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Caution. No outlet. Road narrows. Dangerous curves ahead. As we traverse the highways of pop culture and teach the rules of the road to our kids, it's easy to think of discernment only in terms of the yellow road signs—warnings of things to beware. But that's just one side of it.

There's another, more upbeat dimension to applying biblical wisdom to the things we see and hear in the mainstream. I call them the brown road signs. Here in Colorado, those are the markers that point to positive experiences. National parks. Picnic areas. Scenic overlooks. The local zoo. Applied to entertainment, that can involve helping children explore age-appropriate media so they can find God's truth in unlikely places.

Some evening, take a few minutes as a family to explore Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4. You know the story. Jesus is sitting at Jacob's well when a woman comes along to draw water. The Lord asks for a drink, even though it wasn't exactly de rigueur for Jews to associate with "lowly" Samaritans. They strike up a conversation. Jesus starts talking about the living water only He can give. The subject of her husband comes up, and Christ casually lets her know that He's aware of her sin (she's been married five times and is presently living with a guy). But He doesn't beat her over the head with it. When she turns the dialogue back toward spiritual things, the Lord talks about true worship and identifies Himself as the Messiah.

Once you've revisited this New Testament history lesson together, track down the lyrics to an old Backstreet Boys song with a chorus that sounds like a boiled-down version of Jesus' message to the Samaritan woman.

What? Seriously. It's been a few years, but if you look at the group's hit "As Long As You Love Me," the chorus states, "I don't care who you are, where you're from, what you did as long as you love me." Then indicate that Christ wasn't concerned about this woman's nationality. He didn't want to dwell on her moral failures. The point of this encounter was to correct her thinking on eternal truth and let this indiscriminate lover of men know which one Man really deserved her heart.

Perhaps a song on your child's iPod lends itself to a similar conversation. In the final analysis, when young people realize that media discernment isn't limited to identifying danger zones, they're more open to talking with us about the voices of their culture. But if it's only about "thou shalt nots," they stiffen up and get defensive. And who can blame them? Let's liberate our kids. Let's help them see that looking at entertainment through a spiritual filter can yield delightful epiphanies.

One of the most pleasant surprises I've experienced in two decades as a film reviewer for Focus on the Family occurred when I previewed the Heath Ledger film A Knight's Tale. It's not a perfect movie by any stretch, but one scene so beautifully parallels Christ's redemption of mankind that I walked out of the theater on a high. My spirit soared. In fact, I felt a little sad for the people casually dropping their cups and popcorn bags into awaiting trash receptacles because, odds are, most of them missed the liberating, transcendent truth they'd just witnessed onscreen. [For more, read our A Knight's Tale Movie Night.]

Some Christians may feel a bit uncomfortable using mainstream media to teach biblical truth. That's fine. But we should keep in mind that the Apostle Paul set a biblical precedent in this area. While in Athens, he addressed the Areopagus (a council named for Ares, the Greek god of war) and without compromising the Gospel, used the inscription "To an Unknown God" from a local pagan altar as a jumping-off point to tell the council about the God who can be known. Then in Acts 17:28 we read that Paul even quoted their poets back to them before calling the people to repentance and telling them about the resurrection of Jesus. Who are the pop-culture poets speaking to young people today?

My prayer for every child is that they would, in the course of their own spiritual maturation, develop an acute sensitivity to eternal truth wherever it might be hiding. In a song. In a movie. In a TV commercial. Yellow road signs are important. They're critical warnings on our journey. But don't ignore the brown markers. You could be missing breathtaking truths waiting just off the beaten path.

Published October 2011

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