Put the term “sacred timeline” into a Google search and you will find page after page of articles explaining and debating a phenomena from the Marvel Universe of television shows, movies, and comic books. The Sacred Timeline was introduced in the comics over two decades ago, but is new to most of us who only know about Marvel from movies and TV.
In the Disney+ series Loki, characters called the Time-Keepers are introduced. These mysterious creatures created a single timeline (or at least a manageable number of timelines) from a multitude of competing timelines long ago and created the Time Variance Authority to help them keep time under control.
The whole idea springs from debates about time travel and the nature of reality. If it were possible for a person to go back in time, and that person did something that didn’t occur in the original timeline, what would happen? Would certain things be different when the person returned to their own time? Would the streams of time absorb the change so no real difference could occur? Or would a new timeline branch off leaving one timeline unchanged while a new parallel universe spins off with a new, unknown future?
While some people can discuss these theories and possibilities endlessly, many other people have no interest in such speculation. That’s okay. But one thing we can all speculate about is whether time (and our destiny) is pre-determined or if the future is unwritten and will become what we make of it.
You can call this debate freedom versus fate or self-determination versus destiny. Christians call it free will versus the sovereignty of God.
What we believe about free will affects most aspects of our worldview—how we think the world works. Many Christians say they believe in the sovereignty of God—His power and right to do whatever He chooses to do. But they differ on whether they believe God allows individual humans to “call the shots” of their own lives or if God has predestined what will happen to each of us.
What does it mean when the Bible says, “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”? (Psalm 139:16)
What does it mean when we confidently proclaim, “God is in control”?
Perhaps the answers to these questions are as difficult to pin down as what happens when a person goes back in time and changes their past. But wouldn’t it be great if Christians were discussing theological issues with a fraction of the enthusiasm comic book lovers express when discussing a make-believe timeline affecting a fictional character based on a Norse myth?
If you’re looking for a way to start discussions (or fierce debates) like these, I have a resource for you.
You can learn how to use movies and books to start important biblical discussions in my new book Finding Your Part in God’s Master Story: An Exploration of Christian Worldviews. Sign up for my newsletter to find out when and how you can get the book. (You will even learn more about free will versus God’s sovereignty.)
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments—on free will, multiple timelines, Loki, or anything related.
Do you remember the thrill of being a child, waking up on Easter morning, and running to find the treats the Easter bunny (or your parents) put out for you? Colored eggs. Chocolate bunnies. A stuffed animal. Peeps. More chocolate. More eggs.
My kids enjoyed hunting for Easter eggs so much, we would take turns hiding empty plastic eggs around the house for days just for the fun of searching for them.
Of course, the hunt for hidden things doesn’t have to be limited to Easter. Some people have a knack for seeing things that other people miss. But if you know what to look for, you can be on the lookout for hidden Easter eggs all year long.
“Easter egg” has a unique meaning when applied to movies, TV shows, video games, and comic books. It’s a feature that isn’t necessary to the story but is added as a little something extra for people paying attention. It can be an inside joke, a disguised reference to another movie or game, or a hidden message.
Some examples include the Pizza Planet truck hidden in many Pixar films, the cameo appearances of Stan Lee in Marvel movies, and the hundreds of pop references in “The Gilmore Girls.”
Some movies are full of Easter eggs, like Ready Player One (2018), based on a book by the same name. It has 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 was released by Atari in 1980. In Ready Player One you find out this important information:
I got chills the first time I saw Ready Player One and heard that line. The biggest Easter egg in the movie was right there in that line of dialogue, even if the writers didn’t intend it to be that way.
You see, like video games and movies, we also have a Creator, and his handiwork is all around us. We can find it in the stars, in the first flowers of spring, in the laugh of a child, in music, in light, in the love we share for one another.
God’s Easter eggs are hidden everywhere. We just have to look for them. They remind us that he is with us, that he loves us, and that he has a purpose for the beautiful world he created.
Go ahead and look. What do you see?
If you enjoyed hearing about the special Easter egg hidden in Ready Player One, please sign up for my newsletter to be notified of more blog posts, get a free playlist, and receive free Christian worldview booklets on popular books and movies as they become available.
Last week, Disney’s latest animated movie, Raya and the Last Dragon, opened in theaters and on the streaming service Disney+. The first scene of the movie reveals a land where things have gone wrong. The narrator—Raya—describes it as “a dystopian world; a land that’s gone to waste.” “How did this world get so broken?” she asks.
Two short tales answer the question—one from 500 years before when the last of the dragons created a gem to stop a terrible plague called the Druun, and one from 6 years earlier when the gem was broken and the Druun returned. (I would love to analyze what the writers intended to represent by the monstrous Druun that turn people to stone—all posed in an upright attitude with their empty hands held together as if cupping water—but that is not the focus of this post. Sorry.)
Throughout the movie, Raya returns to the question of how her world got so broken. Her new dragon friend, Sisu, offers her own opinion, and the climax of the story supports her idea. But I won’t get into spoilers here. If you want to know what went wrong in Raya’s Kumandra, you’ll have to watch the movie.
For me, the greater question is what went wrong in our world?
How did our world get so broken?
Most major religions offer some answer to that question along with various ideas on how to fix our broken world—or at least how to fix our own personal brokenness. Ideologies offer opinions on how to fix the brokenness in societies and economies. Doctors offer therapies to fix the brokenness in our mental health and relationships. Scientists set forth strategies to fix our broken environment.
We have all these ideas at our fingertips, and yet so much of our world still seems hopelessly broken.
Perhaps the most comprehensive answer to the question of our brokenness can be found in Christianity. Yet even Christians disagree about what exactly the problem is and how it can be remedied.
In my new book on Christian worldviews, I lay out five general opinions Christians have about the world we live in and how it can (or can’t) be fixed:
Which view do you agree with?
How we view our world shapes how we see ourselves and our role in the world. It affects how we treat others, what we hope for, and how far we’ll go to fix what we believe is broken. It’s part of the bigger worldview each of us has, whether we recognize it or not.
If you would like to learn more about the different ways Christians view the world, please sign up here to be notified when my book is released later in 2021. You will receive a playlist to help you as you fight your daily battles, and you will have access to other free resources as they come available.
 These five views are my synopsis of the five Christian “types” identified in Christ and Culture, by H. Richard Niebuhr, originally published in 1951.
Disney’s Pixar released its latest animated movie on Christmas day. For now, the movie is only available on the subscription service, Disney+, but if you have a chance to see it you should.
Soul is the story of a man who suffers a fatal accident the very day his dreams of playing with a professional jazz band come true. Joe Gardner awakes to see himself as a bodiless soul moving away from the earth to “The Great Beyond” where the dead merge peacefully with a great cosmic energy source. Sure that this must be a mistake, Joe runs away and falls into a different other-worldly place, “The Great Before.” Here, he is tasked with mentoring a young soul who is preparing for life on earth.
Even from this short description, it’s obvious this movie does not project a Christian worldview. So why should Christians watch it? And what can they learn from it?
1. It provides a good opening to discuss death with children and teens.
Although the premise sounds frightening, death gets the Disney treatment in Soul, making it far from menacing. The movie actually produces an optimistic feeling about death, but for the wrong reasons.
For older children and teens, you can ask what they think happens after death and find out just how much they’ve been influenced (or not) by the culture they live in. For younger children, this would be a good time to discuss the difference between make-believe stories and true stories.
For children of any age, the movie provides a good springboard to remind them of the truths of the Bible. God is the source of human life. He made us with a purpose, and he wants to spend an eternity with us. Death shouldn’t scare us if we love God and believe in his promises.
2. It helps us rethink our purpose.
This is one of the most philosophical children’s movies I’ve ever watched. In fact, children won’t understand half of it. The heart of the story is for adults.
The villain in this movie isn’t death; it’s never finding—or perhaps losing—our reason to live.
Perhaps you can relate to that. Have you failed to achieve your dreams? Or are you still chasing dreams, believing you won’t really live until you—what? Get married? Have enough money? Become successful in your career? What if you never do? If you were to see your life flash before your eyes today, would you say, as Joe does, “My life was meaningless”?
Too often we equate meaning and value with reaching goals, performing better than others, or checking things off our to-do list. We search for that one passion, that one accomplishment, or that one person that will give our lives meaning. This movie reminds us that instead of focusing in and obsessing on one thing, we would often do better to look around us and find joy in the little things of life.
Yes, God made us with a purpose. But our most basic purpose is simply to love God and be loved by him. That alone makes life worth living and gives life value. When we remember that and really embrace it, we see everything else in our lives with a clearer perspective.
3. It reminds us that negative self-talk comes from somewhere. Don’t let it come from you.
There is a heartbreaking scene near the end of the movie when one character is lost in a cloud of negative self-talk. She hears her own voice: “I can’t do it.” “I’m just not good enough.” “I have no purpose.” And she hears the voices of all the mentors who put her down, judged her harshly, and discouraged her.
If this scene doesn’t make you want to hug your children and tell them you love them just the way they are, you need to watch it again. Maybe you should hug yourself, too, and resolve to love yourself more.
Whether it’s our children, our spouses, our friends, or even strangers we meet as we go through the day, the words we say can build them up or tear them down. We need to remember that. That doesn’t mean you should never correct your children or disagree with your spouse. We just need to find ways to do it that helps instead of hurts.
And we need to remember that the value of other people should never depend on what they achieve, how good they are at something, or what they do for us. We reflect God’s love when we love people just because they are. Remembering God’s love can heal us from our own negative self-talk and keep us from contributing to others’.
A fresh start.
Today is the first day of a new year. 2020 kept a lot of us from pursuing our dreams or reaching our goals. And we still have a while to go before life returns to normal. Hitting ‘pause’ on some of those goals may not be the worst thing we can do.
Perhaps we should begin 2021 by taking our eyes off our goals for a while and let go of our desperate need to find meaning in our lives. Remember that God loves you. Remember that there are many ways you can make a difference in other people’s lives.
Today, look beyond your own dreams and desires and see what’s already there—a life waiting to be lived.
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In Disney’s latest big-screen movie, Onward, two brothers have a chance to do what so many of us have dreamed of doing—spend one more day with a loved one who has died. Onward is set in a magical world of elves, pixies, centaurs, and manticores, where magic has been all but forgotten. But one spell, powered by a legendary stone, may be enough to bring back a father to two boys who barely remember him.
The film deals with an emotional question many of us have asked in our own lives. If I had one more day with my father—or mother, spouse, best friend, or child—how would we spend it? What would I say? What would I most want to do? Where would we go? If I only had one more day….
We have a limited amount of time on this earth. We know that. But somehow we go through most of our lives taking time for granted. There’s always tomorrow to say the things I need to say to the people I love. There’s always tomorrow to do the things I need to do. There’s always tomorrow—until there isn’t. Most of us aren’t ready for those tomorrows to end when we lose someone we love. Nor are we ready to be the one who leaves.
The Bible reminds us that we have a limited number of tomorrows. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall” (1 Peter 1:24). “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field” (Psalm 103:15).
For Christians, there is hope beyond our mortality. We are promised eternal life in a world made new. But that doesn’t mean we should waste the time we have on this side of eternity. Jesus told many parables about being ready (Matthew 22:2–14; 25:1–13) and making good use of our limited time (Matthew 24:45–51, 25:14–30; Luke 13:6–9). Paul spoke with great urgency about doing the work of God with a clear focus (1 Corinthians 7:29, 9:24). The writer of Hebrews also encouraged us to push forward with determination like runners racing to the finish line (Hebrews 12:1).
The whole Bible encourages us to use our time well. We can start by asking ourselves if this were my last day of life, what would I wish I had one more day to do? What would I wish I had one more day to say? Aren’t those the important things I should be doing and saying today?
In Disney’s Onward, the father of Ian and Barley Lightfoot spent time creating a spell that would bring him back from the dead for 24 hours to be with his boys. We don’t have that option. As parents, we need to use every 24 hours we have to raise our children well and make sure they are prepared for the future.
That brings me to my favorite scene in Onward, which happens during the climactic battle near the end of the movie. Throughout the movie, Ian and Barley’s mother, Laurel, does all she can to protect her boys. That’s what moms do, and this mom turns out to be pretty fierce when her boys are in danger. But in the end, Laurel passes a sword to her son to finish the battle. She could have held onto the sword and tried to get in position to continue the fight. She could have looked around for someone else to take up the sword. Instead, she throws it to her son, trusting him to be the brave, wise, strong young man she’s trained him to be his whole life.
That may be the hardest thing any parent has to do—letting go and letting our children succeed or fail on their own. That’s why we shouldn’t wait too long to pass the sword to them. I love that the Word of God—the Bible—is called a sword in Ephesians 6:17. A sword is something we need to be careful with. It’s dangerous in the wrong hands. But a trained warrior can do an awful lot with it.
We need to train our children to use the Word of God well—to study it, memorize it, and be guided by it. We can’t simply tell them what to believe about the Bible. We need to show them how to learn from it themselves. We need to equip them to take up that sword and fight battles we can’t fight for them.
We have one today and a limited number of tomorrows. How are you using your time now to make sure you have no need for one more day?
May the fourth - "May the Force" - get it?
It's May of 2020, and you're probably feeling as stir-crazy as I am, so I thought I would start with a little fun. Today is May 4th, which became known as Star Wars Day in 1979, two years after the first Star Wars film was released. The iconic greeting, "May the Force be with you," has been used in every Star Wars film from the first to the last, so it's fitting that it should be the basis of a holiday-of-sorts to celebrate the film franchise.
I can't say I'm a BIG Star Wars fan, but my family did visit both Disneyland and Disney World within the last year to visit their new Star Wars lands. And we subscribed to Disney+ so we could watch the new "Star Wars: the Mandalorian" series. I AM a big fan of fantasy and sci-fi stories, in general, especially those that build a new world I can step into in my imagination.
I recently read a quote that helps explain my love of fantasy stories:
“Fairy tales do not tell children dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” – G.K. Chesterton.
Dragons may belong to the fairy tale realm and not the real world, but the real world has more than its share of scary things that seem far too big to defeat. Stories let us face pretend dragons in a virtual world so we can imagine ourselves strong enough to face actual dangers in the real world. We need more of that bravery and heroism in our world today so we won’t fall apart in the face of a global pandemic that could be our biggest dragon yet.
Something else I like about fantasy stories is the reminder that a hero never wins a battle alone. Almost every hero story involves a community of people working together to defeat their enemies. That kind of community is usually required in real world battles, too. In addition, nearly every fantasy story involves something extra that makes victory possible in the end. In fairy tales, it’s magic. In Star Wars, it was the Force. It’s something you have to believe in and tap into. But it’s there, invisible to the eye until it’s called into action.
I hope you can relate to that something extra in your life. I hope you have discovered something bigger than yourself that works through you when you surrender your will and let it work. I hope you have found a fantastical story you can truly believe in because you can see the truth of it in your own life. I hope you are facing your dragons today with something much greater than magic, the Force, or even science, on your side.
“May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” – Ruth 2:12
“May the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:24-26
My daughter convinced me to go see Spider-Man: Far From Home for a second time. The movie was re-released in theaters last week, this time with four additional minutes of footage which had been deleted from the original movie. The additional four minutes don’t add much to the story, and I can understand why most of it was cut. But they do help us understand how much Peter Parker wanted his summer vacation plans to work out—which, of course, they didn’t.
This is the second time this summer that a blockbuster movie has been re-released in theaters with new scenes added in--Avengers: End Game being the first. It has raised a good deal of talk about the lengths to which movie producers will go to break box-office records and bring in the cash. It raises other questions, too, about what makes for good story-telling.
Each time a movie is released on DVD or re-released in theaters or on TV with previously deleted scenes added back in, people will ask why those scenes were cut in the first place or what was the point of adding them back in. In fact, the whole process of movie-making is a question of what scenes to put in and what to leave out. Decisions are made about how much information is needed and what is irrelevant, what action moves the story forward and what slows it down, what dialogue engages the audience and what leaves them feeling bored.
A good movie provides just the right amount of information, action, and emotion. The finished product flows effortlessly from scene to scene, drawing the audience deeper into the story until it reaches an exciting and satisfying end. We don’t see the painstaking work involved in writing the script, casting actors, shooting scenes, adding special effects, and making final edits. We will never know about the thousand difficult decisions someone made to do this, don’t do that, add this, and delete that. We just see the end result—and possibly a few minutes more of deleted scenes added back in for a re-release.
Unlike a book or a TV series, a movie has to do all its story-telling in a short amount of time. (The three-hour, one-minute Avengers: Endgame was pushing the limit for most people.) The decisions about what to put in and what to leave out become much more important.
It’s an interesting metaphor for life.
The Bible reminds us that human life is short. Our lives on earth are like “grass [that] withers and the flowers [that] fall” (Isaiah 40:6–8) and like a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Paul the Apostle tells us, “The time is short…. Do not be engrossed in the things of the world, for this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31 paraphrased). In other words, the story of our lives will end—and sooner than we would like to think.
Everyday we make decisions about what to do, what thoughts to dwell on, who to talk to, and how to fill our time. Each decision to add something into our day is a decision to leave other things out. We should remember Paul’s warning that “the time is short” and be intentional about how we spend each day.
That doesn’t have to be as stressful as it sounds. The good news for Christians is that each of our personal stories is part of a greater story being directed by an all-knowing, all-powerful, master story-teller. We are promised that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
So, use your time well today. Think intentionally about what is a good use of your time and what isn’t. Listen to the director, and trust that the amazing story he wants to tell through your life is worth all the effort.
Last week I enjoyed a two-movie weekend. Sometimes, it’s hard to choose between new releases, so (as my daughter likes to quote from a taco commercial), “por que no los dos?”
Blinded By the Light (2019) is a comedy/drama based on a true story. Javed Khan is a young adult living with his Pakistani family in a small industrial town in England in 1987. He’s been journaling and writing poems for years, and he dreams of being a writer, but his family’s traditions and financial woes make his dream seem impossible.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019) is a comedy based on a book. Bernadette Fox is a grown woman living with her husband and daughter in modern-day Seattle. She walked away from a brilliant career as an award-winning architect to raise her daughter and to hide from past disappointments, until her life starts unraveling at the seams.
It was strange seeing these two movies almost back to back. Javed and Bernadette had almost nothing in common. They differed in race, gender, nationality, age, financial security, interests, and life experience. Yet they had something very important in common. The dream Javed was looking forward to with longing was the same dream Bernadette was looking back on with regret. They both desperately, deeply wanted to create something.
Thankfully, both Javed and Bernadette found the inspiration and motivation they needed to give life to their creative dreams. Both movies end happily with the anticipation of great things to come. And if their happy endings inspire others to follow their creative dreams, that’s even better!
Now, I’m not one of those people who encourages everyone to follow their dreams. Many times, our dreams are selfish, greedy, and lazy. Achieving those dreams helps no one but ourselves. Sometimes, we wish for success in things which are far beyond our abilities, like being a best-selling author, a Broadway star, or a million-dollar athlete. Even if our ultimate plan is to benefit others with our success, the pursuit of success itself can be a selfish thing if it means we have no time for family, friends, or the needs of our communities.
But there are other types of dreams which are planted inside us like vines. They tend to stay there, even if we ignore them or try to pull them out. They long for a little sun and a little fertilizer so they can stretch and grow, putting out new shoots and producing fruit.
Some people are born to be writers, or artists, or composers, or builders. We are called to create, because, in creating, we call attention to our own Creator.
Writers give voice to thoughts and ideas and help us understand life at a deeper level. Artists open our eyes to the beauty of the world but also its present darkness. Musicians stir our emotions, reminding us of the eternal soul within. Architects, designers, inventors, and builders push us to the edge of what is possible to see that there is still more “possible” just beyond us.
These are gifts from God. He gives a little creative spirit to some and a great deal to others. He blesses some with great success while others are hardly noticed. We don’t get to choose the gift, and we won’t know where it will take us if we pursue it. But if that vine is wriggling and growing inside you, demanding some time in the sun—find your inspiration, find your motivation, and run after that dream. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
Yesterday, July 31, much of the book-reading world celebrated the birthday of Harry Potter. The day of Harry’s birth was revealed in the first of seven books about the boy wizard. For lovers of the series, the last day of July became a day to celebrate the books and their main character.
Although I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series, I didn’t do anything special to celebrate yesterday. But today, I couldn’t help thinking of Harry and his fictitious friends. I had three checks I needed to put in the mail. That meant three envelopes needed to be addressed, three return address labels needed to be added to one corner, and three stamps needed to be added to another corner. I was putting the stamps on when Harry popped into my head and I smiled.
In the fourth book of the series, Harry’s uncle receives a letter from the mother of his schoolmate, Ron. Not used to sending mail the “normal” way, she concludes the letter with a P.S.: “I do hope we’ve put enough stamps on.”
Let’s just say, the thoroughly-nonmagical Mr. Dursley was not amused.
There are many instances in the Harry Potter books of wizards and witches who have grown up in all-magic families not knowing how to navigate the non-magic (or muggle) world. They prefer the old customs of wearing long robes and capes and are much more likely to get around by broomstick or magical fires than by car or train. When they are forced to be seen in public, they look out of place—or, as Mr. Dursley would say it, like weirdoes.
Like the magical folk in the Harry Potter series, Christians can also feel out of place in the greater world around them. If we believe the things the Bible teaches, we may see the world very differently than our non-Christian neighbors. Some Christians are more comfortable with older customs such as traditional families, respect for leaders, and valuing hard work. They might be overwhelmed by modern technology and distressed by modern values. The impulse to hide away and associate only with other Christians can be strong.
Other Christians go to great lengths to look just like everyone around them. They hide in plain sight, never letting anyone know what makes them special.
We need to fight that impulse to hide!
The magical folk in the Harry Potter series are required by law to hide their magic from the world. Christians, on the other hand, are required by Jesus’ command to get out there and shine for all the world to see.
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)
Today, I challenge you to celebrate what makes you different. Don’t be afraid to be noticed. Get out there and let your light shine!
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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!