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The following post comes courtesy of Grace Hill Media in sunny Southern California. As the genre, and responsible parenting/consumption of media are near to my heart, it was a no-brainer to feature their byline here.

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Lessons For Christians From Horror Movies

The popularity of horror films continue to grow, especially among teens and young adults, who flock to movie theaters on opening weekend.  This Friday, August 11, for example, the movie “Annabelle: Creation,” about a possessed doll hits theaters nationwide.  It seems difficult to believe that any movie created to frighten and give us nightmares might have a meaningful spiritual lesson for Christians.  And yet, anyone who has been brave enough to watch “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” written by Scott Derrickson, a Christian filmmaker, knows full well that horror movies can serve us with cautionary messages and, might just inspire the audience to head to their nearest church pew.
To be clear, not all horror films are the same. The genre has different versions.  
There’s no takeaway from “slasher” or disturbing “torture” movies meant to provide nothing but shock.  However, there are horror movies that depict spiritual warfare (which we know to be real) and the battle between good and evil. These supernatural films, oftentimes written and produced by Christians and based on real-life events, are filled with lessons about something we as people of faith have stopped discussing in an increasingly distracted secular world – that evil is real.

Here are a few other lessons from supernatural horror films:
1) Exorcisms are also real.  Although incredibly rare, people can get possessed by evil.  “The Exorcist” is based on a real-life possession of a young boy, and “Annabelle: Creation” is about a possessed girl.  

2) God will always defeat evil. No matter how powerful the enemy may be, God will always come out on top.  In the Bible, one of the most powerful miracles that Jesus performed was The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine in which Jesus cast unclean spirits out of a man.  In real-life and in all supernatural films that have a faith message including “The Conjuring” and “The Rite,” evil will always be vanquished.

3) Ouija Boards are a big no.  Perhaps one of the strongest and most valuable lessons to come from supernatural horror movies (which just as true in real life) is that those who become plagued or possessed by evil may have inadvertently invited those spirits or demon to come into their lives.  This is done through certain “gateways” that many priests and Christian leaders warn us about.  Christians, especially Christian parents must teach kids and teens to stay away from Ouija boards, tarot cards, fortune telling, or any sort divination.  These are all means in which evil can take hold of our lives.  In the second “Conjuring” movie the character becomes possessed after playing with a Ouija board.  This was based on a true person and event.
 
4) Prayer is the most powerful thing in the world.  Prayers protect and deliver us from evil.  In horror movies, those who are plagued by evil must often turn to a person of great faith or priest to help them.  That Christian leader is always portrayed as someone who believes prayer to be of utmost importance and is shown onscreen praying to God throughout the film.

5) Faith is the most important thing in the world.  Believing in God and being baptized in the Christian community protects and strengthens us.  It is a natural defense again evil.  In times of weakness, we must lean on our faith and turn to God.  The upcoming movie, “Annabelle: Creation,” is a cautionary tale that depicts what happens when one turns away from God and succumbs to temptation during a period of grief and weakness as opposed to leaning on God for grace and healing.  

All movies, including horror movies tell stories.  In the last century, before we had television and films, parents told stories and tales that were meant to alarm and even frighten children and youth from a certain place or course of action.

Now these stories, meant to be lessons, are brought to life onscreen, complete with sound effects and make-up.  They are terrifying and they should be – evil is something to stay away from.  But for Christians, there is a stronger message, one that should always comfort and strengthen us – that we have a savior and that he will always come to protect and fight for those of us in need.
 


You’ve heard of the lifting up of holy hands, or lifting up a brother (or sister) before the Lord? The former is demonstration of worship and/or praise; the latter, a metaphor for intercessory prayer.

You’ve maybe heard of these, but have you heard of praying someone in the back? Or perhaps the prayer ambush?

No?

Well, it’s kinda like this:

Imagine you’re out somewhere, and run into your friend. You exchange greetings, and your friend introduces you to their friend–a real prayer wolf. They ask if they can pray for you. Thinking that it’s going to be quick prayer lifted reverently to the Lord (you are, after all, in a public place), you acquiesce. 

That isn’t what happens.

They flank you like guards walking a condemned prisoner down the green mile to the execution chamber. And then they start ululating in a language which can only be described as early tribal. Right there, in public, in loud voices (because God, apparently, is deaf) they begin to declaim your deliverance from:

Demons

Health problems 

Marital woes

Halitosis 

Indigestion

Slow motility

Depression (you’re not down yet, but after this you will be)

Like the violet, you want nothing more than to shrink away out of view. People are beginning to look. You’re saying, “Stop! Stop!”

“In Jesus Name!! Stop!!” you yell at the top of your lungs.

“Amen, amen!” is what you hear in reply. “That’s right! You tell that bad old devil to stop.” Your eyes roll so hard into the back of your head you’re afraid they’ll stick there. You throw your hands up in utter disgust and frustration…

“Yes!!! Lift up those holy hands to the Lord!” Your hands clench involuntarily into fists, and before you know what you’re doing you lay hands on those dedicated prayer wolves with a couple of choice roundhouses and upper cuts.

“Now how do y’all feel about being slain in the spirit?” Like Ananias and Sapphira they ain’t getting up.

You walk off, perhaps feeling lighter than you have in quite some time.

Prayer, apparently, is good for the soul. Especially when you pray like Stands With A Fist.

I believe in the Gospel of grace. Grace here defined as a free gift of God’s unmerited favor bestowed upon sinful humanity. None of us deserves it, yet it’s given freely. I don’t understand that. Yet I embrace it. For I know my need.

As with any gift, the grace that is given must be received. While the invitation is open to all, while there are seats at the table for all, not all want God’s grace. I don’t understand that, either.

For those that receive His grace, and freely come, we’ve not found a license to sin. We find salve for our wounds, balm for our souls. But we find something, Someone, else as well:

Jesus.

And that encounter with Him must fundamentally alter the course of our lives. He gave His all upon the cross; died a death which wasn’t His, payed a debt He didn’t owe. When we come to Him, as with any loving parent, He in His grace, will gently, lovingly, yet implacably, remove from us (as we let Him) all that is not Him. Anything that is not Him, to which we run for comfort, try to assuage our brokenness, fill our emptiness, in which we find identity, He will inexorably take away. There can be no other before Him. In other words, the Gospel of grace is the Gospel of death: a death to self.

Grace is found in, and fills, the cracks, yes.

But make no mistake: it is grace which takes our our sacred cows, everything we exalt above Our Lord. Take it from me (with generous portions of sodium chloride, naturally) that when Jesus comes asking to take that thing away (whatever that thing may be), yield then. You really don’t want His graceful two-by-four upside your stubborn head. Because He will.

Make no mistake: He loves as we are, where we are, but loves us enough to not leave us there.

So, yes, grace is free. But not pain-free. Jesus is the cosmic cow-tipper. Upending our comfortable, carefully controlled lives He longs to give us something so much better.

James Prescott has written, and just released, a book called Mosaic of Grace God’s Beautiful Reshaping of Our Broken Lives, wherein he writes so much more eloquently than I ever could about grace. Consider this your not-so-gentle reminder to pick up a copy of James’s book at your bookseller of choice. Find James on Twitter, Facebook, and on his blog, James Prescott.

There is scene in The Lord of the Rings which Professor Tolkien felt was the pivitol moment of the book; in it, Gollum nearly repents, having been won over by Frodo’s kindness. But the well-meaning Sam interferes. Chastened by Sam’s meanness, Gollum sulks off. Following are Tolkien’s thoughts:

“For me perhaps the most tragic moment in the Tale comes when Sam fails to note the complete change in Gollum’s tone and aspect….His (Gollum’s) repentance is blighted and all Frodo’s pity is (in a sense) wasted. Shelob’s lair becomes inevitable” (Letter #246).”

One wonders how often this happens, e.g., when a sinner is close to repentance, but one of God’s well-meaning children interferes? More often than we’d care to admit. There will be much one day which we will have to answer for. Many surprises are in store.

Along these same lines are the all-too-often instances of when a brother, or sister (or both), are hurting, and reach out for help. Let’s say that they’re getting help, finding some measure of mentorship, of folks coming alongside them. Things are happening, God is moving.

Then the church steps in.

The church leadership. If the church is a hospital, they are its doctors facilitating a connection to the Great Physician. Not this time. Not on their rounds.

The church says “No, you can’t do it that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting helped, making connections. You’re not doing it under our auspices. You have to stop.”

There again, Gollum is shut down, shut out, feeling cast aside… Wondering “What did I do wrong? I thought the church was supposed to help me? Isn’t this a spiritual hospital? God was moving, my struggles were getting better. Why did you shut me down?”

Brothers and sisters this ought not to be. But it happens over and over again. 

Have you been there? You think you’re doing the right thing, reaching out, in evangelicalese getting “plugged in,” but it blows up in your face, and then crumbles into dust… Leaving you wondering why you ever did this in the first place. You’re left feeling like you’d find more camaraderie, more acceptance, down at the corner bar. At least there they won’t judge you for being a sinner seeking solace, relief, healing.

What do you do when the church fails? Where do you go?

Who has the words which bring you life? Can life be found? Is it worth trying again?

Jesus, where are You in this?

Jesus

If you’ve been following along this week, the blog has been dedicated to publicizing the upcoming film, The Conjuring2, directed by James Wan, and starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. I’ve done this for a number of reasons; first, because I’m a fan of the 2013 original. Second, because it’s a rare film that can scare the pants off without descending into a morass of gore, language, and nudity. Yes, that’s right; unlike Friday the 13th, or It Follows, there is no onscreen sex here. Third, the screenwriters–Chad and Carey Hayes–are believers. Fourth, and truly the biggest reason, is that although evil is depicted as formidable, it is nowhere glorified. Fifth, if we are believers ourselves, we absolutely hold to the fact that there is a real, unseen world which intersects with ours (“God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth”). Moreover, the Bible itself tells us that the “weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” And that, friends, is exactly what one sees in a Conjuring movie: the mighty power of God overcoming the spiritual forces of wickedness.

So just to sum up: evil is depicted as real, formidable, but not all powerful. It is not glorified, or presented as something desirable. In the end, as all such battles between God and evil must, God wins. And when He wins we win.

The first movie ended this way:

conjuring-quote

That, in my book, is a bold way to end a Hollywood movie in the 21st century.

But you didn’t come here to read my musings on horror films, faith, or the ongoing battle between good and evil; no, today you came for the swag. 😉 I did say I was giving away a Conjuring2 prize pack. So, in partnership with Grace Hill Media and Warner Brothers, I offer you the following:

Conjuring2 Giveaway

In the prize pack are:

2 reusable plastic cups

a leather bound journal

2 t-shirts

and a pair of tickets to see the film

a Rafflecopter giveaway