Why on earth is a Christian church talking about Harry Potter ?
Our church sees benefit in both practical, topical sermon series and verse by verse sermon series through a book of the Bible, so we take turns doing both. For example, we have just completed a wonderful journey through every verse of the book of Ephesians, and after Easter we will be starting a topical sermon series entitled “Harry Potter meets Jesus.” For some of our folks (especially the generation that grew up with Harry) this will be exciting news. For others, not so much. Some might ask “Why bring into the church of Jesus Christ illustrations from a secular book and movie series, especially one that talks about magic and spells?”
I myself tend to lean on the ‘better safe than sorry’ side when it comes to entertaining stories that might subtly lead people astray with underlying false messages. I was personally quite skeptical and hesitant about this series until I read all seven books. They turned out to be wonderful opportunities to talk with our (then young) children about good and evil, morality, and how we should treat other people. But there are profound lessons for adults in these stories too!
So why is our church pursuing this path ?
My short answer would be two-fold:
First, it is possible to help a person “re-frame” an image, a song, or a story so that it points beyond itself to the truths of the gospel. When this happens, then every subsequent time that person encounters that thing in culture, it reminds them of Jesus. It is actually a way of creating signposts in the culture, in people’s everyday lives, can point them towards the real story of redemption.
Second, all the great teachers of the Bible, including Jesus himself, met people where they were, and used cultural artifacts that people would readily understand in their teaching. Their goal was to start with things that people cared about, things that were an intimate part of their culture, and then use those things to move people to the deeper truths of the Gospel. In regards to that last point, for people of a certain age, it would be hard to find a more prevalent or foundational current cultural artifact than the Harry Potter series. It is the best-selling book series of all time. Author Connie Neal argues “Never before in the history of the world and literary experience have so many been united as a human family – despite differences in age, gender, ethnicity, culture, politics, nationality, or religion – by a series of books read globally and simultaneously in 65 languages.”
The author of the series, J. K. Rowling, considers herself an Anglican Christian. So it makes sense that many of the most moving scenes and profound ideas in the series: life after death, the battle between good and evil, choosing love over hate, forgiveness, the seduction that comes with power, choosing to lay down one’s life to save others, the evil of arrogance and prejudice, thankfulness for the simple things of this life – are all echoes of the truths originally taught in the Bible. She said she chose not to reveal the intentional Christian parallels in the beginning of the series because doing so would have “given too much away to fans who might then see the parallels.” Rowling goes on to say that life beyond death and resurrection theology are clear in the two bible verses referenced in the story (Matthew 6:19, 1 Corinthians 15:26), and that these two verses “epitomize the whole series.”
When it comes to the hard but worthwhile work of redeeming and re-framing those fragments of popular culture that can be redeemed, I suggest we follow two guiding scriptures.
The first one is “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” — 2 Corinthians 10:5 God is the sole author of all truth, and in His sovereignty He has seen fit to give some artists the ability to enflesh truths in stories so that they can pierce our dull hearts and moves us towards more obedient lives.
The second scripture comes from Jesus when his disciples were suspicious of the deeds and words of someone they were unfamiliar with. Jesus said to them: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” – Mark 9:40 There is much that gets a free pass in the church that is not true Christianity at all. And paradoxically (due to God’s common grace), there is much in the world and culture that points us to Him if we only have eyes to see. I think the Harry Potter story is not against the gospel, and in fact can serve as an on-ramp towards it.
For those who love the Harry Potter series, I ask you to think of this as a very unique opportunity to invite friends to church. This will be fun and challenging and Biblical. If not for this, then when?!
For those of you who have no interest in Harry Potter, I have good news! These sermons won’t require any previous knowledge of these books. They will feel like a typical sermon centered on a scriptural text that includes a helpful illustration that happens to be a scene from a popular movie or book. As always our goal is to meet people where they are and lead them to the King of Kings. Or as our church mission states it “to intentionally help other people encounter the kingdom of God.” The series will be primarily about friendships and relationships – how to create and keep healthy, God-honoring relationships in a world where people are becoming more and more isolated. Whether you are excited or skeptical at the prospect of this series – I would love to talk with you about it to hear your perspective. Please do pray that God would use this effort to draw people who are far from him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!
Our last FRED Talk deals with the hardest question of all: If God is all powerful and all loving, how could God possibly allow the horrible things that happen in this world ? Why doesn’t God stop them ? This talk looks at the various ways people have tried to understand this dilemma and comes to a conclusion that is brutally honest and realistic yet still full of real hope that comes from the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
From The Pastor’s Desk
If you are new to our church I want to welcome you to Leverington! We believe that God is doing beautiful new things at our church and we would love for you to be part of them! This is a church that deeply cares about community. Whether you are single, married, young or old there is a place for you here. You can find out all about who we are, what we believe, and what we are doing at www.Levpres.org I would also enjoy a chance to meet with you personally and learn more about your faith journey and how Leverington can help you and your family. Please feel free to call me at 215-428-0293 and we can set up a time to get together.
On the other hand, if you have been around our church for a while you may notice that some of the articles this month look suspiciously similar to articles we included last month! That is not because we are lazy (OK, that might be true too), but rather because these issues are so important we want to make sure everyone gets a chance to see them. So to recap what I said last month, a great deal of change is occurring in our church as we launch our new second service, called Gate Street. To find out the story behind that name, come to church on September 11th at either 9:30 or 11:00 AM! With all that is changing there are some crucial things that never change:
“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever.” 1 Peter 1:24
Although we may change some things on the surface, we are committed to continue teaching and preaching the Word of God which does not change. It is the Word of God that we need – first God’s living Word who is Jesus Christ, and then God’s written Word, which is the scriptures. As a church we are committed to building everything we do upon the unchanging foundation of God’s Word to us. That is why I am so excited about our upcoming series:
Whichever service you attend this fall, we will be learning together how God’s Word applies to the very practical issue we all deal with – navigating our closest relationships. This series will not only be helpful to you, it can be a great excuse to invite someone to church! Please begin praying now about inviting someone you know who could be blessed and helped by this series.
May God bless you deeply this Fall,
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The Pornography Paradox:
Porn Is Simultaneously More Criticized and More Popular Than Ever
There are so many problems with porn; it’s hard to pick just one.
Some people think it sounds up-tight and old fashioned to make such a big deal about pornography. But a pastor, I am deeply concerned about this problem that none of us wants to talk about. I am convinced it is doing far more to damage our minds, our relationships, and even our ability to enjoy sex than than we realize. We are talking about the potential for life long misery. Just this week I talked with a man (not from our church) that struggles with pornography. He pointed to his head and said “The images are in here forever. I have been emotionally distant from my wife for years because of it and I am racked with guilt. It doesn’t go away.” For either an audio or video podcast on this topic, google “Surf At Your Own Risk John Ortberg.” The following is from an article that was written by Halee Gray Scott in Christianity Today.[i]
This spring, Utah became the first state to declare pornography a public health crisis, calling on businesses and educators to protect children from it. Around the same time, a Time Magazine cover story story reported that porn causes erectile dysfunction in young men whose minds have marinated in X-rated clips from the time they were teenagers.
Pornography trains the user to seek more extreme sexual experiences to receive the same satisfying flood of dopamine. It’s what researchers call the Coolidge effect—the prospect of a new sexual partner excites males (and sometimes females) so much that normal sexual activity becomes boring by comparison.
Time focused on how porn usage prevents couples from having healthy sex lives. That’s only the beginning of a troubling and growing amount of research and trends. We’re learning more and more about the lasting impact of living in a world wired to a porn-saturated Internet.
When I was a teenager in the 1990s, when the Internet was in its infancy and all cell phones were “dumb,” churches’ major concern regarding sexual matters was premarital sex. In 1993, teens had to steal magazines or VHS tapes to view porn; today, all they need is an Internet connection. While the evidence continues to reveal negative effects of this multibillion-dollar industry, few secular commentators dare to say what many of us see: our porn problem is a moral problem, with drastic consequences for individuals and communities.
Studies have linked porn consumption to depression and higher drug and alcohol consumption. Researchers in Germany found that men who watch porn showed a weaker connection between the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and the part of the brain involved in memory storage and information processing. A wave of “pornified” advertisements, depicting women in erotic poses selling everyday products, lead both men and women to view women’s bodies differently—and certainly not more humanly.
Aside from the neurological consequences, science has unpacked a plethora of sociological effects. Pornography negatively shapes romantic relationships; one study found that women in relationships with men who use porn report being less happy than those with men who abstain. Research in a dozen countries showed that men who viewed pornography when they were boys were less likely to form healthy relationships and more likely to think sexual harassment was acceptable.
At the same time that researchers are unearthing porn’s tolls, Americans have grown more tolerant of it. According to an extensive study conducted by Barna Group, only half of US adults and one-third of teens and young adults thought pornography was “wrong.” Teens and young adults believe not recycling is more immoral than using porn. Barna found porn use is up among Christians, too. Some 41 percent of Christian men ages 13–24 and 23 percent of Christian men ages 25 and up said they “frequently” used porn. (The figures were 5 percent and 13 percent for Christian women in those age groups.)
Porn isn’t just an individual moral problem. It strikes to the heart of what it means to be human.
Porn advocates argue that pornography feeds our innate and uncontrollable instincts, and that healthy adults should explore those instincts freely. Christians know better. We are right to exhort each other to make every thought captive to Christ and to live into our new life in him.
[i] Reprinted by permission from Christianity Today July/August 2016.
I used to say “I am not religious.”
Now I say “Everyone is religious.”
You already are religious – and so is everyone else.
Being “religious” can’t just mean believing in God.
After all, you don’t need to believe in God to be a Buddhist,
but surely Buddhism is one of the great religions of the world.
Whether you are an atheist, Buddhist, agnostic, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Christian, or a “Nothing” –
you already have ideas about what is true about the world.
You already place your faith in something or some ideas or someone.
For example, you might believe the universe will exist tomorrow
and that it is wrong to bully other people.
Those are two parts of your “Word View” – how you view the world.
Religion is just another word for “World View.”
And since everyone has opinions about the world,
everyone is already religious – even if they don’t think they are.
There is no magic divide between religious and non-religious people –
there are just people.
The question is – What do you believe is true,
and who or what do you put your faith in ?
Being a Christian is not about believing
your religion is right and everyone else is wrong…
Christianity says that all of us get some things wrong
and that the only one who gets everything right is God.
Christianity is not about saying you have all the answers,
it’s about saying that God has all the answers.
Think of it this way…
Everyone is standing somewhere. From time to time we may move around
– at one time we may be standing over there
and at another time we may be standing over here –
but everyone is standing somewhere.
Christianity is choosing to stand close to Jesus, choosing to stand with Jesus.
It’s not so much saying that you think other people are wrong
as much as saying that you think Jesus is right.
It’s not claiming you have everything figured out and will never change your
opinion, it’s saying you trust Jesus and you want to be loyal to him.
You have to stand somewhere.
It is not close minded to stand close to Jesus,
It’s not that you don’t want to be open to other peoples ideas,
you just choose to stand with Jesus while you do.
But what about Science ?
Any one who thinks there is a conflict
between real science and real Christianity
either doesn’t understand Science, or Christianity, or both.
The fact that the head of the human genome project
and many other great scientists through out history were and are Christians
makes this rather obvious.
Christians believe that Science helps us understand the natural world
but that by definition science is limited to knowledge about
the physical world.
Thus it provides only a subset of what can be known.
It can’t “prove” some of the most important parts of life – like falling in love,
loyal friendships, or our meaning and purpose in the world.
The right equation is not Christianity OR Science,
it is Christianity PLUS Science.
Why do Christians think that Jesus
and Christianity are different than all the other options ?
Most religions of the world are primarily about Good Advice.
“Do this. Don’t do that.”
Christianity is primarily about Good News.
It says that the God who made everybody on the planet and loves everybody on the planet
(regardless of what they call themselves)
came to earth to offer us a new way to live
not based on our ideas but based on his.
Jesus intentionally said things that would make him unpopular.
He was especially unpopular with people who wanted to be in charge
and people who were self-righteous.
( If you think you are fine just the way you are – that means you are declaring
yourself righteous – i.e. you are self-righteous ! )
Jesus says that all of us are precious
but that all of us do wrong things over and over again.
Doing wrong is like digging a hole – if you keep going and going,
you can dig a hole so big that you can get yourself in,
but you can’t get yourself out.
Jesus paid the price not only to get us out of the hole now
but also to carry us with him both in this life and after this life.
If a guy lost in the desert had no news of any hope he might give up and die.
But if he knew that a plane had already taken off
and was on it’s way to save him,
that good news would change everything for him.
Christians believe the plane is already on it’s way – Jesus has already risen
from the dead – and that good news changes the way we look at life.
But it can do more than that. It can change us. It can change our lives now and it can change our forever. If you are interested in finding out more about Christianity, please contact our church office and we will send you resources, or line up someone you can talk to – whatever will be most helpful to you.
The world wide church is a beautiful tapestry of people from all walks of life who have discovered that there is more here than atoms. There is a Maker of Heaven and Earth who knows you, loves you, and has a calling on your life. To find out more about what our church believes, click here