Posts Tagged ‘James’

(guest post by: Brad Davis)

I’m a sucker for inspirational sports movies. I love stories that chronicle the hard work and dedication of underdogs who achieve the impossible. My guess is that I’m not alone. The fact that a majority of men spent a significant part of their childhood playing one sport or another makes these movies the perfect setting to communicate powerful messages to us. As I’ve watched numerous sports dramas throughout my life, I’ve noticed a disturbing personal trend. For some reason, with sports movies, I tend to drop my guard and mindlessly buy whatever the story teller is selling. My ability to personally identify with the characters often causes me to absorb messages from the film that are in stark contrast to the truth of Scripture. Needless to say, this is dangerous.

The focus of this post is the film Rudy, arguably the greatest football movie of all time. If you’re one of the three men over the age of ten who HAVE NOT seen this film, you’re in for a treat. It tells the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, a 5 foot 6, 165 pound kid with dyslexia whose one dream is to play football for Notre Dame. Rudy’s limited size and athleticism, not to mention his learning disability, made this goal virtually impossible to reach. But against all odds, he persevered through every imaginable trial, and by sheer heart, hard work, and determination solidified his (on-screen) character and made his dream a reality.

As the dramatic final scene of the film plays out, the viewer is left with the sense that Rudy has arrived. You feel as though his integrity and character have been permanently cemented through this experience. You envy his accomplishments in spite of insurmountable odds and long to be as he is, seemingly mature and complete, lacking in nothing and prepared for whatever lies ahead in life.

The underdog theme is common in almost all sports dramas, and what can be misleading for Christians is that it appears to be Biblical. After all, overcoming obstacles through hard work is a Christian virtue, right? Aren’t we supposed to persevere and endure trials so that we can be mature and complete (James 1: 2-4)? How does Rudy’s gospel differ from the Gospel of the Bible?

The gospel of Rudy appears to be that Trials + Perseverance = Character & Success. Hard work is the lone vehicle of Rudy’s salvation and is the key ingredient to his character development in the film, but does it work in real life? Can hard work save us? Does it build character? Can it bring us success?

According to the Bible, the answer to each question above is NO. Scripture explicitly warns us against the dangers of trusting in ourselves for salvation, sanctification, and success. Our salvation is a gift from God and not the result of our works (Ephesians 2:8). Our character is also a gift from God as we are ‘credited’ with the righteousness of Christ (Romans 4). While we are commanded to work hard at whatever we do (Col. 3:23), we are also reminded that hard work doesn’t guarantee success. Scripture informs us that this too comes from the Lord (Proverbs 21:31). Rudy’s gospel is the gospel of the world and of the American Dream, but it isn’t the Gospel of the Bible.

So how did Rudy’s gospel work out for him in real life? On one hand, his external life was radically changed by the events portrayed in the film. In addition to having a movie made about him, Rudy went on to become a successful motivational speaker and have numerous awards and scholarships named in his honor. He’s been given keys to various cities and has received honorary doctorate degrees. But unfortunately, the character building formula portrayed in the film was discredited by Rudy’s own actions. In December of 2011, he was charged by the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) in a scheme to deceive investors into buying stock in his sports drink company. He produced a product similar to Gatorade and lied to potential investors about its performance and demand in the market place. Investors were conned into believing the product was on the rise and as a result purchased large amounts of stock in his company. Just before the sham was revealed, Rudy sold his shares of stock and walked away with nearly $11 million dollars, leaving his investors holding an empty bag. Rudy’s gospel failed to equip him with the character we thought he’d developed in the movie. Instead, it gave him popularity and fame that he leveraged to steal from those who trusted him.

It’s easy to demonize Rudy for his deplorable actions, but the truth is, we are no different. Apart from Christ, all of us are despicable human beings capable of much worse if we trust in ourselves for salvation, sanctification, and success. Hard work alone never builds character! It may help us reach goals and achieve some degree of success, but it can never save us. Rudy’s gospel is the exact opposite of the Gospel of the Bible. The beautiful message of the Cross is that our character has already been built for us through the hard work of Jesus Christ. We simply have to cling to it by trusting in Him alone…which ironically, is hard work.


Brad Davis is a former missionary at Zhengzhou University in central China, where he taught English for two years.  He was also a public school teacher and currently works in healthcare.  He currently lives in Brandon, MS with his wife Christie and their one-year old son, Hayes.

(Rudy agreed to settle the charges against him by paying $384,000. By doing so, he neither admitted to nor denied the allegations. For more information and to read the main article referenced in this post, click here.)

A submission to Reel Thinking by Denis Haack (December 1, 2011)

Nearly two millennia ago four men—three disciples and their teacher—hiked up a mountainside outside the ancient city of Jerusalem to find a place to pray. This much was not all that unusual. The city attracted rabbis and prayer was a spiritual discipline central to Jewish faith. It was also not unusual for Jesus to take three of his followers—Peter, James, and John—aside for periods alone with him. What happened next, however, was very unusual. Suddenly as Jesus began to pray, a glimmer of his divine glory radiated out of his person, a stunning brilliance that burst into the consciousness of the disciples. They had actually gotten sleepy (prayer and all that, you know) and dozed off. And now there were six: Moses and Elijah, lawgiver and prophet, were with Jesus talking about the fulfillment of Jesus’ messianic ministry. We are told that Peter, not certain of what to say, suggested they construct three tents or booths on the spot. “Master,” he said, “it is good that we are here” (Luke 9:33). And so it was. Still, this is not remembered as one of Peter’s better moments because before he got the sentence completed, God interrupted, “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

I think Peter gets a bad rap in most of the sermons I’ve heard on this text. His sincerity surely was impeccable, and I can understand his desire to make something more permanent out of the occasion. Who wouldn’t want that? I also know how hard it is to be silent and listen instead of saying something. Still, Peter’s impulse to extend the time together on the mountain was mistaken. Before the divine interruption was completed, the figures of Moses and Elijah vanished, and the group was back to four. Peter was mistaken not because such conversation is not precious or worth extending, but because he was a guest, not the host on this occasion.

Safe conversation, a listening ear, a place of shelter and welcome, all reach into the deepest yearnings of the human heart because they are echoes of home. Add the warm hospitality of simple food and drink provided with unhurried time and we begin experiencing something of grace that beckons us to consider the reality that extends past the narrow horizons of our oh-so-limited experience of space and time.

Another Year is about, well… it’s about another year in the life of Tom and Gerri played with gentle persuasiveness by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen. They live in an unimposing London house, tend a lovely garden with a rough shed in a community plot, and open their lives to a series of friends and family for whom disappointment has begun sliding towards despair in a broken world.

There are no explosions in Another Year, no caped crusaders, no special effects, no clever stunts, not even a happy ending where all the problems are solved before the final credits. So, as entertainment I suppose it would receive a low score. The film is more like a visual short story, a profoundly sensitive exploration of what simple hospitality means in a world so broken that humanness can easily get lost.

It is an error of enormous proportions to reduce hospitality as a means to an end, a way to work some agenda in order to achieve some outcome. We are talking about humanness, not programs. Biblically speaking, hospitality is ultimately rooted in the revelation that God himself serves as host. This is why the Hebrew poet celebrates God’s provision for his people in the wilderness in terms that would evoke the image of a host in a nomadic desert culture:

He spread a cloud for a covering,

                and fire to give light by night.

            They asked, and he brought quails,

                and gave them bread from heaven in abundance.

            He opened the rock, and water gushed forth;

                it flowed through the desert like a river.

[Psalms 105:39-41]

I know little about Mike Leigh, who wrote and directed Another Year, but his simple exposition of hospitality and conversation, of listening and meals, of two people willing to grant the gift of unhurried time is common grace made visible. He knows it is a messy business, because guests, like Peter on that mountain often act and speak out of turn. One of the delights of Another Year is one of Gerri and Tom’s guests, Mary, played with subtle power by Leslie Manville. Much of her role is played in close up, and Manville shows how brilliant acting can be achieved with little more than facial expression. Flitting emotions, a glance to the side, a twitch, a pause, or the way she sucks on a cigarette—we read Mary’s heart, with all her brokenness, in her face.

The characters in Another Year are not the surgically enhanced celebrities that adorn the covers of the glossy magazines we read in the dentist’s office. They are ordinary looking people (though superb actors) depicted in ordinary settings doing ordinary things. Perhaps this is why the film did not do well as a box office draw. And that is sad, because I can think of few films that unpack more truth about the human condition.

In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author writes an imperative about opening our lives in hospitality and then provides a rather startling reason. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” the sacred text reads, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (13:2). And yes, the writer is probably thinking of the patriarch Abraham who had just that experience (Genesis 18:1-15). But isn’t the text claiming more than that?

We are products of modernity, enthused with programs and technique, and now entrenched in postmodernity, doubtful anything short of the spectacular has much meaning. Both idolatries are deadly, stripping significance from its true resting place, faithfulness in the ordinary and routine of daily life. In Another Year we are reminded of that fact, and shown how hospitality is a gift that brings a glimmer of grace to the deepest yearning of a fallen world.

And who knows what angels are lurking in the neighborhood?