Category Archives: Movies

An Unexpected Journey

Yesterday evening Marion and I watched The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey, based on the first part of Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy classic The Hobbit. This was my first experience watching a movie in 3D, and I found The Hobbit impressive in every respect. As someone who doesn’t go to a lot of movies, I was struck by how cinematographic technology has made it possible to create an alternate reality so powerful that it completely overwhelms your senses.

Yet for me, no matter how technically impressive it may be, a movie is only truly satisfying if it says something important. The Hobbit satisfies on that count too. This morning, while lying half-awake in bed, images and thoughts from The Hobbit were chasing themselves through my head. I sensed a blog post coming on, so I asked the Lord for clarity, and gradually found myself mulling over two significant and inter-related themes. Others may find other messages in this story, but for me these are the ones that stood out.

First there is the character of Bilbo Baggins himself. He’s an unlikely hero who doesn’t really want any part of the quest to recapture the dwarves’  lost kingdom, around which the story is built. But Gandalf the wizard chooses him intentionally, believing that Bilbo has a crucial role to play. Gandalf sees something in Bilbo that the others on the expedition – including Bilbo himself – seem to have overlooked. The legendary dwarvish warrior Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the expedition, despises Bilbo at first, and writes him off as a no-account who should have stayed home. Yet in the end the surprising Bilbo finds a reserve of courage within himself and saves Thorin’s life in a key battle.

Another significant though understated motif is the destructive effect of the dwarves’ lust for gold and gems. Smaug, the dragon who stole the dwarves’ wealth and their homeland, is an undeniably nasty character. Still, it was the unbridled greed and covetousness of Thorin’s grandfather that attracted Smaug’s attention in the first place, and thus ironically led to the downfall of the dwarves’  kingdom. Ever since, the dwarves have nursed hatred and resentment over their lost riches. Their quest to recover their lost kingdom is fuelled by more than just a desire to return to their homeland. It’s not just their homes that they regret losing, but their treasure troves of gold and jewels.

There is a subtle irony here. In the overarching delineation of good vs. evil that characterizes almost all fantasy literature, the dwarves are clearly among the good guys. They are basically positive characters. Yet their lust for ever more and greater wealth, like some sort of inner cancer gnawing at their hearts, has tainted them with an enduring bitterness over the loss of their mountain of gold. This bitterness has skewed their perspective until they mistrust anyone but themselves, and see even their potential allies – the Elves – as objects of suspicion. Obsessed with their lost wealth, they are so consumed with rage that they are in danger of becoming almost the mirror image of their hated enemy Smaug.

And then there is the Precious. In one of the many misadventures that characterize Tolkien’s tale, Bilbo stumbles upon Gollum, anti-hero of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Gollum has somehow found the One Ring of Power, an occult object that later turns out to be the key to a new attempt at world domination by the forces of darkness. The ring has taken possession of Gollum’s soul and transformed him into a despicable yet pitiful character. He is obsessed with the ring and calls it his Precious. Bilbo finds the ring, not realizing its significance. The ring helps him escape, but those who know the plot line of Lord of the Rings will remember that years later, Bilbo’s nephew Frodo would need to sacrifice the ring of power to save the world. So the theme of the One Ring, though largely undeveloped in this first installment of The Hobbit series, could be seen as a sub-theme of the “greed and lust for power” motif.

For those who are still with me, I want to shift gears now and talk a bit about why these themes stood out for me.

Jesus has been reminding me these last few months about the things that have true and enduring value. On one occasion Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to buried treasure. This treasure is so valuable, said Jesus, that if you find it, you should sell everything you own to buy it. He also compared the Kingdom of God to a merchant in search of fine pearls who found a single pearl of such great worth that he sold everything he had to buy this one pearl. As well, he said that the way to true life is narrow and few find it, while the road to destruction is broad and many take it.

The pearl of great price and the buried treasure are one and the same. The pearl is Jesus himself, the crucified one who bore our sins and who is coming to reign. He is the rightful king of our lives and of the whole universe. Jesus was king even while he was dying for our sins, and he is still king now while seated at his Father’s right hand in the heavens, but at present Jesus is king in a hidden way. Most people don’t realize that Jesus is the rightful king of the whole earth. Right now it looks to most people as though little or nothing is under Jesus’ control. That’s because Jesus is above all a merciful king. In his mercy and his patience he has chosen to delay the inevitable Day of Reckoning. He is waiting to see who will come to repentance – who will put their trust and their hope in Him. He is waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool. But Jesus has promised that one day the waiting will be over. Soon He will return in power and glory to rule the earth openly and restore all things.

God’s Kingdom is much more valuable than gold or jewels or power or any of the other things people chase in this world, but most people are blind to what is really worth investing their lives in. That’s why most people take the broad and easy road that leads to destruction. Even if they’re not consumed with greed like Smaug, most people want to live their own life their own way. They don’t really want to live life Jesus’ way, because that means giving up control, laying down their right to call the shots, run their own careers, set their own course, choose their own path. Jesus’  invitation is open to anyone – anyone may come on this journey – but it means surrendering our pride, our independence and what we think of as our security. Most people don’t want to do that. Yet ironically, the only truly secure place to be is with Jesus.

Jesus isn’t the only treasure in God’s kingdom. Another way to think of the parables of the Pearl and the Hidden Treasure is that Jesus is the one searching for treasure and looking for fine pearls. Every time he finds someone whose heart is hungry for reality, He says “That one’s mine! That’s my treasure, the one I gave my life for”. And so Jesus, the Pearl of Great Price, is himself on a treasure hunt. The treasure he seeks consists of all those who will put their hope in him – the unlikely heroes, like Bilbo, who aren’t impressed with themselves but are impressed with Jesus and are willing to walk with him through the adventures of life, no matter where he leads. They are willing to do this because He has promised them a homeland, an eternal city that is coming to earth.

All of this may sound horribly old-fashioned, but it’s as true today as when Jesus and the apostles first spoke these things. If we get sidetracked by the lust for wealth, power, control and security, then like the dwarves, we will become embittered and unfruitful as our hearts get burdened down with cares that we were never meant to carry. But when we surrender our independence, invest our hearts in Jesus and decide to follow where He leads, then like Bilbo we are transformed little by little until to our own surprise we become heroes in God’s army.

An unexpected journey? Not a bad name for the walk of a disciple of Jesus. It’s a journey down a road that not everyone wants to walk, but a journey that is more than worth the cost. All that we surrender – all that we have to lose – is our independence, our pride, our so-called security, and all the illusions that we have about ourselves. But Jesus has no illusions about us. He knows our potential. He knows what needs to die in us so that we can embrace this journey, and what we can become as we walk with Him. Down this road lies true treasure – not the fleeting pleasure of worldly wealth and power that will fade and vanish like a mist, but the lasting satisfaction of a love relationship with the One who made the universe, the promise that He will always provide for us and lead us, and the sure knowledge that one day He will rule the whole earth, and we will reign with him. That’s the homeland we are looking for, that’s the king we are eager to serve, that’s the treasure that we seek, that’s the life that is worth living – the life that is truly life.



The power of hospitality

Most Christians, if asked to list five of the attributes of God, would probably come up with words like loving, powerful, forgiving,  just, holy, and so forth.

These are all important descriptors of God’s character as it is revealed to us in the Bible and supremely in Jesus Christ.  But today I am thinking of another word that powerfully sums up how God deals with sinful, weak, needy people.

The word is hospitality.  I was reminded of this attribute of God’s character by a recent post on Richard Long’s excellent blog at Together Canada.  Hospitality is a trait that I would normally associate with people, not with God.  Yet, when we understand Him as He is described in Scripture and portrayed by Jesus, we see that our God is amazingly hospitable.

Looking at the gospels, we see that in one of his parables, Jesus depicted God as a concerned father welcoming his runaway son home to his household and throwing a party for him.  Jesus tells us elsewhere that in his Father’s household there is room for all his children to find a home.  Jesus himself is depicted in Scripture as the coming Bridegroom who welcomes all who place their hope in Him to His wedding banquet.  Our God longs to welcome people in, that they may find their home in Him.

When we look at the qualifications for elders in the New Testament, we discover that the New Testament church placed high value on hospitality as a trait for leaders.   Evidently, the first century apostles understood that Jesus’ sheep need leaders who reflect His generous, hospitable heart.

Last night Marion and I watched Harvey, a movie from an earlier era of cinematography.  Harvey was originally filmed in 1950, and I found it interesting to see how movie making has changed in 60 years.  But beyond the technical aspects, what struck me most in this movie was the generous and hospitable nature of the film’s lead character, Elwood P. Dowd, played by Jimmy Stewart.  Dowd is portrayed as a middle-aged eccentric who has inherited a fortune and does not have to work for a living.   Rather than pursuing the business opportunities that would have been wide open to someone of his means, Dowd goes through life talking to an invisible 6 foot 3 inch rabbit.  He spends most of his time at the local bar (where his invisible friend is quite welcome), listening to people that no-one else except the bartender has time for, and frequently inviting them to his home for dinner.  This exasperates his sister and niece, who share his home.  To be truthful, almost any normal person would find it difficult to live with someone as impractical, unpredictable and eccentric as Elwood P.  Dowd.  That said, he is an uncommonly likeable character, who excels in kindness and generosity.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that God was speaking to me through this aspect of the film.  He showed me again the power of a hospitable life to communicate the good news of Jesus to people who are hungry for spiritual reality.

When we open our homes and our lives to people who are hungry and thirsty for true life, and become their friends, our understanding of what it means to share the gospel of Jesus undergoes a radical transformation.  Instead of being a project, evangelism truly becomes a way of life.  It is no longer just a matter of verbally communicating spiritual truth, or even praying with people for them to receive Jesus or for the Holy Spirit to touch their lives – although both of these aspects remain important.  When we open our homes and our hearts to people, trust is fostered in the people we befriend, and over time, God uses this atmosphere of acceptance and friendship to prepare their hearts for genuine conversion.  This, of course, requires that we be transparent with those we are reaching out to, so that they can see us as we really are.  That’s how disciples are made – through relationships of honesty and trust, in which the good news of Jesus is communicated on many levels.

Marion and I have been rediscovering the transforming power of hospitality over the past several weeks as the Holy Spirit has opened the door to a friendship with our next-door neighbours.  It all started this past summer when Orlando Suarez, a church-planter from Cuba, visited our life group on several occasions this past summer.  Orlando spoke to us of his passion for sharing the good news of Jesus with the people in his neighbourhood.  As I listened to him, I realized that the Spirit of God was speaking to me and telling me to become more active in reaching out to our neighbourhood.  Marion and I invited several people to our home to watch the Alpha videos and talk about the true meaning of life.  The couple next door accepted our invitation, and it has been a delightful experience getting to know them better.  We had already been on good terms before beginning this process.  But now, the relationship is changing from cordial to intimate.  As we talk about the Alpha videos and their growing realization that Jesus is alive, we are becoming spiritual friends.  In this atmosphere of friendship, lives are being changed.

This, it seems to me, is what happened over and over again in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles.  I once did a survey of pivotal or life-changing events in the gospels and the Book of Acts, and discovered that a great many of them took place in someone’s home.   When Jesus dropped in to Zaccheus’ house for dinner, someone’s life was changed because Jesus took time to accept hospitality from a man that any self-respecting religious teacher wouldn’t go near.  Jesus knew Zaccheus needed to repent.  By inviting himself to Zaccheus’ home for a meal, Jesus honoured this man whom others rejected, and offered an atmosphere of acceptance that made it easy for Zaccheus to turn away from his self-focussed life and make things right with God.

So – how are you doing with hospitality?  It’s not really about how nice a home you have.  That doesn’t matter.  Your home doesn’t have to be spotless or elegant.  Hospitality is not entertainment.   And you don’t have to be limited to offering hospitality in your home.  You can also offer hospitality in a friend’s house or apartment, a restaurant, a bar, a hospital, a workplace, a prison, or even on a street corner.  It’s really about making time for relationship and having an open heart.

To be truthful, I’m not very good at this.  I’m still learning.  But Jesus is very good at it, and he is teaching me how to let my life be a vehicle for His ministry of hospitality.  It’s all about learning to rest in the Father’s goodness, and invite others to come into His household and discover His delightfully generous love.


How shall we now live?

This Remembrance Day evening, my family and I are watching the 1998 World War II movie Saving Private Ryan.  I find this movie mostly disturbing rather than enjoyable.  It does have its moments of beauty, but mostly I appreciate it because it provides such a powerful opportunity for reflection, making it well worth the investment of time and emotional energy.

I won’t attempt in one blog post to explore all the levels of meaning that can be teased out of this complex story, but will content myself with the one over-riding question that it poses.

In the opening and closing scenes of the movie, Private Ryan returns as an old man to the grave of the officer who died leading the mission that rescued him.  He remembers the awful horror of the battle for his freedom, and looks for some reassurance that he has lived a life worthy of the sacrifice that was offered up for him.  He recognizes that his life in some sense is not his own.  He says that ever since eight brave men died so that he could live, every day of his life he has thought about the debt he owes to those eight men who gave up their lives so that he could be saved from death and restored to his family.

The great question posed by this movie is also the great question posed by Remembrance Day, and – on a different level – the great question posed by the cross of Jesus Christ.  In response to the sacrifice that has given me my freedom, how am I to live?

One of the sad ironies of the current state of Western civilization is that while on Remembrance Day we claim to appreciate the sacrifice of those who paid for our freedom, most of us have a very truncated view of what freedom really is.  We seem to think that thousands of men died so that we could have freedom to do as we please, to gratify our desires without anyone making unreasonable demands on us or infringing on our personal space, to amass increasing material wealth, and to provide for our personal comfort and security.  We salve our consciences by saying that of course we want to do all this while not harming anyone else.

Yes, I know, not everyone lives as I’ve just described.  Some of us are a little more idealistic than that.  But let’s be honest – Western civilization doesn’t look very noble these days.  We are mostly focussed on trying to keep ourselves comfortable and reasonably prosperous.  Not many people understand what true freedom is, where it comes from, and what our response should be to this amazing gift and the price that was paid for us.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not against prosperity.  When acquired without sacrificing integrity and justice, prosperity is a blessing from God, and it can be used to accomplish great good.  But whenever we make pleasing ourselves the primary goal of our lives, it ends up robbing us of the freedom that Jesus desires to give us – the freedom to lay down our lives in service.  Jesus said that no-one can serve two masters.  If we truly value what he has done for us, only one response is possible – to surrender the rudder of our lives to Jesus, and let Him and His Kingdom become the goal of our living.

I love the words of this song by Brenton Brown and Tom Slater

Let My Life Be Like a Love Song

Lord, the love you give
You give so generously
You were my sacrifice
You gave your life for me

So let my life be like a love song
Let my life be like a love song
Let my life be like a love song
To your heart

(Tom Slater and Brenton Brown, © 2001 Vineyard Songs UK/Eire)

That’s the kind of response that Jesus’ sacrifice is calling forth from my heart.  I want to live a life that is poured out in service, motivated by gratitude to Jesus for His amazing sacrifice for me.  I know that I am weak, and can only sustain such a life by His help, but with the Holy Spirit’s enabling power, that’s how I am determined to live my life.  How about you?




What is good government?

Well, here we go.  A federal election campaign is underway here in the Truth North Strong and Free, and I feel compelled to reflect on what I believe to be the most critical issue facing our nation.  No, it’s not the deficit, or unemployment, or the environment, or the needs of the poor and the elderly, or the potential legalization of euthanasia, or the government’s alleged contempt of Parliament – even though all those issues are important.

In my view, the most critical issue facing our nation is the absence of credible leadership.

I have voted in every federal election since I was of voting age, but I have no particular allegiance to any party and no interest in persuading you to choose one of them over the others.  I do have an allegiance, but it’s not to any of our political parties or their leaders.  My allegiance is to the Kingdom of God as proclaimed and embodied by Jesus the Messiah.  I want to share with you some reflections on what Jesus had to say about leadership.  Whether or not you share my faith in Jesus, my prayer is that these reflections will help bring clarity and insight to your own thoughts about the type of government that Canada needs.

The various political parties all want you to think that good government begins with a vote for them.  The Conservatives want you to believe that you should vote for them because they are the only ones who can manage the economy properly, while the other parties are all irresponsible spendthrifts who would form a coalition and ruin the country.  The Liberals want you to believe that you should vote for them because they are the only real alternative to the Conservatives, who disrespect Parliament, are arrogant liars, and have lost the right to govern.  The New Democrats want you to vote for them because they are the only ones who truly care about the people.  The Greens want you to vote for them because they are the only ones who truly care about the environment, and the Bloc wants you to vote for them (at least, if you live in La Belle Province) because they are the only ones who truly care about Quebec.

So, whichever party you support, the message of each party leader – although it seems to be different – is the same in at least one respect.  Each leader says,  “I am the one you should trust; I alone can deliver good government – so vote for me.”

According to the Genesis creation account, God created human beings for the purpose of governing the earth on His behalf.  A look at human history shows that this hasn’t worked out so well.  That’s not because God had a bad plan, but because humans turned away from God and became obsessed with themselves.  Ever since our first parents fell into this trap, some human governments have been better than others, but even the best ones eventually seem to stumble over the same old stumbling block of pride, whether it manifests itself in a naked lust for unbridled power, or in more subtle forms such as the age-old human desire to impress others and make a name for ourselves.  Religious institutions are often no better – in fact sometimes they’re even worse.  Century after century, these destructive tendencies of the human heart have proven to be enduring obstacles to good government, whether in nations, religious institutions, families, or any other entity with a governing structure.

Even Jesus had to deal with politicking among the members of his team.  They were all convinced that He was the promised Messiah who would eventually rule over the whole earth,  so the members of his staff began jockeying for positions in his impending government, and started an argument about who would get to be his right hand man.

Jesus’ response was interesting.  He didn’t say that they misunderstood him and he wasn’t really planning to be a king.  He also didn’t say that wanting to be a leader was a bad thing.  Instead, he challenged his men about whether they were willing to pay the price of leadership.  He told them that true leadership involves crucifying your own desire for power or recognition, and learning to be a servant.

His message wasn’t just empty words.  In just a few short weeks, he would give them a graphic object lesson of just how far he was willing to go down the road of servant leadership.  Although Jesus could have chosen a different path, he willingly offered his life on the cross so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God.  Servant leadership, as modelled by Jesus, does not mean being whatever people want you to be, and doing whatever they want you to do.  It does not mean doing whatever it takes to stay popular.  It means walking a consistent path of obedience to the One who has called you and to Whom you belong, inviting others to join you on that path but leaving the choice to them, loving them no matter what they choose, and investing your life – even to the point of death – for those you are called to lead and to serve.  Here is a leader who is worthy of our trust!

God cares about government.   It matters to him.  One day He will replace all the governments of this earth with a government headed by Jesus.  In the meantime, good leaders are those who understand and imitate His example of humility, servanthood and integrity.

William Wilberforce, whose life was depicted in the movie Amazing Grace (2006), was such a leader.  He’s not the only example of a democratic politician who embodied true servant leadership, but he is one of the best.  One could say that he gave his life for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.  His political career was an expression of his Christian convictions.  He had a massive impact for good on the society of his time.  He did not seek power for its own sake, but sought to use his power to embody the values of the Kingdom of God.

This is good government.  This is true leadership.  Lord, grant us such leaders in our day.


Two redemption stories

A brilliant young aeronautical engineer is the only survivor of a tragic car accident that is caused by his own carelessness.  The accident causes the deaths of seven people, one of whom is his fiancée.   Grief-stricken and full of remorse, he concludes that life is no longer worth living, and he makes preparations to end his own life.   But before he ends it all, he somehow wants to make atonement for his guilt.  Driven by a sense of poetic justice, he takes increasingly radical steps to change the lives of seven other people before he dies.

His own brother receives a new lung lobe, a child services worker receives part of his liver, a young boy is given a bone marrow transplant, a junior hockey coach receives a new kidney.  In a particularly moving segment,  the man arranges for ownership of his home to be transferred to a single mom and her children, and he tells her his only requirement is that she live abundantly.  Last of all, he arranges for a blind man to receive his eyes and a young woman with a diseased heart and a rare blood type – the same as his own – to receive his heart after he takes his own life.  Tragically, he falls in love with the young woman, but goes ahead with his suicide plan anyway, knowing it will give her the new heart that she needs in order to survive.

Marion and I watched this movie the other night.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll recognize the story.  If not, I won’t give away the title.  It’s a substantial and powerful movie, beautifully crafted, touching on significant themes – guilt, grief, remorse, sacrifice and generosity.  In spite of all these positives, the movie left me feeling unsettled.

Although his sacrifices make him seem noble, our hero’s actions reflect several beliefs that are quite disturbing in their implications.

  • If there is too much suffering, life is no longer worth living.
  • I have the right to decide whether my life should end
  • If I’ve messed up really badly, the only way I can find peace is by somehow paying the bill for my sins.
  • If I do enough good, somehow I can make up for the bad things I’ve done.

Now consider a different script.  A man who is totally innocent of any wrongdoing allows himself to be betrayed, falsely accused, beaten, and crucified as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.  Driven only by love, he takes on the burden of guilt for the whole human race in fulfilment of an ancient prophecy.  Because of his willing sacrifice, all who are tortured by the burden of guilt and remorse may be set free forever.  The gift of abundant, eternal life is made available freely to anyone who asks.

Some of those who call themselves his followers miss the point of his sacrifice, and build yet another religious system to keep people in bondage.  Even so, the power of his sacrifice continues to change lives in every generation.  Those who truly understand what he has done for them live lives of radical generosity, amazed at the gift they have been given, and end up changing billions of lives as they wait for the final unveiling of God’s Kingdom.

This story – the real story, one that actually happened, although the final act is still to come – has very different implications from the movie script.

  • Redemption is a gift, paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice.  I can’t buy it or pay for it.  Fortunately, I don’t have to.
  • I can live free of guilt, remorse and condemnation.
  • Life is always worth living in spite of suffering.
  • My life belongs to God – it is not my own.  In this discovery is perfect freedom.

The movie is a powerful but ultimately tragic story.   Its horizon is this life, with no thought of eternal consequences.  No doubt those who received the gifts given by our hero would be deeply grateful, but in a sense their gratitude would be misdirected because in the end it is only God who can set people free in the ways that really count, even though he often uses people.   Not only that, the hero of the movie could have been set free from his guilt if he had known the hero of the real story, and then he wouldn’t have had to kill himself to help people.  He could have stayed alive, lived a life free of guilt, and made an even bigger difference – an eternal one.

The real story has power to set people free forever.

Which story do you prefer as a script for your own life?


Is your marriage fireproof?

When I came home from work on Friday I discovered that my wife had rented the movie Fireproof.   I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of quality from a movie that had been produced as a ministry tool (some are pretty good, some not so good … )  but I was very pleasantly surprised and glad we watched it.   It’s got action, romance and a powerful and significant message.  I was challenged by the reminder that loving my wife unconditionally is a daily decision, not dependent on how I feel or on how she is treating me.  Not that she makes it difficult to love her – Marion is a wonderful woman – but I needed the reminder that love is a daily decision.   I also realized again how much I need the Lord’s help if I am going to show  my wife the love she needs. 

The movie tells the story of a firefighter, Caleb Holt, whose marriage is in trouble.   On the job, Caleb is a hero, and lives by the firefighter’s code (Never leave your partner behind), but his marriage is another story.  Caleb’s marriage to Catherine almost goes up in flames, but just in time, he surrenders his stubborn will and begins the painful journey from selfishness to unconditional love.   It’s a simple and powerful story – powerful because it speaks to the deep longing of the human heart for a love that is true and enduring.

In Caleb’s journey from selfishness to wholeness, he reaches out to two other men – his Dad and a friend at work – who have something he needs.   The availability of mentors and role models is so crucial in learning how to live life well.  When Marion and I were younger and struggling in some areas, we were drawn to couples who have been married for some time and whose marriage reflected the Father’s heart.   Now I find – somewhat to my surprise – that there seems to be something about our marriage that is attractive to some of the young adults we know.  Could it be that as we have learned the costly lessons of surrender, God has made our marriage a resource to others?  This is yet another reminder that love is never just for us –  it is always a gift to be shared.  If more couples saw their marriage as a life-long covenant – a covenant with Jesus first of all, then with each other – what a transforming impact this could have on our world!

Fireproof has the potential to make a good marriage better and to give hope to couples who are having trouble.  It could also be a good tool to use with engaged couples.  Well worth watching !