My Take On Hunger Games/Divergent/Maze Runner Trilogies

This is from my notes Sunday at our roundtable discussion for our film festival.

Each of these films are dystopian trilogies and share some commonalities.

All have an oppressive structure to fight against. Hunger Games it is the government, Divergent is the culture’s faction system, Maze Runner starts off with “The Maze” being the oppressive force but later we understand it’s a medical team.

Each has an unlikely heroine/hero that is facing an impossible task. Familial relationships are core to each story but in very different ways. Hunger Games is the actual family while Divergent focuses on the faction and Maze Runner on those in the Glades.

Adults are seen as aloof at best, the evil that is causing the problem at worst. Of course, this is probably more because these books are written for the young adult crowd.

There is a loss of innocence, an end of world problem that stands before our protagonists and each trilogy has a solution to the problem that involves self sacrifice at some level. In fact, all of them insist that the solution will only come about through sacrifice.

However, each is unique in it’s own right as well.

The Hunger Games
Gives us Katniss Everdeen as the primary heroine. A theme that runs through the entire trilogy is how compromised Katniss is by her love for Prim, her sister. She’ll do anything to save Prim – even use love as a commodity with Peeta. It’s not that she wants to hurt Peeta or Gail but she wants to save Prim at any cost. She will ‘play the game’ to save Prim, no matter who it hurts along the way including Peeta and Gail – her best friend back home who she also “loves.”

Colors and textures are huge in the film. Anything bright is to be distrusted, anything rustic/dirty is okay. President Snow, his white hair, clothes, and roses all scream at us – it is all a lie, don’t trust this! Purple seems to show us a blinded, ambiguous character at first. Effie Trinket and Plutarch, the game master.

Most of the film is about the gray. Is okay to kill if you are going to be killed? Is it okay to lie in order to survive? How far will you go to play the game with the Capital? Does Katniss really love Peetah or is this just part of the ruse?

Katniss never escapes the gray in the entire story. She is always compromised in some way. She doesn’t want to be the Mockingjay but will do it to save Peeta. She doesn’t want to the attachment to Gail unless it’s to help her mom and sister. She is more concerned about Prim than the atrocities of the government and leading the revolution.

You can see shadows of the Roman culture and its infatuation with the violence of the Colosseum. It’s the logical conclusion of secular humanism that the Hunger Games gives us a vivid picture of. In fact, Katniss has is eeriely similar to the goddess Artemis – woman hunter with bow and arrow who loves the outdoors.

What topples the Empire in book 1 is the “unconditional, sacrificial love” between Peetah and Katniss. Of course, it’s only Peetah that feels this way, Katniss is playing the game, playing the odds that the ‘system’ won’t stand for both victors to die in the arena. She wins the gamble in book 1. This value system doesn’t hold in the remaining story.

Quoting Plutarch -moves and countermoves becomes the name of the game. More war, different leader – same system. Both sides use deception and flattery to use Katniss. But deception is fine as long as end goal is noble.

There is a false reality of free will in Divergent. Same choice the Heavenly Father faces – do you allow free will and the beautiful mess that it creates or just the illusion of free will? If only the illusion, you must remove anything that is truly free. Hence, Divergents threaten the system. In life, God takes the risk.

Again – another heroine fighting in community, not alone. Focus here is more on society roles, than government. Self-sacrifice of ‘heroine’ is key to freedom — like Hunger Games.

Tris has a problem – she wants somebody else to tell her who she is and how she fits. She doesn’t want to do the work on her own.

Of the three – this one was had the least appeal for me. The romance was minimal which was nice but the payoff and twist doesn’t seem to push the story as well as the other two.

The Maze Runner
Doesn’t matter who you were before the maze.

So much biblical imagery in this story. Thomas – one of the creators of the maze – enters the maze as one of ‘them’, not as a creator. He comes to help heal, solve it. He offers them a new perspective – it’s not a prison, it’s a test. Only way to get out of maze is to follow Thomas, have a relationship with him and trust him enough to follow him through the maze. This comes at a great sacrifice to Thomas as well as the Gladers.

Family is redefined. Not by blood but by purpose and calling. They are the called out ones – church as it were.

The problem with world isn’t a system but a ‘sickness’ inside people. This sickness makes people the walking dead. Must cure the people, not the systems. The cure is a new creation, a new Eden, a new relationship. Forgiveness is the huge step to access this cure as is leaving the old behind.

SO MANY BIBLICAL ALLUSIONS!! Can’t be an accident. Maze Runner makes for a great allegory of the Gospel at work.

Trust, betrayal is a huge theme in the books, the idea of family is reframed and redefined. Shadows of what a new life in Christ is about – trading families.
love the picture of both needed – male and female hero

GE Wrapup
I think all three have some value and will allow you to talk about some incredible topics from a spiritual perspective.

The violence in Hunger Games is intense. Kids killing kids. As harsh as that is – there are places where this happens today. So it isn’t completely fiction. In urban areas, overseas in religious settings in particular. This is reality for some children in our world. They face the same moral dilemmas – kill or be killed. Grow up fast in places like that. Will you let your culture change you? Will you let them dictate what you do? Peeta said – no. Katniss…wasn’t as confident in that answer.

Divergent and Hunger Games gives us a glimpse of what the natural end of secular humanism looks like. If you solely lived by the values of secular humanism/darwinism – Hunger Games and Divergent is what you get. That is a picture we need to see. Our beliefs have deep, far-reaching consequences.

Both Divergent and Hunger Games preach that we can heal ourselves. That ultimately man’s best hope is himself and his ability to create a better system. All that is needed is more education, more war, more tolerance, or different leadership. It’s fools gold. It’s circular reasoning. It has never worked out that way in history. But it makes for a good ending for a book or movie.

There is huge desire/fear in the characters that the world they are in is not all there is. The future world/unknown world is met with equal parts hope and trepidation. And their quest is seen as a key component in how to deal with this fear. On the positive side, culture is seen in every series as something to fight against, to question. Ironically enough, this doesn’t happen in the real world. We seem to embrace it way to fast – values, morals.

There are whispers of the Gospel in each of these stories. Each of the authors were created in the image of God, their source of creativity is God and that DNA comes out in the stories – whether they intended this or not. There is more to this world than meets the eye. Something is amiss and needs fixing/redeeming/saving/healing. There is a bigger story going on. Is the core issue our culture or is it us?

I think Maze Runner is the better picture. There is a sickness. Some body has to find the cure. We don’t know what the cure is but we are going to establish these games, these mazes to see what does – pleasure, education, alternative society – what ever.

Finally, the guy who created the world has to enter the world to save the world. Heard that concept before? And that’s the Gospel – we need someone who isn’t sick – doesn’t have a sin problem – to cure us all. Comes at great sacrifice – both to the one giving the cure and the ones receiving the cure.


When It’s Good…

A few weeks ago I gave you a behind the scenes look at what happens when a worship gathering doesn’t work and what we do between our two services to remedy that. I thought it might be interesting to hear about when things go good. However, after writing it out I realized that it’s actually kinda boring.

Not the service, but the actual meeting that we have after the service. We kinda looked at each other and went – you know, that was good. And when we say ‘good’ we specifically are looking at three things.

Did we make much of Jesus?
Did we provide multiple opportunities for people to ENGAGE and participate in worship?
Did we remove as many distractions as we could? (sound issues, flow of service, clarity of message, ect.)

What’s probably a bit more interesting is that we don’t always know how a service is going to turn out. Most of the time – we have a pretty good handle. But even writing that last sentence put a little bit of a twinge in me.

About a year and a half ago, we started praying a very dangerous prayer as a team – ‘we’ve planned the best we know how, You can bless it or wreck it. We’ll follow You either way.’

That is where I want us to be as a worship team. I’ve been a part of two extremes of worship teams. There is the ‘down to the second’ plan. Every word, transition, song, pause is planned and timed. Like a live TV show, there are hard ‘in’ and ‘out’ times. It does have a produced show kind of feel.

Before you start throwing rocks at this, understand that the heart behind it makes all the difference. I’ve seen this done because they are broadcasting to multiple sites and they want to respect the host sites by being on time with the message. They believe the Spirit can speak in planning and they spend a lot of time praying and planning. I’ve also seen it used with little to no prayer and the Spirit is completely planned right out of the whole thing.

These same things could be said for the other extreme – the ‘let’s just get up there and see what happens.’ Sure, the Spirit moves in the moment and we have to be free to follow Him but it’s possible to be so disorganized and unplanned that you miss the Spirit. ‘Unplanned’ can be just an excuse for laziness.

We land a couple steps behind the ‘every second’ plan. We have our teaching calendar anywhere from 9 to 12 months out. We plan moment to moment in the service – not second to second. We plan our transitions from song to video to message to whatever we are doing on that particular Sunday.

But we hold it loosely. Rick knows he has the freedom to add a chorus or take one away. I know I can adjust on the fly as well. And then we always evaluate between services. We meet every week to dream and think through our series as well as plan the weekly service.

This past Sunday, we had a rough practice and some details that fell thru the cracks but we got it all resolved and had a great service. Between services, we

See – pretty boring.

The Grind Of Jazz


This was originally an e-devo from Western Hills.

I played the trumpet in middle school. The first song my middle school trumpet tutor taught me was theme to Star Wars. I learned it in two days. Because Star Wars is awesome. The music is awesome. The characters are awesome. (J. J. Abrams – are you listening? Make it awesome again.) I played this music……ish.

I was good.

Then we moved to a middle school that didn’t have a band program. So I quit playing. I still enjoyed music and eventually I’d pick up the guitar but that would be later. As a 12 year old, I didn’t have a handle on the mathematics of music and the grind it takes to be good.

A typical song is 4 minutes long. How many hours went into writing that song? How many hours of practice goes into learning the notes of an instrument? How many more hours to learn to read those notes that make up a song? How many more hours to memorize it and play it perfectly? That’s the grind.

You keep learning, keep practicing. When nobody is watching – your practice. When you are stuck and tired – you keep practicing. When your sore – keep practicing. When you don’t want to – you practice. You have to keep putting practice after consecutive practice behind you. That’s the grind.

If you want to master an instrument – there is no alternate route. You must travel the grind.

If you want to master anything – there is no alternate route.

These are the principles we’ve unpacked so far for leading like Jesus:

Humble yourself.
Be a good follower.
Serve great.
Risk great.
Recognize your real power – your story, your source, your charisma.

This week we will unpack the last principle – multiply another.

The reality is knowing the principles isn’t enough. Memorizing them, putting the list in our bibles or on our refrigerators just isn’t enough. If I really want to learn to lead like Jesus, I’ve got to go through the grind of leadership.

Serving when it’s inconvenient…to people who don’t ‘deserve it.’ Leading like Jesus in arenas where it probably won’t be noticed or rewarded. Choosing to be humble, even allowing someone else to get credit. Being teachable and moldable, flexible.

My point is this – learning the lead like Jesus is going to come with some pain and discomfort. It’s inevitable. Unavoidable. To think otherwise is just foolish.

I remember the callouses and blisters my fingers would develop when I was learning the guitar. They were painful and uncomfortable. I had to push through that if I was ever going to get good on the guitar. (How good I really am is still debatable…)

To get good at leading like Jesus, we are going to have to push through some pain. That means some asking of forgiveness and giving of forgiveness. It means an attitude of – “I’m going to keep trying.”

And that’s why I keep asking people to serve. It’s why I like nudging people a notch past of where they are comfortable. To get to the good stuff, you have to put enough work and sweat in to make it past the grind.

And that’s my prayer for us and this series as we seek to apply it.

The Next Three Messages

Not sure I’ve ever been so focused and ready to teach a series of messages like these next three.

What would make me say that?

This Sunday (July 14): Soldier, Son, Saint, and Sinner
4 stories of brokenness and vulnerability from Luke 7. The key nugget – we will never experience breakthrough in our relationship with Jesus without first getting completely vulnerable with Him. And that vulnerability is best when it is our choosing.

Next Sunday (July 21): Why We Love, Live, Serve, Multiply
Nothing new here – but the simplicity of Jesus’ call and mission to His church. And how we often get confused and distracted with other stuff that sounds good and is good – but isn’t God’s call on His people.

The Next Sunday (July 28): How We Love, Live, Serve, Multiply
Knowing the mission is not even half the battle. It’s like 0.5% of it. 99% of all churches know the mission to make disciples and serve all people. Putting that mission in action is what matters. And this message highlights the key ways we’ve chosen to incarnate God’s mission through us in Topeka.

If you are part of the Western Hills family – I can’t stress how important the next three Sundays are. We will be recording them – video and audio – but I think you will be blessed, challenged, and encouraged by being here.

How are these 3 messages connected? The last two are pretty obviously connected but after all these years of ministry, I’m more convinced that God cares less about strategies and more about the brokenness and dependency upon from His people. And that’s why the first message (the one this Sunday) is so important.

Until the church (meaning people) is broken and dependent before God – there isn’t going to be much breakthrough. That applied both individually and corporately.

The Laments in the Psalms

Here it is as promised in my message this past Sunday: a list of the laments in the Psalms. You’ll notice two different types of laments – the individual lament and the communal. Communal Laments were written for…wait for it…the entire community or nation. Normally about a national calamity or sin. The individual laments are – don’t get ahead of me, here – for the individual, written from the perspective of one person dealing with some sort of pain or loss.

In all seriousness, the Laments are powerful. They should make you uncomfortable, they should stretch you. But they should also give you some measure of comfort as well. They come from a place of deep hurt and often times deep confusion. But I think they are vital to anyone who wants to grow close to God. Because we all hurt and we all have to deal with that hurt.

Hope these help you! Need more information on this? Listen to the message from Sunday.

Individual Laments
Psalms 3-7, 9-10, 13-14, 17, 22, 25-28, 31-32, 35-36, 38-39, 40:12-17, 41-43, 51-57, 59, 61, 64, 69-71, 77, 86, 88-89, 102, 109, 120, 130, 137, 139-143.

Community Laments
Psalms 12, 44, 60, 74, 79-80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129

The Beyond Pain Series

We started a new series on Sunday called Beyond Pain. It was as intense and meaningful Sunday to open a series as I have ever experienced.

We completely darkened the room, had our entire stage draped in black cloth. We had the video playing below rolling. Basically a look at Psalm 6 in the Message with Rufus Cappadocia playing behind it. The screen stayed black as we had different people unveil the stage pictures that we had for the series. You could hear some of the gasps. Then the title screen was dropped.

Why did we go this length to intro the series this way? Because pain is both universal AND unique. We all experience it. We all experience it differently. Not all pain is equal. Not all pain is handled well. But all pain hurts and we spend crazy amounts of time, money, and energy either fixing our pain or avoiding it.

So ‘preparing the room’ gives people time to process and get ready to hear from the scriptures. Video below. You can catch the messages online here.


What’s the Key To A Great Marriage?

Do you mind if I vent for a bit? Thank you. I get asked all the time – “what’s the key to a great marriage?”

My first reaction is – You mean there’s only one?? I’m 19 years, 9 months, and 15 days into this experience called marriage and I could have sworn there are more like 476 of them.

I really hate the question. It’s like getting a text – ‘G – u xplain revelation 2 me?’ Like we can text it out what it takes to make a great marriage. Like we can put all the mystery and magic of marriage in 140 characters. Impossible. Nothing great is ever easy or that simple.


Don’t misunderstand my vent as being negative about marriage. That’s not it at all. I still think it’s the second greatest institution on the planet. It’s just I’m sick of what we’re making it in our culture. We’ve cheapened it to almost the level of buying a car. “If it gets too many miles on it or I get tired of it or if I wreck it – I’ll just trade it in for another model.”

I understand the drive behind the question. Most of us that are married – we want a great marriage. But we approach it like the broken garbage disposal or leaky faucet. We notice it when it breaks. We then want the quickest, cheapest fix so we can get back to what we were doing. We see it as a distraction. The goal is to get it fixed as fast as possible. So maybe it will take a couple of trips to the hardware store but if I find the right guy who can give me the right tool and right tip, I can fix it fast.

Allow me to offer another metaphor for marriage. Art. Jazz. Blues. Painting. Sculpture. An artist isn’t concerned about hurrying through a fix. He’s focused on creating something deeper, something that provokes. If it takes days, weeks, months – so be it. The outcome is a result of this mystical partnership between the artist and the medium. The painter and the colors and canvas, the musician with the instrument – there is give and take, there are moments that are complete messes followed by moments of perfection. Neither really knows what the end will look like but then again that really doesn’t matter. Half the fun is getting there.

Any true artist will tell you – the process is often more important than the product.

We don’t ask artists that kind of question. “What’s the key to a great piece of art?” Instead we ask – what inspires you? How did you do this? What is the story behind this? We don’t ask the question because we already know the answer – the artist is the key to a great piece of art. An artist that has given his or her life to the craft. An artist that is courageous enough to risk bold colors, passionate enough to keep pursuing beauty through the mess of the creative process. An artist that is determined enough to not give up on the painting – even if it means stripping it all down and starting over.

Here’s another little secret about artists – they work. They work hard. Sure they may have a gift or a talent but they put that gift to work, sharpening and improving it. They put in hours and hours of work so that one day a masterpiece will be birthed.

So maybe I’ve answered the question. Marriage is more art than anything else. And like art, even a novice can create something beautiful if they are willing to put in the time and effort.

Join us for this special series Art of Marriage, created by FamilyLife. For complete details click here.

Image “Broken Keys” originally appeared on on a review for the band “The Black Keys”. Who, by the way, are completely awesome. I’m just saying…

More Questions From Great Sex

Here’s the devo I wrote this week….

Time to go to the mailbag for some more questions on our current series GREATsex.

Is great sex possible for those who have been abused? Or those who have a past of sexual sins?
I’m actually going to speak about this topic this coming Sunday. I really encourage you to be a part of our worship services this weekend, I think there will be some help for us in scriptures.

I’m married. I love my spouse but our sex life is a disaster. Are there any Christian resources that can help us?
I’d recommend two great resources.

First, Intended For Pleasure by Ed and Gaye Wheat. There are newer books written about sexual issues from a Christian perspective but not any better than this one.

Second, Restoring The Pleasure by Clifford and Joyce Penner. The Penners have actually written a few books on this topic and you’re not going to go wrong with any of their books. But this one specifically deals with problems and barriers in the sexual component of a marriage.

Fair warning about both books: The authors are Christ-followers and the intended audience for these books are married couples. They speak bluntly about sex and sex techniques. It is not for the easily offended. But I’m guessing you are not one of those since you asked the question.

At what age should I start talking to my children about sex?
As soon as you can. Don’t treat sex as the “unspeakable subject” at your house. When we are quiet about topics in our homes, we allow the culture around us to have a larger voice in our kids lives. Your home is the best chance for your kids to learn about sex correctly and from a godly perspective.

So, when they ask, answer them. Obviously we want to be age appropriate in our response. Kids are curious and most of the time their questions are just innocent inquiries. So be sure to answer the question they are asking, nothing more, nothing less. And answer it in a way that they can understand.

Couple of great resources:

How and When To Tell Your Kids About Sex

Passport2Purity from

Is it okay for a Christian couple to watch porn as long as they are both okay with it?
No. Pornography is deadly to oneness. It is the exact opposite of intimacy – which is the foundation of great sex. Porn introduces another person or persons into the marriage bed, it provokes feeling of lust, and it never satisfies. Introducing this into a marriage is just bad news and won’t end well.

My spouse seems intent on watching inappropriate movies. What can I do? Am I to blame?
If by inappropriate we mean porn, then I’d suggest at least these 4 things:
First, pray for him/her that God would give them freedom from this.
Second, find a private time and place to talk about the behavior and how it hurts you and the marriage.
Third, offer some solutions that you both can live with. Put a filter on computer (Covenant Eyes). Move computer to main floor where everybody can see. No TV alone. Call each other when the urge to watch porn starts.
Fourth, find someone other than spouse to be accountable to.

Join us this Sunday as we wrap up our series on GREATsex. This week’s topic: Do-Overs.

Can You Talk About Sex In Church

I wrote this devo for our church website yesterday. I’ve added a few more thoughts…

On April 3rd, we’ll start a new series called GOODsex. I told a buddy of mine this and after an awkward pause he says to me…”Can you talk about sex in church?”

I guess it’s a fair question. Most of the messages I got in church about sex was to “NOT TO.” It was this evil plague of desire and sin. And if you’re married…well, you can have sex with your spouse but you better not enjoy it too much because…well…it’s this evil plague of desire and sin. It was so bad that at every church potluck someone would bring a cake called “Better Than Sex Cake.”

Guess what I know now that I’m older? Sex is about desire, it CAN be a plague as well as a blessing, it’s designed for married people to enjoy to the fullest, and those people who named the “Better Than Sex Cake” are at best in need of our prayers and pity or at worst liars.

Know what else I’ve learned? The Bible is full of sex. God has plenty to say on the topic, all of it as relevant today as it has ever been, all for humanity’s benefit and pleasure. And so few of us are listening. So get ready to learn about GOODsex.

Let me tackle a few questions before we get started…

Why talk about sex in church?
Because it’s in every other single piece of media that we interact with. We’d better have a biblical, redeemable understanding of the topic if we are going to be able to deal with all of that kind of noise.

What about the children?
Every parent has the responsibility to train their kids in the area of sexuality. So we will have alternatives for those kids in 4th grade and younger, but let’s be honest. Sex is everywhere in our culture. Our schools are teaching sex education at younger and younger age. In Kindergarten and 1st grade now they are teaching kids what a “bad touch” is. Our media is targeting younger and younger kids with sexuality with kid ‘soap operas.’ Our music industry continues to turn out a ridiculous amount of music about love, sex, and dating.

In short, our kids are getting their messages and information about sex from every single source in their life except the Church and their parents. That has to change.

So…won’t you offend somebody by doing this?
That’s not the intention. However, the reality is that whenever sex is the topic – that’s a real possibility. Here’s what I’m saying – the goal is to learn from the creator of sex on how to have good sex in the best possible way. Sex was God’s idea. It was his first wedding gift to Adam and Eve. Over the years, we’ve ruined it and made it the mess that is today. I think He still speaks to this topic, can still heal and redeem in this area.

Why now?
Both our 5th/6th grade class and our student ministry will be tackling this issue starting April 3rd. But it’s short sighted to think that this topic only applies to teenagers. There is much here for the single, the daters, the engaged, the married with kids and the married without kids.

We’ve been silent for to long on this subject.