Wednesday, December 26, 2012

End of the Year Recap

     So once again on “Reel Christianity”, at the end of the year, I want to just look over all the ideas that we’ve looked at together through the movies.

     Through “Citizen Kane”, we were reminded of Jesus’ famous words about gaining the whole world and yet losing your soul. (Matthew 16, Mark 8)

     Through “Life is Beautiful”, we learned about how through the fall of man, we lost our innocence as children as God and need a way to be brought back to that. (Genesis 2, 3)

     Through “The Dark Knight”, we could see Batman as representing Jesus taking our sins upon himself. (1 Peter 2)

     Through “The Big Lebowski”, we were reminded that “sometimes, there’s a man…” And God can use us to accomplish anything, no matter how strange. (Ephesians 2)

     Through “The Hurt Locker”, we learned that only Jesus can bring peace to our souls and take away our burdens. (Matthew 11)

     Through “Ed Wood”, we learned that we can never compromise when we are doing work for the Lord. (Romans 6)

     Through “Up”, we were reminded that sometimes we have to let go of the things—or people—we love, in order for them to be free. (Luke 14, 21)

     Through “Doubt”, we were reminded to not judge others and always fix the sin issues in ourselves before calling them out in others. (Luke 6)

     Through “The Artist”, we learned that this world shouldn’t be the focus in what we do—we need to put away our pride and be in the world, not of it. (John 15, 1 John 2)

     Through “Modern Times”, we were reminded to have hope even through tough times, and to trust in God always. (Psalm 39, Proverbs 3)

     In “It Happened One Night”, we saw a love story that, though it didn’t start out that way, was eventually driven by love and not by any gain one person could receive from it. (Ecclesiastes 5)

     Through “Michael Clayton”, we were reminded not to be lukewarm about what we do, and certainly not to be lukewarm in our faith. (Revelation 3)

     Through “Rope”, we were reminded that though we are born into sin, we long for righteousness and will receive it when we meet Jesus. (Psalm 51, Romans 5, 1 John 1)

     In the first “Chronicles of Narnia” movie, Lucy and Aslan acted as metaphors for the faithful follower of Jesus, and Jesus himself who gave His life to save his friends. (Luke 18, Romans 5)

     Through “Sergeant York”, we learned about authority and how God asks us to follow authority on Earth, whatever that may look like. (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 20)

     In “The New World”, we looked again at this idea of marriage and what a pure union looks like. (Genesis 2, Ephesians 5)

     Through “Paths of Glory”, we learned a little more about the idea of fairness and how God, in fact, is not fair, but He blesses us anyway. (Matthew 20)

     In our “Running the Race” series, we learned a lot about serving God in everything we do, in the context of sports films. (Luke 10, 2 Corinthians 9, Ephesians 2, 2 Timothy 4)

     In “Intolerance”, we saw some New Testament stories re-created as Jesus loved sinners in a way that the Pharisees did not. (Luke 18, John 8)

     Through “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, we were reminded of Jesus’ command to follow Him and put everything else aside. (Mark 8)

     Through “Babe”, we were reminded again that God has a specific plan for us to glorify Him. (Ephesians 2)

     In “The Dark Knight Rises”, we saw Bruce Wayne again deny his identity and become Batman once again to save Gotham City from their own apocalypse. (Matthew 16)

     In “Shadowlands”, we learned that the pain we experience today will one day be replaced by joy that can only come from Jesus. (Romans 8)

     Through “Vertigo”, we were reminded not to dwell on the past—on past success, on past sins, or past loves—and focus only on God. (Isaiah 43)

     Through “Tootsie”, we learned about unconditional love, a love for someone based on who they are rather than how they will benefit us. (Matthew 5)

     Through “Lost in Translation”, we were reminded again about the love a man and a woman should have for each other, a sacrificial love. (Ephesians 5)

     Through “Shadow of a Doubt”, a story of what seems to be an ordinary American family, we learned that God’s plans for us are indeed extraordinary. (Romans 12)

     In “Badlands”, we were reminded of King David and his prayer to the Lord in confession of sin, similar to that of the characters. (Psalm 51)

     Through “We Bought a Zoo”, we were reminded to be bold for Christ and say “yes” to His will for us. (Isaiah 6)

     Through “Marty”, we were reminded that even when we feel unlovable, we are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made”. (Psalm 139)

     Through “A Clockwork Orange”, and the “Choose Life” series, we talked a lot about the idea of free will and whether or not God chooses who His followers will be ahead of time, and whether or not we can indeed choose to follow God on our own. (Genesis 3, Deuteronomy 30, Psalm 139, Jeremiah 29, Matthew 19, 1 Corinthians 13)

     Through “Spartacus”, we learned about brotherly love, and how even through the darkest of circumstances, we can learn to love our brother. (John 15-17)

     In “Through a Glass Darkly”, we were reminded of this great idea that God is love, and when we love each other, God is there. (1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 4)

     Through “Groundhog Day”, we were reminded not to focus on the things of the world that we should gain for ourselves, but we should rather focus on the needs of others and help those around us. (Matthew 6)

     Through “In the Mood for Love”, we learned to be content where God has placed us in life, and to serve Him well wherever we are. (1 Corinthians 7)

     Through “The Polar Express” and “Miracle on 34th Street”, we were reminded to have a childlike faith in God even when it seems He is not there. (Hebrews 11)

     In “It’s a Wonderful Life”, we saw a great example of a man pouring his life out to the people around him, as we need to do for those around us. (Philippians 2)

     And in addition to all this, I had a great experience in June while on my missions trip to Peru and Ecuador, learning a lot about trusting God and being submissive to His will for me instead of worrying about my own plans. I look at all this and I realize, we’ve learned a lot this year about God, even though some of it was through hard circumstances.

     But maybe that’s the amazing thing: God revealed Himself to us through the tough times as well as the good! I personally am thankful for that, and I’m thankful to all of you who continue to read this and pray that we will continue to grow together in seeing God in the movies. God bless, have a great start to 2013!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

     Funny how this movie is almost the iconic Christmas movie, even though only a portion of it takes place at Christmastime. But I always like to watch this movie around this time of the year if I get the chance, and even in different parts of the year, because it’s a message that people can take away at any time. Even though, in 1946 when “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released, audiences didn’t really like it. They thought it was too dark, especially after World War Two, so it made little money at the box office and received no Academy Awards. (They all went to “The Best Years of Our Lives” instead, which I look forward to sharing with you sometime in 2013.)

     But the story of George Bailey has stood the test of time and is now more loved than ever. James Stewart plays the role of George, a man growing up in the small suburban Bedford Falls with a very eventful life. As a child, he saved his brother from drowning and his drug-store boss from going to jail. As a young man, he contributed to his high school, supported his brother as he went through high school as a talented athlete, and stayed friends with his childhood buddies. Eventually, he even rediscovers the girl of his dreams: Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), who always had a thing for George as a girl even though he never saw it.

     However, the night before George is to leave to go traveling around the world, one of the things he’s always wanted to do, his life starts to get out of control. His father has a stroke and passes away, and his business, the Bailey Bros. Building and Loan company, is left almost without a future, forcing George to reluctantly step in to control and let brother Harry (Todd Karns) go to college instead of him. Throughout his business, George and his uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) are pestered by the rich, mean Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who wants to control their business and thus everything in Bedford Falls.

     Slowly but surely, George starts to gain control again. He falls in love with Mary and they are wed. He saves the Building and Loan from bankruptcy by helping pay debt out of his own pocket. He builds houses for people under foreclosure. He has four wonderful children. And when World War Two comes, he is one of the few who stay in Bedford Falls to keep the home front, as it were, running as usual.

     But Christmas Eve, Uncle Billy misplaces—or Mr. Potter steals—a large sum of money to be given to the bank examiner. No one can find it, and George realizes this will probably mean jail time for him. He goes home that night, is irritated by little things at home, and after a fit of rage, he sadly leaves home while Mary and the kids pray and try to find out what’s wrong. George comes to a place on a bridge in Bedford Falls, on this cold and snowy Christmas Eve, where he feels jumping off to his death would be beneficial to everyone around him.

     If you’ve seen the movie, you know that George Bailey’s biography is told to us through angels. And one of them is sent down to help George: Clarence (Henry Travers) jumps into the bridge, sending George to snap out of it and go get him. Clarence claims that by doing this, he saved George, even though it seems the other way around. And Clarence, after hearing George’s lament, grants him a wish: to see the world if he had never been before.

     And boy, does it get dark here. Bedford Falls, in this alternate reality, is now Pottersville, with the wholesomeness that was once George Bailey’s hometown has been replaced by the consumerism of Mr. Potter, with many of George’s friends—or all of them—worse off than they are in terms of their attitude and outlook on life. And long story short, George realizes what he’s done and goes back to the bridge and prays earnestly: “I want to live again! Please, God, let me live again.”

     George then comes back to Bedford Falls, where the townspeople have all gotten together and donated some of their money to replace the sum that was lost, and helping George realize that his relationships with the people of Bedford Falls were worthwhile after all. Yes, this is an inspirational story, one of the most moving films ever made, in my opinion. But I have to be honest, I thought for a while about what Scripture there might be to connect to the film. But I remembered a few verses that have been on my heart and mind for a while, in Philippians 2, where Paul writes about the humility Christ showed:

     In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (2:5-8)

     In a way, George Bailey represented Christ in Bedford Falls for much of his life. Even though at times he had no other choice, he chose nonetheless to make himself less than the people around him, and providing for others’ needs rather than just his own. And when George forgets the fruits of his labor, Clarence is able to remind him:

CLARENCE: Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he? …You see, George? You really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?

     And praise God that he didn’t throw his life away. And my prayer for you this Christmas is that whatever hardships you may be facing, you remember to lessen yourself for the good of people around you, no matter how much it may hurt. I hope you have a blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

     Would you believe that until recently, I never saw the original “Miracle on 34th Street”? Seriously. I remember seeing parts of the Mara Wilson remake (but I’m glad I never sat through the whole thing), and I also found some knock-off remake from the 1950’s, but never the original. If you can watch any version of the film, watch the one from 1947: it has an earnest message, some great acting, and a pretty awesome Santa Claus. Or is he?

     Many of the characters in the film are wondering just that. At the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade one year, a man that could be a spot-on look-alike of Santa himself is quickly brought in to fill the position of the Santa in the parade. But as his boss, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), discovers, he could very well be Santa himself. The man’s real name is Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), whose original residence is the North Pole, and Doris is obviously very puzzled by all this. She is the kind of mother who long ago dismissed the idea of Santa Claus from the mind of her young daughter Susan (Natalie Wood), even though other adults like lawyer neighbor Fred Gailey (John Payne) try to get her to “play along”. But when Doris, Fred, and other Macy’s workers are confronted with the notion that their Santa Claus may be the real thing, and claims to be the real thing, who knows what could happen?

     Who knows, indeed. Kringle acts as the Macy’s Santa assuring children that they will get whatever they wish for Christmas and then directing parents to where to purchase those gifts—even if those gifts are at another store! It’s confusing at first, but Macy’s soon embraces the idea of putting the spirit of Christmas before competition, which boosts sales. Things seem to be going well for the new Macy’s until Kringle gets in a little trouble, when he confronts the company psychiatrist about maltreatment of some other employees. The psychiatrist takes Kringle to court, but Fred decides to defend Kringle and the fact that he may be—no, is the real Santa Claus.

     Meanwhile, Susan is having her own Santa crisis. One night she talks to Kringle and tells him the one thing she wants for Christmas: a new house for her and her mother, instead of the apartment they’re living in right now.

SUSAN: If you're really Santa Claus, you can get it for me. And if you can't, you're only a nice man with a white beard like Mother says.

KRINGLE: Now wait a minute, Susie. Just because every child can't get his wish, doesn't mean there isn't a Santa Claus.

     Yeah, Susan, read Luke 4:12 and Deuteronomy 6:16. Anyway, Susan starts to believe gradually that Kringle maybe is the real Santa Claus after all, because of not only his looks but also his attitude and his heart. And after Fred defends Kringle in court and wins the case, Susan believes there may be hope after all.

     However, Christmas morning comes, and there is no sign of a new house. Susan is heartbroken. But Doris, who has found her faith in Christmas renewed after meeting Kris Kringle, tells her something Fred told her earlier: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.” And reluctantly, Susan starts repeating to herself: “I believe. I believe.” Not unlike the “hero boy” from “The Polar Express” last week.

     And wouldn’t you know it, Christmas Day they drive around a neighborhood and come across a house: the same kind of house Susan described to Kringle. The house is empty and for sale, and the only sign of someone being there is a cane propped up against the hearth… a cane similar to the one Kringle had.

     “Miracle on 34th Street” is another Christmas story about faith to believe in things that don’t seem like they could be real. Doris Walker certainly had to find that, looking through the consumerism of Christmas to see the heart that Kris Kringle had to show. And Susan had to, in a sense, find her childhood again, and the faith to maybe even believe in Santa Claus.

     Hebrews 11:1 could be a theme verse for these past couple weeks: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I guess Christmastime may be a season of faith for a lot of people who think: How can we celebrate a time of giving and a time of thanks (heck, maybe they think that at Thanksgiving, too…) when there’s so much pain and hardship in the world? And how in the world can anyone believe in something as ridiculous as Santa Claus—or better still, Jesus Christ?

     Well, again, the biggest way I can testify to the healing power of Jesus is by telling my testimony—He did a work in my life, and I believe He can reveal Himself to you if you let Him in. That continues to be my prayer for you.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Polar Express (2004)

     Well, it’s December, and we all know what that means: CHRISTMAS! So this month on Reel Christianity, I’ve decided to talk about three Christmas movies (or, at least, movies that are usually watched most at Christmas), and to start off, I’d like to share with you “The Polar Express”—which is, ironically, one of my least favorite Christmas movies. I guess it’s not that bad, I just wasn’t that interested in most of that movie, especially after reading the book and realizing how much filler they put in the film to make it longer. But there’s still a pretty cool message in it that is a nice reminder for us at Christmastime.

     Tom Hanks, who worked with director Robert Zemeckis before on “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away”, plays several different characters in the film, as the movie is done in all motion-capture animation. (Don’t know what it is? Look it up.) The main characters are a boy, whose name we never hear, and the conductor of an express train called The Polar Express. On Christmas Eve, the boy falls asleep with little Christmas spirit, figuring that Santa Claus isn’t real and that there’s nothing really special about the holiday season.

     But then, out of nowhere, the Polar Express pulls up into the boy’s front yard. The conductor encourages the boy to come aboard the train, and the boy, after refusing at first, decides to hop on and join lots of other children aboard the train. Two other children he meets are a girl (also without a name) and a lonely boy named Billy who always keeps to himself. While on board the train, a bunch of stuff happens that I won’t tell you about to save time. But among those events, the main boy meets a hobo on top of the train who basically serves as a conscience for him telling him not to doubt.

     Through everything that happens, these three children start to bond and discover that maybe they shouldn’t be so uptight about the holiday season and be a little more cheery. Eventually, the Polar Express arrives at its destination: none other than the North Pole, where the kids will get to be in the town square with some creepy-looking elves, if I do say so myself, to see Santa give a select child the first gift of Christmas and then fly off with his reindeer to deliver presents to children all around the world.

     Long story short, Santa picks our “hero boy” (as he is billed, mind you) to receive the first gift. And the boy picks a rather strange gift, but a significant one. As he and the other children were preparing to see Santa, elves came into the square with the reindeer jingling bells on their harnesses. But to the boy’s ears, there was no jingling sound. Other children heard it, but the boy did not, and he could not take it any longer. When a bell fell off one of the harnesses, the boy picked up and said: “Okay. I believe. I believe.” And when he really believed in the spirit of Christmas (and the person of Santa Claus), he could hear the sound of the jingling bell.

     So Santa lets the boy have the bell and takes off to deliver presents. And the next morning, the boy enjoys Christmas morning with his family, holding a bell from Santa Claus that only he and his sister (a young girl who also believes) can hear.

     Now, to automatically say that this whole story might be an analogy for faith in Jesus Christ would be… well, probably right. But it’s one thing to realize this and then to actually find inside ourselves that we have doubts too. Maybe you’re reading this and you don’t actually believe in God or Jesus—people around you do, but you don’t have the same hope that they might have. It’s hard for me to explain proof for God because I’m not that smart when it comes to that. But all I can say is, God did a work in my life, and He revealed Himself to me in a way that made me believe, and I’m not looking back.

     Maybe God wants to do a work in your life, and you can’t find the strength, or the faith, to let Him in. But that’s what it takes for Him to work: your faith. One of the most quoted verses in the book of Hebrews is in chapter eleven, verse one: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It seems really simple when we write it out or say it out loud, but actually having faith that a God who we can’t see is actually there is really hard sometimes, especially in the face of hardship.

     But the conductor tells the children something in the movie that sums up this idea of faith pretty well:

CONDUCTOR: Sometimes seeing is believing… and sometimes, the most real things in the world are the things we can't see.

     If we have faith to believe in Santa—err, God, we will find Him, and my prayer for you this Christmas (and for always) is that you would. Keep following “Reel Christianity” as we see more examples of faith in Christmas movies.