For someone who enjoys watching movies, it’s interesting to see all the different jobs involved in creating one. So, like many of you, I watched the 2019 Academy Awards this week. Awards were given not only to actors and directors but to cinematographers, production designers, animators, costume designers, makeup artists, film editors, music composers, sound editors, visual effects artists, sound mixers, and script writers. That’s a lot of people working together to create an experience that will carry an audience away to another world.
Each member of the team creating a movie has a part in deciding what goes in—the clothes the actors wear, the set or scenery around them, what we hear, and what we see when the movie is complete. If they do their jobs well, we will hardly notice the clothes and makeup, the set pieces, or the background noise. If they mess up, that’s all we’re likely to remember about the film.
The biggest mess-ups are the ones that keep a story from being believable. Credibility is key to good story telling. That doesn’t mean that everything we see in a movie has to be something that could happen in real life. But everything in the movie has to be something that could happen in the world of that story.
I think one of the main reasons people are losing interest in Christianity is because the Christian story we’ve been taught can lack credibility. We look at what we’ve been told about God and Jesus, then we look at the real world around us, and it can be hard to keep believing that the Christian story is true. If God created a good world, why is there so much wrong with it? If God loves us, why doesn’t he fix our problems? If Christians are supposed to act like Jesus, why are so many of them judgmental and hateful?
If we just look at the surface, we can decide that the story doesn’t make sense. But we shouldn’t stop at the surface. We need to dig deeper to really understand the Christian story before we dismiss it. We need to ask questions and look for answers. If there is some part of the story that causes us to doubt, we should talk about it with other Christians. And we should be open to other Christians expressing their doubts, rather than expecting them to simply believe.
A recent headline in Christianity Today declared, “The Biggest Hindrance to Your Kids’ Faith Isn’t Doubt. It’s Silence.” It turns out that young Christians who express doubts and ask questions about their faith are less likely to walk away from their faith than those who don’t. If they speak up and look for answers, they are likely to find them.
Consider Job who questioned God’s justice. God himself showed up to remind Job of His power and sovereignty. Consider Thomas who doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jesus himself showed up and showed Thomas the holes in his hands and side. And I can’t count the number of times the Holy Spirit has showed up to remind me of his presence when I’ve prayed for answers to life’s big questions.
So don’t silence the doubters. Listen to them. Be challenged by them. Challenge them to go deeper into God’s story than they’ve ever gone before.
In a rarely-quoted verse, Jude tells his fellow Christians, “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). Help them see the whole story. It really is the only believable choice.
Waiting is hard. Waiting without knowing what the outcome will be is much harder.
I have often found myself waiting for an answer to a specific prayer. I believe God hears his children and he always answers our prayers, but he doesn’t always answer right away.
Sometimes God says “no” to requests that can harm us or that take us away from His purpose for our lives. Sometimes he says “wait” because the timing is wrong or because there’s something we need to do first. For me, the hardest thing is trying to discern if the answer I’m receiving is “wait” or just “no.” And if I do wait, does that mean I should do nothing until the answer is clear or should I keep moving forward expecting God to provide for my needs when the time is right?
When I’m in one of those difficult waiting periods and I wonder why God seems to be holding out on me, not providing the things I’m praying for so earnestly, I’m reminded of a scene from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Most of you are probably familiar with the plot of the book even if you’ve never read it. Children between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen at random to represent their district in a “game” where they are required to kill each other or be killed by the brutal elements of the arena until only one survives.
Katniss Everdeen enters the game with an advantage due to survival skills she has learned in the harsh environment of her district. But her advantage won’t count for anything if she can’t meet her basic needs. After two days in the arena without water, Katniss is desperate to quench her thirst, but she can’t make it back to the one place she knows there is water. That’s when she remembers there’s someone outside the arena who has the power to help her—her coach, Haymitch. He could send a container of water to her in the arena. But he hasn’t.
Why hasn’t he?
Katniss goes through all the reasons her coach might withhold water from her when she needs it so badly. He hates her. He wants to punish her. He’s too drunk or distracted to notice her need. Or, is he sending her a message?
“Then I know. There’s only one good reason Haymitch could be withholding water from me. Because he knows I’ve almost found it.”
So Katniss goes on until she can walk no longer and drops to her knees in the mud. Yes, mud. Which is made by water. The water that will save Katniss’ life.
Like Katniss, I have sometimes wondered if God no longer loved me or if he was punishing me when he seemed to withhold something I thought I needed. I wondered if what the Bible said was true that “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NIV).
But the day has not yet come when I could not go on. I might need to take a break, to rest, to regroup, or to try another path, but there has always been some way to move forward, even if it wasn’t in the direction I thought I needed to go. God has always provided for me, even if I have to wait. Even when he says “no” to what I’m asking for. He’s still saying “yes” to me—to the things I really need.
He’s saying “yes” to you, too.
“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act” (Psalm 37:5, ESV).
I enjoy reading devotionals—short writings designed to help us focus on God and his Word for a few minutes each day. Devotional writers have a special ability to see God’s handiwork in the everyday world or to hear him speaking through ordinary experiences, and they share those experiences with us. It’s as if they’re wearing special glasses that help them see what the rest of us miss. Or maybe they’re just paying attention and looking for God in ways the rest of us aren’t.
Yet, I believe this ability to see God in everyday things is not a gift given only to a few. Anyone can develop the habit of looking and listening for evidence of God throughout their day. It’s just a matter of being focused, like a person scanning a shoreline for seashells or a child on Easter morning searching their yard for painted eggs.
Meaningful surprises don’t have to come just from rainbows, sunsets, and the adorable things our children and grandchildren say. They can also be found in laundry, bad traffic, and funny conversations with our spouses. Some of my favorite “Easter Eggs” are ones I’ve found in books and movies.
“Easter Egg” even has a unique meaning when applied to movies, TV shows, video games, and comic books. It’s a feature in a game, book, or film which isn’t necessary to the story—a little something extra some of the audience will appreciate while others completely miss it. It can be an inside joke, a disguised reference to another movie or game, or a hidden message. Some examples include the yellow, blue, and red ball hidden in many Pixar films and the cameo appearances of Stan Lee in Marvel movies.
Ready Player One, a movie I mention on my Sign Up page, is full of Easter Eggs. It contains references to older films like Back To The Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, The Shining, Buckaroo Bonzai, and The Iron Giant, along with numerous video and arcade games popular before the turn of the century. The movie even references the first Easter Egg ever hidden in a video game--Adventure, released by Atari in 1980.
As Parzival states in Ready Player One:
The creator’s name.
The Bible tells us that we have a creator and he can be known, in part, through his creation. Evidence of his power and presence is everywhere. All we have to do is look for it. In a flower. In a song. In a story. God’s Easter Eggs are hidden everywhere. He’s thinking of you today. Are you thinking of Him?
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20
Just because my kids aren’t little anymore doesn’t stop me from going to movies made for kids. Last weekend I saw The Kid Who Would be King, where the main hero was 12 years old and the only adults who got to see any action were Rebecca Ferguson, playing Morgana, and Sir Patrick Stewart, playing Merlin. The plot was straight-forward—bullied, insecure Alex pulls a sword from a broken wall in a construction site and discovers that the sword is King Arthur’s Excalibur, a rather comical Merlin shows up to tell him it’s his destiny to destroy Arthur’s long-imprisoned half-sister Morgana before she can take over the world, Alex brings together his friends and enemies to fight Morgana, and he learns much about himself in the process.
The battle scenes at Alex’s school are pretty funny with a crowd of young students, outfitted with swords, shields, and pieces of armor, fighting undead warriors with whatever tools they can find—including their teachers’ cars. The only people who can see what’s happening are those who have been knighted by Alex, and he conveniently forgets about all the adults at the school and in the town when he chooses his army. But it’s a kid’s movie, meant to inspire kids that they can be heroes too, and having adults interfering in the battle plan just wouldn’t do.
At one point in the movie, a discouraged Alex thinks he needs to grow up and stop believing in fairy tales. Luckily, he changes his mind and regains his nerve, or the movie would have had a very sad ending. But for many people, believing that kids can do anything to change their world is just a fairy tale; to think that any person can stand up for what’s right and actually make a difference is a fairy tale. But that’s why we need fairy tales and fantasy stories and kids’ movies like The Kid Who Would be King—so we can dare to believe and dare to make a difference.
I have always loved fantasy stories. Heroes with special abilities fighting supernatural bad guys. Characters from different backgrounds drawn together against a common enemy. Choices between taking a risk or playing it safe, sacrifice or surrender, bowing to evil or standing up to it. Those are my favorite tales. And I didn’t stop loving them when I grew “too old for fairy tales.”
Stories like these have played a special part in my life, and I hope they always will. Reading about orcs and elves or watching superheroes battle alien monsters brings out the kid in me. It reminds me that there are mysteries in our universe and forces we cannot see or fully understand. There is an epic story being acted out all around us, a story written by the loving creator of the universe. Sometimes it takes the eyes of a child to see that.
So be a kid. Believe. Join the story. You’re never to old to have a part.
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Stories are a metaphor for life. That's a deep way of saying we can learn life lessons from stories we read or watch on stage or on big or small screens. When viewed through a Christian worldview, even secular films and books can tell us something about our Christian walk. Here you will find a collection of blog posts with lessons I have learned from stories. I hope you enjoy them!