I was skeptical last weekend when I went with my family to see Toy Story 4. The original Toy Story was a charming movie with lots of heart, but I was disappointed in the two sequels. The odd character of Forky in commercials for number 4 didn’t inspire confidence in the new movie, but I still went. And I’m glad I did.
Toy Story 4 has all the warmth of the original movie. It also has humor and just enough excitement to keep it interesting. The original toys are all back along with a few new ones, including Forky, a “toy” made by kindergartner Molly out of pieces of trash. We also learn what happened to Bo Peep, who appeared in the first two movies but not in number 3. She is now a “lost toy” after leaving an antique store where she sat unwanted on a shelf for two years.
The theme of the movie is belonging. The toys classify each other by whether or not they “have a kid.” Those who don’t belong to someone, desperately want to—except for Forky, who takes a while to be convinced he is a toy. He thinks of himself as trash and keeps trying to get back to the trash can where he feels he belongs.
From the first Toy Story movie to the latest, we are reminded that toys are made with a purpose—to belong to a child. To bring joy and comfort to that child. And in fulfilling their purpose, the toys receive love and joy in return. A toy without a child is a toy without purpose and without love.
The Bible tells us we were also made with a purpose. We are not the result of random evolution. Each of us is the result of an intentional, loving design. We have a creator. He made us for himself, and he loves us deeply.
“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
“For you [God] created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13-14).
Did you catch that? We are wonderful in God’s eyes—and our purpose is to love and serve him.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
We are not trash. We are not accidents. We have a purpose.
Unfortunately, sin and its consequences get between us and God. Because of sin, so many people in this world are like the lost toys in Toy Story 4—not knowing where they really belong. Jesus came to bring them back—if they will let him.
That’s a great story to tell, isn’t it?
The Tony Award for Best Musical was awarded on June 9 to Hadestown, a show I was fortunate enough to see in its pre-Broadway debut at the New York Theater Workshop. Hadestown is a retelling of a Greek myth about Orpheus and Eurydice, set during the Great Depression.
There are several versions of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, but the basic story is about an extremely talented musician (Orpheus) who falls in love with a beautiful girl (Eurydice) and then quickly loses her to an untimely death. Orpheus decides to visit the Underworld—the home of Hades and his wife, Persephone—to ask Hades to release Eurydice back to life on earth. Orpheus sings for Hades, and his emotional song moves Hades to grant his request—with one condition. Orpheus must travel back to the world above without ever looking behind him to see if Eurydice is following. Only when Eurydice reaches the light will she be returned to her living body—and only if Orpheus never once looks back.
While watching the musical Hadestown, it’s easy to forget that the story it’s based on is a tragedy. Yet the narrator, Hermes, tells the audience right from the start that “this is a story about a man who tries.” Orpheus tries to save Eurydice from death. He does not succeed.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of another story about a man who descended into Hell to save someone he loved. His name is Jesus. Like Orpheus, he descended into the realms of death. “He was delivered over to death for our sins” (Romans 4:25a). Also like Orpheus, he came back to the land of the living. He “was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25b). “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24).
The difference, of course, is that Jesus did not look back. Everyone who chooses to follow him is raised with him to a new and eternal life. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11). “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (1 Corinthians 6:14).
This is the good news of the Bible. This is the Christian message—that Jesus died to lead us from death into life. He asks us to believe in him. He asks us to follow him. The question is, will we look back? Will we allow the pleasures of life, our insecurities, or our independence to pull us back into the darkness of a life without Jesus?
Will you be someone who only tried? Or will you follow the one who has conquered death and trust your life to him?
This new life in Jesus is one of the things even Christians disagree about. Some Christians believe in a permanent salvation, starting when one accepts Jesus as their savior. Others believe that new life begins when one accepts Jesus, but that salvation can be lost if one “looks back” and forsakes their faith. Still others believe that salvation is a life-long process (even extending after life into purgatory), involving faith, obedience, and participating in the sacraments of the church.
If you have ever wondered about these differences in Christian beliefs, you may be interested in a new book I’ve written on Christian worldviews. By clicking on the link below, you will receive a free download containing a short excerpt of the book and you will be added to a mailing list to be notified when the book is published. (I also included a few statistics about the crazy things some people believe, just for laughs.)
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Last weekend, I saw the latest X-Men movie – Dark Phoenix. Like all the movies in the X-Men franchise, this movie grapples with questions about what makes us human and what gives us value. The X-Men are mutants – humans with mutated genes that give them different powers. Some mutants have the ability to read and control minds; others fly, turn into beasts, change their appearance, move things with their minds, or shoot laser beams from their eyes. This is all comic-book science-fiction, and there’s no end to the powers the writers have come up with.
In Dark Phoenix, the main character is a young woman with exceptionally strong powers. As a girl, not yet able to control her power, Jean caused an accident that killed her mother. Professor Charles Xavier (who puts the X in X-Men) offered Jean a home at his school for mutants, but Jean was afraid that he was just another doctor wanting to “fix” her. In a very touching scene, Charles reassures Jean that he doesn’t want to fix her because she isn’t broken. Yes, she’s different. But she can embrace her differences, learn to control her power, and do wonderful things – if that’s what she chooses.
Sometimes, we all want to be reassured that we are valued just the way we are. We see the mess in our lives and try to fix everything different or uncomfortable or unattractive about ourselves so people will like us. I know I’ve been guilty lately of not wanting to post any pictures of myself until I find a way to look younger. And so much of our social conversation these days is about accepting people who are different than us. There would be a lot less hatred and violence in our world if we could just let people be who they want to be instead of trying to “fix” everyone who looks, thinks, or acts differently.
Here is where the Christian message can get tricky.
Jesus loves people. All people. He doesn’t care what color their skin is, where they are from, who they voted for, or what kind of clothes they like to wear.
Jesus loves and accepts all the people. But he doesn’t want them to stay the way they are. Because deep down on the inside, every one of us is broken. Every one of us needs forgiveness for living a life that doesn’t always bring honor and glory to God who created us. Every one of us needs to put God first in our lives, so we can learn to be the people he created us to be.
Yes, you are broken. So am I. But Jesus is making me new. My job as a Christian is to love people the way Jesus loves them - without exception. It's not my job to fix them. I can only invite them to meet Jesus who is the only one who can heal the brokenness inside.
“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24, NIV).
We’re a few weeks away from the latest Marvel movie--Spider-Man: Far From Home, which opens in theaters on July 2. This will be the sixth Spider-Man movie, but only the second one created by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In anticipation of the movie, I’m doing a throw-back to an earlier post I wrote about the 2017 movie--Spider-Man: Homecoming….
Spider-Man swung into theaters last weekend to rave reviews and big box-office numbers. I have a thing for superhero movies (if they aren’t too dark or just plain weird), so I went with my family to see it. It was a fun movie, with lots of humor and just enough danger to make me gasp a few times.
This movie joins Peter Parker after he’s already been introduced to the Marvel Universe of movies as Spider-Man. He’s a smart, somewhat awkward, high school student with super strength and the ability to hang onto walls, ceilings, and other surfaces like—you guessed it—a spider. His origin story (how he got this way) is skipped over except for one short discussion with his buddy about getting bitten by a spider. You have to watch the older Spider-Man movies, or read the comics, to get the whole story about secret experiments, radioactive spiders, and genetic mutations.
Although we don’t see Peter become Spider-Man, we do see him continue to grapple with the big question: what do I do with this power now? The villains in the story come across a different kind of power—high-tech alien weaponry and power sources—and they use it for themselves, making money to take care of families or just for the rush of blowing things up. Peter wants to use his power for others—to help people who are in danger or just being taken advantage of.
All over the world, I’m sure people were leaving theaters debating what kind of superpower they would like to have and what they would do with it. Most of the answers were probably pretty self-centered. Some might want to have super strength so they could get back at the bullies who tormented them in school. Others might want to read minds so they could embarrass people or blackmail them. My husband might like the power of teleportation so he could go on a business trip without 4-hour delay at the airport. Sometimes I wish I had super speed, so I could whish through my housework and computer work and still have time to relax at the end of the day knowing everything is done.
As Christians, we often forget that we have been given something much greater than any of the superhero superpowers. We’ve been given life eternal, a relationship with a loving God, peace in troubled times, and hope for the future. We can focus on ourselves, as many Christians do, asking for God to bless us, to take care of our families, to protect our rights and privileges. Or we can focus our gifts on others, the way Jesus did, and bring light into a dark world.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” - Matthew 5:14-16
So “hero up” and think of ways you can use your gifts to help others this week.
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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!