Disney’s latest live-action remake of an animated movie opens in theaters this weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing this new version of Dumbo, which will be almost double the length of the original movie. There will be additions to the first film, and some deletions, too, such as the absence of Timothy, the mouse who helped convince Dumbo he could fly.
In 1941, Dumbo was the fifth animated movie to be released by Disney. Seventy-eight years and hundreds of movies later, it remains one of the best-loved stories Disney has produced. Part of Dumbo’s continuing fame may be due in part to the “Flying Elephant” ride at Disney parks that let’s us all experience the thrill of soaring through the air, but I think the main attraction of Dumbo the movie is Dumbo the elephant. And it’s not because he can fly. It’s because he believed in himself and reached his full potential—something we all want to do.
Bookstores and online sites are full of advice and encouragement to help us reach our full potential, follow our dreams, be successful, and have it all. Yet somewhere in the back of our minds lurks a quiet voice that says, “I can’t do that” – “I’m not good enough” – “I don’t have enough talent, or connections, or luck to make it.” Because it seems that only the most talented, most beautiful, most connected, or luckiest people ever do make it big in this world.
And that’s why we love Dumbo—a small, odd, clumsy, elephant, mostly alone in the world, with no one rooting for him but a tiny mouse and some silly crows. If he could do amazing things, why can’t we?
Of course, Dumbo didn’t believe in himself at first. Timothy and the crows tricked him into flying by telling him a “magic feather” would allow him to fly. When he lost the feather and had nothing to rely on but himself, he finally learned of his own special abilities.
As Christians, we can be tempted like everyone else to believe that this kind of education, or that kind of look, or someone else’s plan of action is what it will take for us to be successful. We look for resources outside ourselves to help us do the things we dream of doing. But, like Dumbo, we need to look within ourselves. But it’s not ourselves we need to rely on. It’s the Holy Spirit within us. It’s Jesus Christ who redeemed us. It’s God the Father who gives us all good things.
We have great abilities to do amazing things as we allow God to do his work through us. We just have to believe—in Him.
If you are feeling overwhelmed today, or stuck, or incapable, or too small and odd and clumsy, remind yourself of one of the stories in the Bible of a man or woman who was also overwhelmed, or stuck, or incapable and yet overcame their own limitations by God’s power. Read their story again. Remind yourself that the same God who empowered them will empower you to do His will.
Please comment below and tell me which Bible character you thought of. You can click on the “Comment” link at the top of this post (by the date) to see other comments, too.
Then, go, believe, and fly!
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
I went on a walk last week in the desert mountain park near my house. I had recently purchased a new camera, and I took it with me to try out some of the settings. The sun was shining, and I was wearing sunglasses, which made it difficult to see the image on the camera screen. Much of the time, I was pointing the camera and shooting without knowing what the final picture would look like. One photo of a bird surrounded by the bare branches of a Palo Verde tree did not work out at all as I planned.
When I got home and transferred the pictures to my laptop, I was disappointed to see that I hadn’t captured any details about the bird in the photo. The camera had focused on the empty branches instead. It reminded me of a quote from a movie that often pops into my head. In Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn tells a young Anakin Skywalker to watch him and learn from him. “Remember,” he says, “Your focus determines your reality.”
What Qui-Gon was trying to teach Anakin was that our perception of reality—what we think is happening in the world around us—will influence us more than what is really happening. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to our focus.
Anakin, who resented leaving his mother behind so he could learn to be a Jedi, focused on his distrust of the Jedi Council and was easily deceived by the enemy of the Jedi. He also focused on his own talents and felt he wasn’t given enough responsibility or respect. All he could see was what was missing from his life, because that’s where his thoughts and feelings were focused. If he had adjusted his focus to see himself as part of the bigger mission of the Jedi and see all the people who the Jedi protected, his future life might have been very different.
Unfortunately, too many people interpret Qui-Gon’s words differently. They think if they focus on something hard enough, if they want it sincerely enough, if they convince themselves they deserve it, then they will get the future they imagine. They pay attention to their focus, but they focus on themselves and miss the bigger picture. They think they are creating a reality for themselves. But instead they are ignoring reality—and they may end up regretting it.
In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus made it clear where the focus of his people should be—on God and on others. Not on ourselves. Not on our needs and desires. Not on our disappointments or the people who have offended us. Not on what we can gain in this life.
Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)
God is the really real. He is the creator of all that is. When we keep him in focus, instead of ourselves, we can begin to see the world as it really is, and we can play the part God designed just for us. If, instead, we focus on ourselves and what we want or think we need, we might see only the empty branches instead of all the beautiful things God has in store for us.
Last night, I went to see the new movie Captain Marvel. If you like superhero movies with lots of action and likable main characters, you’ll enjoy this one. Or if you just want to take your daughter to see a movie with a strong female lead, this is a good choice.
Don’t worry—I won’t give away anything about the movie that hasn’t been in the trailers. And I must admit, the studio did a good job of not giving away too much in the trailers. There are a lot of surprises in the movie, even for people who are familiar with the main characters from Marvel comic books.
You can tell from the Blockbuster store in the trailer that this story takes place in the past. In fact, it’s sometime in the 1990’s. It’s an origin story for a character who is expected to play a large role in future Marvel movies. One question left unanswered by the movie is where has Captain Marvel been since the 90’s? Why hasn’t she been around to help with the serious threats to earth we’ve seen in other Marvel movies?
And that got me thinking about one of the biggest (possibly the biggest) question to plague Christianity. Christians believe in a supernatural, all-powerful, all-knowing, and loving God. But where is he when bad things happen in our lives? What has he been doing during the thousands of years of wars, starvation, and natural disasters? Why hasn’t he put a stop to all the evil in the world? Why did he let it start in the first place?
Believers have grappled with these questions and have come up with different answers, including some that stray from orthodox Christian beliefs. For example, some suggest that maybe God isn’t all-powerful or all-knowing, or maybe he doesn’t love us as the Bible says. But if we assume the Bible is truthful in telling us that God loves us and that he has the power and authority to do all that he desires, we have to accept the idea that God has a perfectly good reason to allow evil and suffering in the world.
And that’s where we lose people.
But we don’t have to.
Jesus was once asked by his disciples why a man was born blind. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2-3) Then Jesus healed the man, clearly displaying “the works of God.”
But the works of God are not limited to healing. We don’t just see God at work in the blessings he provides. We see him in the peace he gives to the dying, the patience he gives to the persecuted, the courage he gives to the missionary, and the hope he gives to the hungry. We feel his presence most clearly in the humble surrender of our hearts to his will when we are least able to understand it. And if we let other people see God working in us then, maybe we won’t lose them after all.
The greatest hope of Christianity is that God will set everything right in the end. Although we may not have all the answers now, we believe that there will be justice. There will be an end to pain and suffering. If we don’t see it in this world or this age, we’ll see it in the next. So, we can confidently say with the Psalmist: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)
To learn more about how Christians respond to the problem of evil in the world, I recommend you watch this podcast from the Dallas Theological Seminary.
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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!