Thursday, January 26, 2012

Joyful Noise Should be Heard, Not Seen

By Brenda Black

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100)

Obviously, Hollywood's version of Christianity is again skewed and condemning. What could have been a wonderful story of transformation in a teen boy's life was reduced to stupidity and crude comedy. Oh, there were a few redeeming moments in the newly released movie, Joyful Noise, starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Pardon. But they were far between and few.
Let me break it down for you. The reviewers on call it “a squeaky clean pop-gospel fairy tale” and metacritic touts it as a “funny and inspirational story of music, hope, love and renewal.” I was more offended than inspired. I heard more cursing than gospel in this movie and was terribly disappointed by the hollow performances of nearly every actor. professional movie critics agree. They say “Joyful Noise is a missed opportunity. Despite a decent performance from Queen Latifah—the most sympathetic character in the story, and the one who seems most earnest about her faith—the movie is too often flat, even offensive, when it should have been soaring and uplifting.” ( )

I don't normally write reviews, but there are some disturbing assumptions crammed down the audience's collective throat that I'd like to address. Jjust in case you think this movie hilarious, it is never funny to use the Lord's name in vain, to have sex outside of marriage, to manipulate, cat fight, gossip, dishonor, lie, cheat, disrespect or buy your power in the church. Oh, yes, these are the qualities personified in the “spirit-filled” Divinity Church Choir of fictitious Pacashau, GA. And these attributes are assumed normal and representative of all believers. The pastor is portrayed as weak and legalistic. The women are petty and power hungry. There were weird sexual scenarios in odd places and strange side stories that seemed to be just thrown in for shock value.

Only a couple of scenes actually evoked genuine emotion and delivered a morsel of truth. Latifah pulled them both off with believable sentiment when esteeming her autistic son and squaring shoulders with a daughter testing the boundaries. In those brief moments, she taught about a God who makes no mistakes and parents who do their best to live out faith. She also is the one who sings a soulful song of prayer with words “Jesus, fix me,” while the rest of the cast justifies their every sinful move.

While most of the songs are pop-turned-church music and easily get you groovin' in the theater seat, the would-be, take-away message and the beauty of their performance is lost in the shallowness of those singing. It's all twisted - a winning choir singing that it's all about Jesus, features a screaming lead singer who jerks around on the platform like a chicken with worms. That “praise team” is disqualified for hiring professional entertainers. Another contender is comprised of a group of uniformed children and their snappy little lead singer screams out lyrics about humility while he flaunts himself all over the stage like Justin Bieber. Instead of the competition being about praising God, it is about WINNING at all costs!

Just when I thought the choir director might rally her troops into an awe-inspiring moment by turning their hearts toward the real reason for singing – Jesus -- she keeps the movie consistently and ashamedly humanistic and just challenges her choir to kick the butt of the competition because “We deserve this!” Pathetic!

Look, I am quite aware the church is full of sinners. That's why I'm there. I need a Savior. But this movie's baseless assault on Christianity blatantly smacks of another attempt to make Christians look stupid and worldly. If we get nothing else out of it, I pray it compels us to take a hard look at our own behavior. I pray that we remember that it is Christ whose name we bear as we sing or stomp or kick and scream our way in this world. We live for His glory, not our own. Sing for Him and to His beat and don't bother with this movie.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Babes

By Brenda Black

I loved it! I loved the lack of clutter, the clean white background, the beautiful faces of children of every color. I loved the simplicity and the purity of the message. I loved their expressions and personalities. I loved being stopped in my tracks as I was exiting a restaurant, surprised that finally there was commercial worth hearing, seeing and believing. Thank you, Focus on the Family, for broadcasting John 3:16.

By now, you've probably heard the buzz, seen the ad replayed over the internet hundreds of times. Still it doesn't get old. “Wow!” the little doll at the end proclaims. Out of the mouth of this babe comes the most profound of truths we cannot explain. Why God loves us enough to send His Son remains a mystery. Ancient citizens of planet earth despised and rejected the Creator of the Universe. Today they mock and hate Him still. Yet, He gave...and continues to save. Wow! What else is there to say?

It would do this world a world of good if we would stop and listen to the wisdom of innocence. For example, here are a couple of logical kid conclusions to a few over-used adult idioms.

“You get out of something what you..............see pictured on the box.”

“Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry have to blow your nose.”

Children are like wet cement, someone once said. Whatever falls on them makes an impression. However, some of our abstract adult concepts merely lay on the surface and never quite sink in. A kindergarten student reveals the assumptions we often make when communicating with children. On the first day of school, the teacher said, “If anyone has to go to the bathroom, hold up two fingers.” A little voice from the back of the room asked, “How will that help?” her request made no sense at all when you think like a kid.

When will we learn that the more complex we make it, the less influence we wield. Kids want the truth, not a bunch of philosophical hogwash tainted by political correctness or radical prejudice. They deserve the truth - free of clutter, clean, beautiful, in living color. We're the adults and we should be teaching a simple and pure message. Our children are worth it!

Children give us unconditional love and brazen honesty. They provide the most glorious sound in the world – a giggle. Kids are insightful and fearless. They are creative and brilliant if given a chance. They give us so much! What are we giving back?

"The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children," says martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His standard comes from none other than the Christ himself.

“[Jesus] called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.

“'But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin!'” (Matthew 18:2-7a)

If the test of morality is what society does for its children, then the test of the heart is if we'll listen. Jesus took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Once more, we are the benefactors of God's love through the blessings of children and God's great wisdom and truth delivered from the mouths of babes. Remember that on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Jan. 22.

“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.” That's John 3:16 in case you missed the commercial. It's the truth we need to be living if you care about our children.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

If It Weren't for that Woman

By Brenda Black

Eve – She was fashioned by intentional thought and loving consideration from the heart of God and the side of man. Her name means life-giver and she was designed to bear the seed that would populate the earth. One would think such a woman so notable would be talked about over and over in the Holy Bible, yet her name is spoken only a handful of times in all of Scripture.

Though referenced in Gen. 3:1-19, she is identified as “the woman” and “his wife,” but never called Eve until the twentieth verse when Adam names her because “she would be the mother of all the living.” He only learns that bit of information when God pronounces the curse. “I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children in anguish. Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)

Again she was called by name in Gen. 4:1 when the conception of a child is discussed. And this woman acknowledged that Cain was delivered “with the Lord's help.”

Eve is called by name again in the New Testament, but unfortunately only when temptation is mentioned. Paul says it this way: “But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3). And sadly, she is tied again to the dangers and consequence of weak resistance in one final mention in a letter to Timothy. Eve's sins are immortalized; the fall emphasized.

She barely existed before she blundered and the rest of history remembers only her folly. Did she do anything right? Did God not call her good the moment He laid eyes on her? Adam said of this gift from God, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called 'woman,' for she was taken from man.” (Gen. 2:23) And remember: “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.” (vs.25)

It started out GREAT! And then it went South! And Eve fell from perfection to the butt of bad jokes passed down for generations. She exchanged her innocence for cruel insolence directed at her name and every daughter of Eve since that time. All because of her own weak will and a deceptive enemy, who was a crafty liar and evil destroyer.

Oh sure, I've been mad at Eve myself – especially during child birth! But I've also grieved for the first woman who made one terrible mistake and went down in history as a failure. We have to remember, God is in the business of redemption. That didn't begin at Calvary, it began in the Garden. God covered the shame of both man and woman. In his punishment, He also protected. And though we never hear how old she was or when she died, I have to believe that Eve was loved – by God, by Adam, by her children and friends she knew and lives she touched. We'll never know her whole story. But I do know, God blessed her from the beginning. He saved her from her sin. I'll get the rest of the story when I see her in heaven.

None of us are perfect. We all give in to temptations through far less threats than coming face to face with that serpent of old. If our names were written for all the world to read, how many times would we be mentioned in shameful terms? How many times would our sins be documented as bad examples? Before we cast the first stone at any other, we should look first to our own blunders that need God-covers.

Monday, January 2, 2012

An Honest Outlook

By Brenda Black

Opinions ricochet across the globe, zinging prophecies concerning 2012. Some volley good year predictions while others warn of pending doom. Economic upswing or more market plummets? Depends on who you ask. Global peace? Depends on where you live.

“Syria's government-owned Al-Thawrah says people across the country 'look forward to a new year full of hope and optimism,'” the BBC reports. But that same article, published Jan. 2, goes on to quote political analyst Wang Honggang from a statement published by China's Guangzhou Ribao newspaper. In it he predicts that "the global chain of unrest symbolized by the 'Arab Spring', 'Europe Summer', 'Wall St Autumn' and 'Moscow Winter' will continue to brew and trigger a series of follow-up effects,” making 2012 "more complex and unpredictable" than 2011.

Here at home, the reviews are just as mixed. If you listen long enough, you'll hear both hope and fear, sometimes in the same breath. I've ventured such conflicting emotions myself – especially when I analyze the next generation and their outlook.

I'm hopeful when I spend time with some young friends who are bright and articulate; moral and purpose-driven. They talk of community service and faith and friendship. They love to laugh and they aren't afraid of work. And then, I feel nauseous when I hear of the crass and ignorant rants from people who desecrate property and damn society, blaming everyone but themselves for their own circumstance. Hope and fear. Help and hindrance. Honor and disrespect. That's the difference in the next generation – and when we each look in the mirror at ourselves.

For the record, those who scream “We are the 99%” are not speaking for me! And last time I checked, I sure didn't fit financially into the remaining 1%. If you're like me, you can't identify with such polarized pigeon holes either. Around these parts, we don't lump ourselves into radical movements crying foul and expecting hand outs. Nor do we put buckets on our heads and pretend everything is perfect. We just do the best we can with what we have, which, for the record, we earned the hard way.

I don't have any grand predictions for 2012. Only the Lord knows what is certain in the months ahead. I know I can't afford $5 gas that some are forecasting and I don't think our nation can afford another four years of misguided management. I do know that America is in jeopardy and if we want to get through 2012, we better get on our knees starting now! But my plea is not rooted in fear. It's founded in belief. I believe there is a better way, a higher road, and I will always choose hope over fear and God's wisdom over my own intelligence. And I'll thank Him for every glimpse of decency, civility and morality I discover in fellow humanity.

There is hope this year if you look for it. There is hope this year if you will be it.

copyright 2012 - The Word's Out- Brenda Black