiritual things with people who don’t believe in God or the Bible. Even some Christians think the Bible’s stories about Satan and demons aren’t meant to be read literally or those supernatural beings aren’t active in the world today. So when we’re struggling with fear, depression, doubts, and anxiety, we may not consider addressing them as spiritual issues. When we watch our neighborhoods and nations spiral out of control with violence, bigotry, and immoral behavior becoming the new normal, we may not think to put on our spiritual armor and march into battle.
Even if we recognize supernatural forces at work, we may not know what we should do about it. I think it starts with getting a good grip on what we believe about God and his intentions for this world. Then we need to take up our armor and learn how to use it. There are many good Christian books to help with both these goals. I wrote one on the Armor of God which I’ll be re-releasing in August. If you would like to join my email list to receive updates on the re-release of Standing Firm: Are You Ready for the Battle? just use the link below. You will also receive a free excerpt from chapter one of my upcoming book, Finding Your Part in God’s Master Story.
In the meantime, read through Ephesians 6:10-20 and think about how you can use the Word of God and prayer to stand up to the enemy in your life.
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I'm excited to announce that I have a new Christian non-fiction book almost finished and ready for publication. I've created a new website to introduce the book, and I'll be posting to the blog page there, rather than here, for the foreseeable future.
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I was having a hard time deciding what to write about this week. Nothing was coming to me—no ideas, no inspiration. I was starting to think another week would go by without a blog post from JaneTruth. Then it hit me. Just like that. I teared up while singing a line from an old, familiar hymn. “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”
Without realizing it, I was stressing about not having “enough”—enough time to do all the things I wanted to do, enough support for the writing project I’ve been working on, enough wisdom to guide me, enough ability, enough energy, enough attention to go around. Then, in one unexpected moment, the Holy Spirit reminded me that I always have “enough” when I trust my Heavenly Father to provide.
This is one of the big areas where Christians can, and should, differ from non-Christians. I recently ran across this quote that perfectly describes the non-Christian view of reality:
As Jean-Paul Sartre expressed it, the essence of reality is scarcity, a universal and eternal lacking. There isn’t enough of anything to go around. Not enough food, not enough love, not enough justice, and never enough time. Time, as Heidegger observed is the basic category of existence. We live in its ever-shrinking shadow, and if we are to achieve anything in our brief being that lets us dies without feeling we’ve wasted our time, we will have to go into heady conflict with the forces of scarcity that deny our desires.
But this isn’t the Christian view—or, it shouldn’t be. One of the many names of God is YAHWEH-JIREH: "The Lord Will Provide." The Psalmist praised a God “provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever” (Psalm 111:5); Timothy wrote of a God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17); and nearly 100 years ago, another author reminded us of a God who is ever faithful and will always provide.
“All I have needed God’s hand has provided.” That’s the joyful assertion of the faithful follower of Christ. If you are feeling today that you don’t have “enough” of something, sing along with this song and lift a prayer that God will provide all you need. Then trust that what you have received from God IS what you need, and nothing else.
 McKee, Robert. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. Harper Collins, 1997, p. 211.
I read an alarming statistic this morning. In a 2012 survey, only 19% of 17 year-olds said they read for fun every day, down from 31% in 1984. Almost half of the 17 year-olds surveyed (45%) said they read for pleasure no more than once or twice a year. Another 22% said they never or hardly ever read for fun. With the increase of social media outlets and the pressure to be online all the time, I’m sure those numbers are even worse today.
There’s a growing effort to combat this decline in reading, including special days to focus on books. August 9 was National Book Lovers Day. July 30 was Paperback Book Day. April 23 was World Book Day. And many people celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss on March 2 by reading to children. But still, the decline in reading continues while young people spend more and more time staring at a screen.
Which screens are they staring at? Mostly, their phones. Students today tend to prefer short YouTube videos over traditional television shows. They’re going to movies less often, too, with “loss of youth” being the number one concern for European film owners in a survey last year. Considering the glut of violent, crass, immoral, and just plain stupid shows on TV and movie screens, the move away from such “entertainment” may seem like a good idea. But I’m afraid our young people are losing something very important as they trade in books, movies, and TV shows for 5 minute videos, 30 second SnapChats, and long feeds of photos and tweets pretending to represent real life.
I believe we have a need for stories in our lives—fictional stories about make-believe people and places or fictionalized biographies of real people dealing with real-life situations. We read stories to learn about other cultures and peoples and to explore the deeper themes of life and living. We use stories to entertain, but also to teach and impart wisdom. Jesus loved stories, using dozens of short parables to teach moral and spiritual lessons.
In a world of random, relentless sensory input, stories help us find connections, see order, and wait expectantly for what’s still to come.
The great thing about stories is that they have an author, someone who has given time and attention to creating the perfect setting and bringing together the right mix of characters who each have a part to play as the story unfolds. The King James Version of the Bible calls Jesus “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). And the Psalmist sang to God, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139.16).
In a book, everything is connected and purposeful. In a good story, all the action moves toward a fitting ending. There is hope in every story that all will work out well in the end, even if not all stories end well. We need that hope in our real lives as well. We need to recognize that we are part of a bigger story and there is so much still to come!
So read! Read to your children. Watch movies together. Discuss the story line and the characters and the choices the author made. Don’t wait for a special day to dive into a new story. Do it today!
If you would like to learn more about how stories help us understand what God is doing in our world, sign up for my email list to get updates on my next book, Finding Your Place in God’s Master Story. You can also visit my Facebook page and share what story you’ve been reading or watching lately that you would like to recommend -- https://www.facebook.com/janetruthbooks/
I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the work of God in our world today. We see so much violence, hatred, selfishness, and fear in our world, and we long to see God deal with those things and set the world right. Like the Psalmist, it’s easy to cry out, “How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever?” (Psalm 74:10).
Belief in God is waning throughout western civilization. The Fear of God has almost been forgotten. The righteous seem to suffer, while the wicked live full lives (Ecclesiastes 7:15). Where is justice? Where can we find proof that God still cares for this fallen world?
In the 3rd chapter of John, we like to skip to the 16th verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But it’s important to not skip over the first part of the chapter where Nicodemus comes to Jesus to find out more about what he’s been preaching. Why did Nicodemus, a Pharisee and someone who could have been considered an enemy to Jesus’ teaching, come to learn more about those teachings? Why did he trust Jesus enough to come to him for truth?
Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
Wow! What brought Nicodemus, and so many others, to Jesus was the “signs” he was doing—the work he was doing in the world in God’s name. What’s interesting is that Jesus wasn’t fighting the pagan Roman government, he wasn’t campaigning against unjust or even ungodly laws, he wasn’t engaging in an ugly war of words with every person who didn’t agree with his teachings. He was going out into the communities around him and meeting people one-on-one, healing their hurts, providing food, showing mercy. These “signs” were not meant to save people’s souls, and they did little in themselves to change the world, but they got people to listen. And what Jesus had to say did have the power to change the world—one person at a time.
When we think of all the things Jesus did while walking in our world, and all the things he could have done but didn’t, perhaps we should rethink the things we, as Christians, are doing in the world today in his name.
It seems that one of the greatest arguments against believing in the God of Christianity is the people who call themselves Christian but who act no better (and often worse) than the non-Christian people around them. Instead of shining as a light to the world, pointing the way to a loving and merciful—yet powerful and holy—God, Christians are accused of self-interest, hypocrisy, and judgmentalism. Instead of meeting people in their needs and offering them love and mercy, we use the teachings of Jesus to beat others over the head and justify our hatred. Instead of continuing the work of Jesus in the world, we sit back and wait for God to rain down fire and brimstone on the ungodly. And then we wonder why we don’t see God working in the world today.
Perhaps we should try something different.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
I bought a new car recently. It came with lots of safety features, like a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, and lane departure warning. There is even a voice that tells me when I’m approaching a red light or speed camera. The day after we bought the car, my husband and I were driving on a city street, approaching an intersection, when the voice boomed out over my left shoulder, “Red light camera ahead! Reduce your speed!” While I focused on driving, my husband quickly started pushing buttons looking for a way to turn down the volume of the mysterious voice which had seemingly come from nowhere.
It’s been calmer in the car since the volume was reduced on the “voice of doom,” as I like to call it. It continues to annoy me, though, as it warns of red light cameras even if the traffic light is green and I’m driving at or under the speed limit. It also warns of speed cameras in a school zone near our house, even though we’re only required to reduce our speed in the area if a red light is blinking. It’s summer. School’s out. The lights aren’t blinking. But my car keeps warning me, “Speed camera ahead. Reduce your speed. Reduce your speed.”
We’ve told a few people about the ever-lurking “voice of doom” in our car. People laugh, and then they say, “Is there a way to turn it off?” I’m sure there is—or at least turn the volume down so low we can’t hear it—but at some point that voice may come in very handy. One day, I may be driving down a street I’m not familiar with and I might miss a school zone sign or think I’m close enough to an intersection when a traffic light turns yellow. Knowing there’s a camera ahead that will catch me if I go through the school zone too fast or go through the light too late could keep me from an expensive traffic ticket or a more expensive accident.
So I listen to the voice in my car, even when I’m fully aware of my surroundings and I know I’m doing the right things. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there are important laws I should keep in mind and there will be consequences if I don’t.
There are other voices in my life I need to listen to—my conscience, the advice of friends and family, the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to tune them all out. It’s easy to relax and say, “I know what I’m doing. This isn’t going to hurt me.” Usually, I do know what I’m doing. But there’s always a chance that I might make a decision too fast. I might miss a warning sign. I might be distracted by something else in my life and end up in dangerous territory without even knowing how I got there.
That’s why I need to keep listening to the warning voices in my life. Even if they’re annoying. And if you’re ever uncertain about which voice to listen to, when people are giving you conflicting advice and direction, listen to these important words above all the others:
“Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Isaiah 8:20
I love baking shows like Cake Wars, The Great British Baking Show, and Holiday Baking Championship. I enjoy watching the competitors strive to create something beautiful and tasty, and I’m thrilled when they succeed. I like to bake, too, but I’ve never had the time or inclination to perfect my skills and make anything as beautiful or as complicated as the masterpieces created on these shows.
That’s why I like the new Netflix show, Nailed It. This is a show I could actually be on because it’s for bad bakers – or at least inexperienced ones. IMBD describes the show this way: “Home bakers with a terrible track record take a crack at re-creating edible masterpieces for a $10,000 prize. It's part reality contest, part hot mess.” While the original masterpieces are beautiful to behold, the re-creations are usually pretty funny (if not just sad).
Like most baking shows, the competitors face a distinct disadvantage in their quest to make something beautiful. They have to do their work in a short period of time. It’s bad enough that the bakers in Nailed it lack any kind of training and have little or no experience in cake decorating. They’re also asked to re-create something that probably took an accomplished cake artist many hours, or even days, to make. Patience is not a virtue in these shows. It’s a luxury no one can afford.
I was reminded this week of the importance of patience in finding and following God’s will for our lives. I want to know God’s will now. I want to get started on the next task. I want to have a finished product ready to serve up by dinner time. And I don’t understand why, so much of the time, I can’t discern God’s leading in my life telling me what to do and how to do it.
Part of the problem may be that I forget to ask for instructions – like the contestant in one episode of Nailed It who went through the first challenge never turning on the tablet at his workstation that contained the recipe for the cake he was supposed to make. The bigger problem for me, though, is just not being patient. I have trouble letting God work in his own time and in his own way. So it’s no wonder I mess up so often.
God isn’t interested in making a half-hearted, barely-recognizable, rushed-through, re-creation of something else in my life. He’s making an original masterpiece, lovingly thought out, painstakingly assembled, with attention to every detail. I can join him in that work, patiently waiting for directions, learning by watching, making mistakes and starting over, or I can rush through on my own and end up with an unappealing mess.
It’s really not that hard to choose.
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:4-6
Over the weekend, I went to see the latest Marvel superhero movie, Ant Man and the Wasp. It was entertaining and funny, with lots of special effects as the two main characters (Ant Man and the Wasp) keep changing from human to insect-size and back again in the midst of hand-to-hand fights and wild car chases. Ant Man’s suit also allows him to grow very large or to shrink beyond the view of any microscope into the “quantum realm” – an important plot point in this movie.
To really up the thrill factor, the good guys in the film have more than one bad guy coming after them. One is a ruthless businessman with his armed thugs, after “quantum” technology he can sell to the highest bidder. The other is a mysterious matter-phasing “ghost” woman who wants the technology for her own needs. The Wasp and her father, who have the technology, have to hold onto it long enough to enter the quantum realm and find the Wasp’s long-lost mother (the original Wasp, who shrunk down too far to come back while rescuing thousands of people from an incoming missile many years earlier).
If you forget about the questionable science and focus on the action, it’s not a hard movie to follow. Like most superhero movies, it’s also easy to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys—and what will happen to them in the end. The good guys will win. The bad guys will lose. And the people in between? Well, they might just get a second chance.
Isn’t that why we like superhero movies? If you use your powers for good and care about other people and try to do the right thing most of the time, things should work out your way. If you care only about yourself and don’t mind hurting other people to get what you want, you will be punished. But, what if there’s an excuse for your bad behavior? What if it’s not really your fault that you became the person you are? Do you deserve a break? Do you deserve to be saved?
This, of course, is the real problem with superhero movies—and with the way most humans think. We try to earn our way to happiness, to deserve good breaks, to be good enough to be counted among the winners. And when we fail, we look for excuses. We say, “It’s not my fault. I can’t help being the way I am. Shouldn’t I get a break, too?”
The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “there is no one righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). There isn’t one person in the whole world who has been good enough to earn the blessing of the holy and perfect God. But there also isn’t one person in the whole world who hasn’t been given a second chance. God offers us his forgiveness and a place in his family, not because of what we have done or not done, but because of his grace and love.
Too often Christians fall into the trap of separating people into the camps of good guys and bad guys. We’re willing to help the good guys. We’re even willing to help people who are the victims of their circumstances, people who have an excuse for not being as good as they could be. But the bad guys are simply bad guys, and they deserve nothing but God’s wrath.
Perhaps we need to change that way of thinking. Perhaps we should remember that we were once “God’s enemies” but that “we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). That’s the only thing that separates us from the bad guys out there. So, shouldn’t we be more understanding—and more gracious? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with sharing the good news of God’s grace and spend less time vilifying people who don’t agree with us?
There are a lot of “people in between” out there just waiting for someone to invite them into the camp of the forgiven. Get out there, superheroes, and give them that chance!
I read an interesting article yesterday in Christianity Today about the Brazilian national soccer team which has a number of evangelical players.* In this predominantly Catholic nation, these players have made a name for themselves by being very open about their love for Jesus.
According to the article, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) recently banned team members from “religiously themed demonstrations” on the field. That would include the practice of some team members of wearing tee shirts with Christian messages beneath their jerseys and displaying them after a goal, and could even include kneeling during a game as if in prayer or pointing to heaven as if to thank God for a successful play. According to the CBF, these celebratory displays are being banned because “the practice could divert focus on competition and constrain athletes who practice other beliefs or are agnostic.”
As I read the article, I could imagine a chorus of outraged Christian voices rising up to condemn this suppression of religious belief. It reminded of a friend who once argued that we need to support public displays of Christian belief (on our coins, in the pledge to the flag, at the beginning of legislative sessions, and in national days of prayer) because God needs the PR. And there’s no better PR than a winning team or a winning player displaying gratitude to the Heavenly Father after a spectacular GOOOAAAAALLL!
The real problem with these displays, as I see it, is that they associate the grace of God with winning. You don’t often see a Christian player of any sport pause after a disastrous play or the loss of a game to point to heaven with grateful smiles. It’s when they score that they thank God for being with them. It’s when they win that they show the world that God has favored them.
So, where is God in the losing?
In the Bible, we often find God in the losing. Many of the most beautiful Psalms were written by David while he was being hunted by King Saul who wanted to kill him. David ran from country to country looking for a safe place to stay. He was betrayed by allies and surrounded by enemies. He lived off the land and bedded down in caves. Again and again he prayed for deliverance and wrote out those prayers in commemoration of God’s goodness.
Wait, God’s goodness? Even when David was on the run? Even when things weren’t going his way? Even when he had to wait three decades for the fulfilment of God’s promise to make him king over all Israel?
The introduction to Psalm 54 says, “For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David. When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’” It ends with David proclaiming, “I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good. You have delivered me from all my troubles.”
Psalm 56 was written about a time “when the Philistines had seized (David) in Gath.” In it David sings, “In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.”
In Psalm 57, David is hiding from Saul in a cave. He writes, “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”
Psalm 59 was written “When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house to kill him.” David’s response was to declare, “You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely."
Each day David survived, he found a reason to praise God—whether he was winning or waiting or on the run, fearful for his life. He didn’t wait for a great victory to declare that God was on his side. He loved God and trusted God’s love for him, perhaps finding it richer and purer and stronger during the losing times of his life. Shouldn't Christians today live more like that?
Even though my kids are both grown, we thought it would be fun for the whole family to go see Incredibles II for Fathers’ Day. The story picks up right where the original Incredibles movie ended, which I think was a great idea. In the original movie, the Parr family had grappled with living with powers that other people didn’t have. Some people loved the “Supers” and thought they did much to make the world a better place. Others feared them because they were different or blamed them for the damage done while they were trying to stop bad people from doing bad things. At some point, using super powers had become illegal, and the Parr family was forced to hide who they really were.
In the new movie, using super powers is still illegal. Bob and Helen Parr (aka Mr. and Mrs. Incredible) are trying to find a balance between helping others, obeying laws they don’t agree with, and protecting their family. It’s not an easy task when their teenage daughter, Violet, is trying to fit in at school, their pre-teen son, Dash, is a barely controllable ball of energy, and their baby, Jack-Jack, is … well that’s hard to explain without seeing the movie, but even a normal baby requires a lot of attention. When Helen is offered a chance to come back into the light and use her super powers to try to convince people to change the “anti-Supers” laws, the family dynamics become even crazier.
In the United States today, some people fear there may soon be “anti-Christian” laws. In fact, laws in some states which protect the rights of homosexual and transgender individuals are already being used to try and silence Christians who disagree with them. As the Supreme Court reminded us earlier this month, the times are changing and laws which affect Christian speech and actions are changing with them. The time may come—much sooner than we imagine—when Christians everywhere will have to choose between obeying the laws and living according to their faith.
In Incredibles II, Helen Parr has no desire to break the law unless doing so would serve a higher purpose. In the first movie, she was willing to “suit up” to save her husband’s life. In this second movie, she “suits up” to be an advocate for changing laws she believes are unfair and not in anyone’s best interests.
As Christians, we should also respect the law of the land as much as we can. The Bible tells us, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1a). But it also says, “the one in authority is God’s servant for your good,” and “rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” (Romans 13:3-4). So what do we do when the rules favor those who do wrong in God’s eyes and punish those who do right?
Like the Parr family, we may have some tough decisions to make about how to live in a society that fears and marginalizes us because of our beliefs. However, there’s one important lesson we can learn from the “supers,” and that is to MINIMIZE THE COLATERAL DAMAGE. Fighting bad guys can be messy, and people can get hurt. Fighting sin can be messy, too. If we try to win our battles at any cost, a lot of people who don’t understand what we’re doing will be hurt. Instead of seeing the good we’re trying to do in the world, all they will see is the damage.
So the next time you “suit up” to fight for something you believe in, ask yourself what kind of damage you might do in the minds and hearts of people who need to make a decision about following Jesus. What is the good you are trying to achieve? What is the harm you might cause?
The world needs us. It needs our core values. But mostly, people need Jesus. Remember that the next time you “suit up.”
What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.