Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

shrunkA few weeks ago we decided to pop in the Rick Moranis’ classic, Honey I Shrunk the Kids.  If you are like me, this is a childhood favorite.  I saw it in the theaters and then re-watched it time and time again.  I even remember my mind being blown when I went to Disney World and discovered they had a playground resembling the movie (Disney really is magical, isn’t it?!)

All of this to say, I was anxious to see how my adult thoughts and emotions would align with those from my childhood.  For example, I gave extra sensitivity and care to my daughter as she wept over “Anty’s” sacrificial death – I, too, fought back the tears…when I was little, of course.  I remember the Lego the kids lodged in over night, the bumblebee flight, and the big Cheerio – “Dad!  Don’t eat me!!”

Something I didn’t remember was the strife between the husbands and wives in this film, which trickled down to the children.  I realized that the children were literally shrunk in the film, but they were also figuratively shrunk, as well.  The two fathers, Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) and Big Russ Thompson (Matt Frewer), were men that were consumed with themselves.  (I also need to add that Disney remains consistent in degrading men – they are both buffoons.)  Wayne is a scientist who ascends into his laboratory (attic) to the neglect of his entire family.  While I’m sure he loves his children, he often doesn’t even make conversation or eye-contact when interacting with them.

Conversely, one could say that Big Russ gives too much attention to his boys – specifically, the oldest, Little Russ Thompson.  In fact, one could say that Big Russ harasses Little Russ.  Big Russ is obsessed with his former athletic prowess and pushes his son to be just like him, without a care for the lack of gifts his son may have.

Therefore, Wayne and Big Russ have both “shrunk” their kids, in a sense.  It isn’t until the kids are literally shrunk, that the two fathers realize their errors and swear to change.

Sadly, we know this is true of our own lives.  While we may not possess a laser in our attic with the capabilities of shrinking our children, we often shrink them and their concerns for our own.  Because of sin, it turns each and every human inward.  Instead of being focused on others and their needs, we look to self.  Sin makes it unnatural to love others, which shows the significance of the first two commandments and our need for Christ.

Although Honey I Shrunk the Kids focuses on fathers, we know mothers fall into the category of selfish living as well.  The question for each of us is this, Are we more prone to the distracted, isolated Wayne, or are we prone to the overly critical, vicarious, mind-set of Big Russ?  How do you find yourself shrinking your kids?  If you have no children, how do you shrink others around you?  Bosses?  Employees?  Neighbors?  Spouses?  Friends?  Strangers?  Homeless?  Orphaned?  Widowed?

We are all well-aware that the current culture is one of distraction.  The primary distractions come from the screens we carry around in our pockets and purse.  And, when we’re not carrying them, we’re passing them off to our children to distract them for a moment’s peace.  Bluntly put, we are masters at shrinking each other.  Praise God, he was one who was others-minded.  He sent one who did not count equality with God as something to be grasped.  He was one who looked out for the interests of others.  And, He was one who became nothing – or, shrunk – to ensure a bunch of “nothings” could be called children of the Most High.

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miceThe Rescuers (1977) is a delightfully fun animated Disney classic. It is the story of two mice, Bianca (Eva Gabor) and Bernard (Bob Newhart), who must go on a daring mission to rescue the kidnapped orphan Penny (Michelle Stacy) from the clutches of the evil Medusa (Geraldine Page). It is a story of friendship, love, rescue, and bravery in the face of fear. It is also a story in which a mouse gives us an idea of what it means to be a man–as Bernard, throughout the film, proves himself to be a man’s mouse.

Bernard consistently puts himself in harm’s way in order to protect Bianca. When the Rescue Aid Society receives Penny’s message in a bottle, Bernard shows no interest in going on a rescue mission. However, when Bianca volunteers, Bernard, knowing that the mission is dangerous, suggests that someone accompany her on the trip to keep her safe. That someone ends up being him. Shortly after their journey begins, Bianca and Bernard find themselves taking a shortcut through a zoo. Bernard goes ahead to scout a dark and spooky pathway, making sure it it safe for Bianca. After encountering a grumpy lion, Bernard decides that they should take the long way. Fast-forward to when the villainous Medusa forces Penny down into the cave to look for the Devil’s Eye, a large diamond; it is Bernard who offers to explore a particularly treacherous part of the cave. Time and time again, Bernard puts himself in harm’s way in order to ensure the safety of Bianca.

The point is not that Bernard is a macho man, who boldly goes where no mouse has gone before–far from it. In most of the above examples of bravery, Bernard is afraid of the challenges set before him. Remember, Bernard did not volunteer himself to go on the rescue mission; Bianca chose him. Once selected, however, he was willing to give his life, if necessary, to keep Bianca from harm. Additionally, the anxiety is almost palpable (it is certainly visible) as Bernard heads into the dark part of the zoo and, later, the cave. No, the source of Bernard’s bravery is not mere machismo or some chauvinistic sense of male superiority, but an outworking of his nature as a man. His love for Bianca compels him. He has a need to protect Bianca, a deep-seated urge that overwhelms and overpowers the fear that, at times, rules his life. This sort of sacrificial leadership has nothing to do with a man’s capability or value (for men and women are equal in God’s sight), but it has everything to do with God-ordained roles. In the end, Bernard is willing to sacrifice his safety in order to preserve Bianca’s because that is what he was created to do.

The Rescuers shows, in a small way (see what I did there?), what authentic manhood looks like. A true man–a godly man–accepts dangerous challenges, leads the way into the lion’s lair, fights Medusas, and explores the unreached parts of caves. A real man slays the creepy-crawlies that strike fear in the heart of his wife, though he too is afraid of them. The authentic man goes to work to provide for his family. He gives of himself, and gives, and gives, and gives; and when he can’t give any more, he lays down his life, as Christ once did for him.

IncrediblesSo, my family and I were watching The Incredibles for the 53rd time and I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before.  For those of you who have already seen the film, be patient for just a moment.

TI is about a family of superheroes who fight to save the world.  Mr. Incredible fell in love with Elastigirl and they made a family of supers.  As happy as all of this sounds, they actually have to live in hiding, so to speak.  You see, Mr. Incredible was doing his “thing” saving people and put supers around the world in jeopardy.

While Mr. Incredible was on top of a building, he saw a would-be jumper and dove to save him from his sure death.  While he was saving this suicidal citizen he stopped a bank robbery and saved an elevated train from plummeting to the earth.  However, through all of his heroic acts, he discovered that some of these people did not want to be saved.  Therefore, the supers were sued and forced into hiding because some people just didn’t want to be saved.

The nuance I noticed on this viewing was the name of the individual Mr. Incredible saved – Mr. Sansweet.  This was the one individual that destroyed the supers’ organization.  This was the one individual who brought destruction to a people attempting to save humanity.  This one individual wanted to end his life and his selfishness led to widespread destruction.  His name – Sansweet.  It struck me that the word “sans” means “without”.  Therefore, you could say that his name literally means “Without Sweetness”.  In other words, this guy was without sweetness and worked in such a way to bring destruction.

Mr. Sansweet (without having any prior knowledge of him) wanted to end his life.  Maybe he was in financial trouble?  Maybe he was lonely?  Maybe no one showed him the love every human longs for?  Whatever the case, he decided to jump off of a building with the hopes of ending his life.  When, however, an individual (Mr. Incredible) decides to save his life, it drives Mr. Sansweet to hatred – not love.  He moves forward in a suit that would benefit him financially and bring about difficulty for the supers, as well as, the citizens who have been under their care.

This got me to thinking about humanity’s “Mr. Sansweet”.  There was this beautiful angel named, Lucifer.  He had happiness, unity, joy, but he was still unsatisfied.  Why?  He was self-focused.  Instead of being happy with unimaginable joy, he wanted more.  Therefore, he pursued suicide over joy.  He left the life that was graciously given to him and dove head-first into a suicidal path of destruction.

You see, Satan did not appreciate the love he was lavished.  He did not rest content in the life that was created and granted to him.  Instead he selfishly sought for more.  He was Mr. Sansweet.  In other words, he lacked sweetness.  He lacked love.  He lacked joy and his selfish act brought about a path of destruction ever since his appearance in the garden.

However, Love wouldn’t allow selfishness to have that last word.  Love didn’t stand to the side.  Love didn’t give up.  Love left His throne and made sure selflessness would reign supreme.  Instead of allowing the selfish suicide of “Mr. Sansweet” to reign supreme, Jesus allowed Satan to pursue another form of suicide – the cross.

As John Piper once said, the day Jesus died on the cross was the day Satan committed suicide.  You see, Satan knew he had lost.  Satan knew he had been defeated.  Satan knew that his selfish acts had not brought him life, rather, death.  All of that to say, Satan is our Mr. Sansweet.  He’s not a sweet guy – in fact, he’s pure evil.  However, we have a King who does not allow sin and selfishness to reign.  Instead, he brought a selflessness to this earth and it’s allowed peace and love to dominate this creation that’s filled with Mr. Sansweets like you and me.

princessNot too long ago I bashed a Disney classic (Peter Pan; even though I do like it), so I thought I would come to Disney’s defense in this post.  After all, we had an excellent time in Disney World this past October and we own/enjoy many of their movies.

We were recently watching The Princess and the Frog, and I noticed how this film contains some pretty dark themes in it.  Then, I thought about almost every Disney film having elements of evil depicted.  Let’s take a minute to reflect on a few of the films:

  • Finding Nemo – the mother and her litter (is that the correct term?) of fish are destroyed in the opening minutes of the film.
  • The Lion King – the father is stampeded by some gazelles, Scar makes us all cry, and the hyenas are just plain mean.
  • Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs – the scary witch still gives me nightmares and she poisons Snow White (whose voice drives me crazy, by the way).
  • Sleeping Beauty – has Maleficent who looks demonic prior to turning into a dragon, but drives further fear into the hearts of pre-schoolers by breathing fire.
  • Toy Story 1 – Sid
  • Toy Story 2 – Al of Al’s Toy Barn
  • Toy Story 3 – Lotso
  • Toy Story trilogy – all of them have some pretty terrifying/sad moments.  Sid’s toy experiments, a child who abandons her doll (Jessie) on the street, Lotso’s rebellion, toys descending into the pit of “hell”, and Andy making the entire audience cry by giving his toys away (be honest…you cried).
  • Up – everyone over the age of 25 was crying in the first 10 minutes
  • Tangled – “Mother knows best” Mother Gothel’s aging makes every child cower; not to mention her fall out of the tower is a little unsettling.
  • Frozen – the parents die and Elsa won’t build a snow man with Anna for Pete’s sake! (the huge snow creature is also frightening).

And, then we get to The Princess and the Frog, quite possibly the most demonic and frightening, because it does explicitly deal with demons, after all.  Dr. Facilier makes a deal with the Devil and uses voodoo throughout the film.  Demons dance around and then Dr. Facilier’s deal goes wrong and he is dragged to hell…literally.

But, all this talk may have sounded somewhat negative and I began this post stating it would be positive.  So here’s my assertion: This is all really good stuff.  I mean, sometimes I’d watch these films with my children and think, couldn’t they have left all the dying out?  Couldn’t they have left off that scary part?  Or, did they really have to make the moles on her nose that grotesque?  However, then I thought about the nature of evil and realized, it’s real.

The truth is, there is death.  The truth is, there is sadness.  The truth is, demonic forces are wagging war against us each and every day.  If that’s the case, then what’s my problem with these depictions?  My problem is the fact that my pre-fall nature is kicking in.  I want Eden.  I want the Eden that existed before that nasty serpent.  Or, I wan’t Jesus to be here…now.  I want to be in Heaven.  You see, these desires are normal.  The knee-jerk desire that hates evil, death, sadness, and demons is a good thing.  But, the cold harsh truth is the fact that we live in the “already” and the “not yet”.  Jesus Christ has already come, but he has not yet returned.

Therefore, Disney got it right!  We need children growing up with a sense of fear, sadness, and evil.  It is unloving to raise them without a sense of brokenness.  The more brokenness they feel, the better.  It’s just our job to let them know that there’s only one “magical spell” that can break this.  And it’s not a kiss from a prince or some incantation from a good wizard, it’s only fixed by the righteous blood of Jesus Christ.

dragonHow to Train Your Dragon 2 is a worthy followup to its 2010 predecessor; it will likely be in contention for the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture (yes, I know that The Lego Movie was released earlier this year and that Big Hero 6 is yet to come). The movie is also a mixed bag of ideology, replete with worldview implications. DreamWorks has stepped up their game—following the Pixar model—and created a movie that is for adults (almost) as much as it is for kids. Sure, How to Train Your Dragon 2 has plenty of juvenile humor, but it also has plenty of emotional and thematic depth. In other words, there is a lot of subtext in this film; and since I’ve only seen it once, it is very likely that I have missed some things. Realizing that many of you probably have yet to see it, I want to—as much as possible—offer some spoiler-free thoughts on Dragon 2. However, I’ll assume that you have at least seen the trailer. By highlighting the artistic beauty, theory of animal nature, emotional depth, and depiction of human sexuality in How to Train Your Dragon 2, this post will hopefully give you some things to consider as you watch the movie.

Beauty

When storytellers and filmmakers create fictional worlds filled with fantastical creatures and all manner of natural beauty and splendor, they do so because they are humans made in the image of a God who creates. The artist may suppress his or her knowledge of that truth (Rom 1:18), but their handiwork often betrays them; and this is precisely what has happened in How to Train Your Dragon 2. This movie boasts some excellent cinematography, which is what one expects when ace cinematographer Roger Deakins is the visual consultant. Some of the flying scenes in this movie are downright gorgeous; the color palette truly enhances the characters’presence on screen. As you watch, pay attention to the detail of the characters’wardrobe and physical features. The art department did a great job aging the characters; Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) even has some stubble! Simply put, How to Train Your Dragon 2 deserves praise for its aesthetic excellence.

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Concerning Animals

One of the commendable aspects of the first movie is that it avoided the pitfall of humanizing the dragons and making the film a dissertation on colonialism. In some ways, How to Train Your Dragon 2 continues that trend; in some ways it doesn’t. The animators characterized the dragons in such a way that they act like dogs; and the citizens of Berk treat them as such, using them in sport and keeping them as pets. Hiccup’s mom Valka (Cate Blanchett), on the other hand, is a bit of a nut when it comes to her view of the nature of dragons. Now, I promised to avoid spoilers, so all I will say is that she really, really thinks dragons are special—human special. I half expected her to pull a Dances With Wolves and go around yelling, “Tatonka, Tatonka.”The antagonist Drago, voiced by Djimon Hounsou, is the opposite: he sees dragons as objects to be misused and abused.

Allow Dragon 2 to cause you to consider how we should view and treat our animals as Christians. Animals are not our equals; they are not created in the image of God. Yes, we have dominion over them; but we are certainly not to abuse them.

Emotional Depth

How to Train Your Dragon 2 has stock, cardboard characters aplenty, but it has some round, dynamic ones as well. One of the things I appreciated most about Dragon 2 is that it gives us in Hiccup a protagonist who is changing. He is becoming a man (remember the stubble I mentioned earlier?) and is learning to lead. He makes mistakes from which he learns and grows. Hiccup is a character we can think about—he is relatable. Our empathy with his character is what fuels our interest in the story. In addition, Hiccup is endowed with his own unique mannerisms and interests, such as his predilection for finding undiscovered places. The point is that realistic characters are hard to come by these days, and we can and should appreciate it when a filmmaker delivers.

We know from the movie trailer that Hiccup’s mother plays a prominent role in Dragon 2, and a fountain of emotional depth is unleashed when Stoik (Hiccup’s father, Gerard Butler) is reunited with his long-lost wife. It is one of the most moving depictions of marital love since Up, and is worth the price of admission alone. It reminded me that even for unbelievers, marriage is one of God’s greatest common graces. On a related note, you’ll want to look for the theme of sacrificial love, too (I can’t say much more without spoiling).

Sexuality

Some of the things discussed in this section might be minor spoilers; but parents, you will probably want to read this before you take your child to see the movie. News broke before the release that Gobber (Craig Ferguson), a secondary character, would come out as gay in Dragon 2. Gobber’s actual announcement is very short. While watching a seemingly awkward conversation between Stoik and Valka, Gobber leans over to Hiccup and says, “This is why I never got married . . . this and one other reason.”This admission is subtle and will likely go unnoticed by younger children. Having a gay character in an animated film is nothing new; it’s just part of our culture’s attempt to normalize the sin of homosexuality—although it is not a particularly preachy attempt. The unfortunate thing is that filmmakers are increasingly succumbing to the temptation to forgo good storytelling for the sake of being culturally relevant and politically correct. What exactly, you ask, do I mean by that? I mean that Gobber’s admission that he is gay adds nothing—zero, zilch, zip, nada—to the plot of How to Train Your Dragon 2. In fact, Gobber’s coming out, which is meant to pass for comic relief, actually disrupts the serious and heartfelt tone of the scene in which it occurs. And since Gobber’s homosexuality has no relevance to the story, there is no justification for its inclusion. Christian moviegoers need to be prepared to deal with the normalization of homosexuality in children’s movies.

I need to add one more observation about the depiction of sexuality in How to Train Your Dragon 2 before concluding, because homosexuality is by no means the only type of sexual sin. The character Ruffnut (Kristen Wig) becomes infatuated with Eret (Kit Harrington) at one point during the film. Of course, many movies for children feature romantic subplots, but Ruffnut’s relationship with Eret can only be described as lustful. In several instances, she salaciously gazes at him as his muscles bulge while he completes a task (this, too, is done for comedic effect). His biceps are shown in closeup to reinforce the lustful gaze. Attraction is a good thing; God created men to be attracted to women and vice versa. Lust is another thing entirely, and I believe that Gobber’s homosexuality and Ruffnut’s lust are related. One of the tenets of this so-called age of sexual freedom and tolerance is that sexuality is seen as a solely evolutionary function, no longer carrying any teleological significance. If sexuality is not seen as a glorious picture of Christ’s love for his Bride. sanctified for the marriage setting, is it any surprise that unbelieving filmmakers have no qualms about showing children how to behave sexually? It’s high-time we realize that movies are not safe, pure, and ideology-free simply because they’re marketed as a “kids”movie, meeting the G or PG prerequisite.

In spite of its problems, I still enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon 2. I said earlier that it was a mixed bag . . . and it is. The filmmakers have done some things very, very well. The problems with How to Train Your Dragon 2 are very real, but—and I don’t say this very often—this is a movie that makes me want to see another installment in the franchise (as long as they can avoid politicizing and preaching a social agenda).

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[Blaine Grimes is a servant of Christ, husband, watcher of movies, and reader of books. He once trained a dragon that takes the form of an overweight Beagle.]

Tangled up in Law and Grace

Posted: November 28, 2013 by jperritt in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

tangledposterTangled has become a Perritt household favorite. There is no telling how many movies nights have featured this soon-to-be Disney classic.

There are many themes to explore in this film, but one scene that resonates with me is when Rapunzel (whom we got to meet at Disney world…not to rub it in) first leaves the tower. If you remember, her “mother-knows-best” Mother Gothel had confined poor Rapunzel to a tower, because of the evil that lurks outside. Of course we understand that Gothel has kidnapped Rapunzel to use her for her anti-aging powers and tells tales of evil to horde this secret. However, Rapunzel’s persistent questioning of “when will her life begin” were too much for the tower’s walls – and Gothel’s wishes – so she uses Flynn Rider, a.k.a. Eugene, to escape.

Once she escapes, she exudes jubilation. She runs. She dances. She sings…until she feels guilt. She feels guilt from disobeying her “mother”. Confinement to the tower was all she ever knew to be right, so while there is joy, it is fleeting because of the confused sense of right and wrong. This got me to thinking about the Christian’s misconceptions about the gospel.

In a sense we are just like Rapunzel, confused over our confinement and freedom. The gospel frees us from our legalistic ways of law-reliance. Prior to our understanding of the gospel, we think we need to observe a bunch of rules, do a lot of good, and abstain from this world to earn our salvation, however, all this does is enslave us further. Yet, this was the “gospel” Mother Gothel was preaching.

It isn’t until Rapunzel breaks free from the walls of legalism, that she sees the freedom she’s been blind to. But, just like all Christians, we go back to our legalistic lifestyle. We doubt our freedom. We feel guilt over the life Christ purchased for us. At times we desire to go back to our tower and just work out our own freedom by adhering to man-made laws.

What we need to be reminded of is the fact that all the law has been fulfilled in Christ’s righteous life. He lived the life we could not life and died the death that we deserved. This, of course, does not purchase a life of license to sin, rather it gives us freedom to obey. We do not strive to obey the law to get us right with God, we obey because we are right with God based on faith in Jesus’ perfect obedience.

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Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph is rated F3 – fun family film. It especially appeals to those of us whose childhood included a steady diet of video games. (Many would say that this diet explains a lot of my issues)

Spoilers ahead!

Wreck-It Ralph is a story of a video game villain named (you guessed it) Ralph (John C. Reilly). Ralph becomes disillusioned with being a bad guy. Even after attending a support group for villains (one of the best scenes in the film), he decides to go on a quest to become a hero. He believes that by securing his very own medal he will finally be accepted into his video game community.

Wreck-It Ralph is creative and fun. It has many good messages to celebrate. Throughout the film we are encouraged to love others, have compassion, be content, and sacrifice for our friends. It is refreshing to see these qualities portrayed on the big screen. Unfortunately, these moral lessons have no real power in themselves. While still good advice to follow, without Jesus Christ, they provide little hope for Ralph to truly become what he was made to be.

Let me explain…

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One of the main themes (if not the main one) is that of personal contentment. “Be content with who you are” is an obvious take away from the film. Listen to the mantra of the villain support group…

“I am bad and that’s good.

I will never be good, and that’s not bad.

There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

On the surface, this may seem like great advice. You can even “Christianize” it if you want – something like, “I just need to accept the way God made me.” While it is true that we should learn to understand our personalities, strengths, and weaknesses (and quite frankly, not take ourselves so seriously), this understanding can in no way provide the power to become who we were designed to be. The truth is that we are much worse than we think we are.

Wreck-It Ralph tells us to look inside for answers to our problems. The danger in this thinking is that we lack any real power to change what is broken. Ralph’s desire for acceptance and longing for community are good things – they are part of what it means to be human. The bad news is that these things are broken because of sin. The only hope for reconciliation with other people is found by being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

Sin destroyed true community. Because of sin we cannot be in true communion with God or with each other. Selfishness is at the core of sin. Isn’t this what happened in the Fall of mankind (Genesis 3)? Adam and Eve believed that they were better off without “the Man” keeping them down. They decided to go alone and make their own rules. As a result they were (we are) separated from relationship with God. Sin also destroyed authentic relationships with other people. Instead of working together for a common purpose, men and women now fight, manipulate, and compete. We all want to be accepted (like Ralph), but sin is a barrier that cannot be overcome by learning to love ourselves more.

Jesus Christ died not so that we could learn to accept ourselves as we are, but rather so that we can be changed into what we were created to be.

What is interesting is that Wreck-It Ralph illustrates this very thing. We see this in the character of Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). Vanellope, like Ralph is an outcast who desires to be accepted into her game community – “Sugar Rush” (a candy racing game). What is interesting is that we come to find out that she is an outcast only because the true villain, King Candy (Alan Tudyk), has distorted the original game code. Threatened by her true identity, King Candy deceives everyone into thinking that Vanellope is nothing but a “glitch” in the system – not a true part of the game.

As the story unfolds, Ralph and Vanellope come to realize that if Vanellope crosses the finish line of the race, the game will reset. This reboot will return the game to its original programming – with Vanellope as a true part of the “Sugar Rush” community. Ralph, along with Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Calhoun (Jane Lynch), helps Vanellope finish the race and return the game to its original state – exposing King Candy and revealing Vanellope as the princess of Candy Rush.

What I love about this is that Vanellope’s dramatic change (and the rest of the character’s as a result) comes through a “reboot.” The game needed to be reset to the original design. This drastic change has a ripple effect on the gaming world – restoring lost relationships and creating new communities of friendship and trust.

This is the story of the Gospel. Humanity cannot save itself. We need a “reboot.” We need some way to restore the world to its original design. God created us to be in relationship with Him and to be in relationship with other people.

We have no power in ourselves to repair the damage caused by sin. Jesus Christ entered human history to pay the price for our sin and restore our true identity. He renewed our relationship with God and made a way to be reconciled to others.

The apostle Paul put it like this:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(2 Corinthians 5:16-21, ESV)

In light of these verses, let me offer a Christian mantra…

“Because of sin I am bad, and that’s not good.

On my own I can’t be good, and that’s pretty bad.

But in Christ I am no longer bad, and that’s pretty good.

Now there is no one I’d rather be than the redeemed me.”

WizardofOzYou’d have to ask my sister, but I think I was nearly a teenager before I was able to watch The Wizard of Oz from beginning to end–with both eyes open.  That wicked witch of the west has to be one of the scariest villains in all of movie history.  And those flying monkeys!  For a movie made in 1939, this timeless film has it all–the action, the drama, the interesting characters, and the captivating conclusion.  Now, almost 75 years later, comes the release of the “origin story” entitled Oz the Great and Powerful which we will discuss tomorrow.  For now, let’s consider Frank Baum’s story of Dorothy and her adventures in the mythical country that is in no way like Kansas.

According to the Library of Congress, The Wizard of Oz is the most watched movie of all time.  It has achieved that status mainly due to the fact that it has been shown on network television every year since 1950!  There are all sorts of themes in this movie which resonate so much with us.  The little lost girl who just longs to return home.  The defeat of the evil witch.  The lion, tin man, and scarecrow who find out who they really are.  The wizard who is not really all-powerful.  Cute and tough little Toto.  The emergence of strong female heroes and weak male figures.  Escaping vs. embracing your roots.  And the list goes on.

In the midst of all of these storylines, there is a real demonic message in The Wizard of Oz.  No, I’m not talking about that wicked witch and her henchman.  My apologies if this is your all-time favorite family film, but the insidious dual lie perpetrated by the story is that there is no God and your power to be who you need to be is inside yourself.  In other words, YOU alone have the power and the ability to get what you want.  You don’t need to seek a great wizard to get you back home or give you a heart, mind, and strength.  The Wizard of Oz is one of a long line of movies that has taught the deception that all you need is to believe in yourself and all will be well.

If you think I’m over-reacting here, consider when Glenda, the good witch, tells Dorothy that she has had the power to return to Kansas all along, she just didn’t know it.  And, after the disappointment of discovering the wizard was just a man, her three companions also learn that what they wanted most of all was also inside them all along.  Now to be a bit more gracious here, in the context of the Depression era of American history it may have been good medicine to tell a story with this sort of rugged individualism.  But unfortunately, this movie resonates with us in all periods and cultures because our rebellious hearts want to believe the power to have it all in this life comes from within.  And, in our sin, we don’t want any higher power to fix our problems either!

Scripture gives us a much different view of our condition.  Certainly, we are just like Dorothy–lost in a world buffeted by the forces of evil, and longing for our real home.  We are also like the cowardly lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow who want to be “whole” yet have “holes” in our character.  But the gospel truth is that we need an external source of power and salvation.  There is nothing within us that can get us to heaven or make us completely holy.  Yes, we are image-bearers, but we are weak-willed sinners as well.  Left to ourselves, we will just keep wandering through Oz, held captive by our own inability as well as the evil all around us.  So even though Dorothy and her three friends are depicted as generally good, true humanity is totally depraved and unable to become good on its own.

And then there’s that pesky wizard.  What a disappointment!  The great and powerful Wizard of Oz is just an old man from Kansas with absolutely nothing to offer (except a failure of a hot-air balloon ride home).  We’ll focus much more on this man in my next post, but consider what this wizard says about God: Believing in God is useless–he’s just a fragile old man who deceives people with special effects.  God, like the wizard, roars and thunders, but there’s nothing there to back it up.  God is just a fake, with no power to change anything in this world.  Religion is just opiate for the masses.  That’s why we need to believe in ourselves!

So, the next time you sit down with your children to watch The Wizard of Oz, don’t miss the opportunity to talk with them about where the power to: (1) go home to heaven and (2) to live life on this earth comes.  It cannot be found within!  As believers, we have THE truly great and powerful God who by His grace gives us a heart, a mind, and strength to love and serve Him alone.

A Christmas Story

Posted: December 25, 2012 by Josh Kwasny in Comedy, Drama, Family, Seasonal
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a christmas story

A Christmas Story (1983) is, no doubt, one of my favorite Christmas films. IMDB.com summarizes the story: “Ralphie has to convince his parents, teachers, and Santa that a Red Ryder B.B. gun really is the perfect gift for the 1940s.” I won’t spill anymore digital ink with a synopsis. If you would like more about the general content, head to IMDB.com.

I love this film for a number of reasons. 1.) Nostalgia. The story is set in Hammond, Indiana – a town very close to where I grew up. The film’s setting feels like home. 2.) Great narration. The film is like a stroll down memory lane as an adult Ralphie recalls Christmas growing up. 3.) Great characters. The list includes Ralphie’s “old man,” local bully Scut Farkus, a dream-busting store Santa, and Flick – the infamous example of why peer pressure is a dangerous thing. 4.) I can watch it again and again. It’s just one of those films.

A Christmas Story is also a great film, because it vividly illustrates the danger of idolatry. The cast of characters unknowingly warns us of the power of an idol.

Perhaps for many, the mention of idolatry brings to mind little golden statues that people in biblical stories worshipped. While that may be accurate to a point, idolatry can be defined more broadly. Idols are things that take the place of God in our lives. Idols rule us. They control us. Idols are the things that we think about more than anything else. Put simply, an idol is often a good thing that has become a God-thing.

We vividly witness two tell-tale signs of idolatry in Ralphie and his “old man.” How can you tell if something is an idol? If either of the two statements below are true, you have an idol in your life.

images-11. I must have it! – It is an understatement to say that Ralphie would like a “Red Rider” BB gun for Christmas. He doesn’t just want it…he needs it! Throughout the film we watch Ralphie’s desperate attempts to ensure that Red Rider is under the tree Christmas morning. From subtle hints to outright manipulation, Ralphie must have that gun.

Idols are “must haves.” You can spot an idol by answering this question. What must I have in order to be happy?

images2. I must keep it! – One of the plot lines of the film follows Ralphie’s “old man,” Frank, who is the grand prize winner of a fish-net stocking-clad leg lamp. This raunchy table lamp, while prized by Mr. Parker is despised by his wife. Frank becomes so obsessed with his lamp, that his wife “accidentally” breaks it while vacuuming.

Idols are “must keeps.” We will do anything to protect an idol. Answer this – What must I never lose in order to be happy?

Although it may be easy to identify the ridiculous obsession of a leg lamp, the idols in our own lives can be difficult to see and/or acknowledge. Idols are deceitful things. They promise us happiness and satisfaction, but soon enslave us – leaving us dissatisfied and wanting more. We find ourselves trapped in sin – unable to get away from our new masters.

We need help destroying what will ultimately destroy us. We need people like Ralphie’s mother who will risk relationship in order to help us to break the chains of our idolatry. We need others in our lives who will help us to destroy the idols that deceive us.

Hebrews 3:12-13 puts it this way…

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from he living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Do you have people in your life who will encourage and challenge you? Do you do this for others?

Let’s heed this Christmas warning and work together to fight idolatry – remembering that satisfaction will only be found in relationship with the true God – Jesus Christ!