Monday, July 25, 2011

Friendship according to Winnie the Pooh

The following is a review/analysis of the topic of friendship in the movie Winnie the Pooh. If you do not want the story ruined, you should see it first. I imagine this may be the kind of story that is still enjoyable if you know what's coming... but still, go see it.

So last Thursday I went with some good friends to see Winnie the Pooh. For those of you that are only familiar with "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" or "My Friends Tigger and Pooh" you might wonder why we went to go see a "kids movie." The truth is that when Disney wants to stick a little closer to the actual Pooh books, the stories are actually really funny and clever. This was the case for the movie on Thursday.

Besides laughing and general enjoyment, I felt something I didn't expect during the movie. Anger. I was not happy with Owl. Owl is someone who I looked up to as a kid, probably because I could relate with his love of books and because Pooh just isn't bright most of the time. (He's a bear of very little brains.)

Owl, as it turns out, is actually someone who acts like he knows a lot more than he does. He is obsessed with himself. Basically, he's the perfect hipster. (Maybe if he was a little more fashionable.) He is so focused on covering his lack of knowledge that he sends his friends out on missions that he doesn't seem to need to take an active part in. You can't really dislike him fully because he really is oblivious to what he's doing.

Contrast that with Winnie the Pooh, though. Pooh spends most of the movie focused on honey (or hunny) and has a hard time focusing when he hasn't quite had lunch yet. He even goes into a large honey-induced hallucination. He struggles to keep his mind off of honey and on their quest to find Eeyore's tail. Eventually, by the end of the story, Pooh just needs his honey. He stops by Owl's house, rings the bell that looks suspiciously like a donkey tail and goes inside for a small, smattering of honey. After Owl describes where he found his new door bell rope, Pooh realizes that it's Eeyore's tail and immediately leaves to give it back to him. Owl asks "Don't you want to stay for some honey?" and Pooh responds "I would very much but I have a friend who needs his tail back."

Pooh's wants were less important than his friend Eeyore's needs. If you know anything about Pooh and Hunny, you would know how important Pooh's friends are to him. Contrast Owl's constant talk about himself and his willingness to get others to do what he is not willing to do with Pooh who is willing to set aside what he desperately wants for his friends and I think we can see easily what the admirable quality in friendship is.

May I be a little less like Owl today,  a little less focused on myself and a little more like Pooh, willing to fulfill the needs of my friends even if it means I miss out on something that I want.

PS Owl's not so bad. He's just insecure.

Friday, July 22, 2011

World Cup Final vs. Facing the Giants

This post will have two openings. First, I'd like to clarify myself on Christian movies before I get started. Christian movies are easy to bag on. They usually have poor acting, a simple story line and usually a TV star from the 80s that may or may not be a Christian but definitely needs a paycheck. We simply cannot fault non-Christians for not watching most of these movies. I do think that they hold a special place for Christians because of the specifically Christian message they can tell. I do think "non-Christian movies" can also tell specifically Christian messages but we'll get to that with my review of Winnie the Pooh next week...

Facing the Giants is one of those that I don't know how much of an impact it had outside of the church but it is definitely a movie that has had a lot of reach inside of the church. It's a story full of hope, the power of prayer and the desire to see God do big things. It's also a film that drives me crazy.

Now, for the second beginning of this post... I payed attention to the Women's World Cup long before it was trendy to do so (ok, maybe when Sports Illustrated told me a week or so before that it was happening) and I had been following the US team pretty faithfully. Unlike men's soccer, the women's team actually has a good chance of doing well in the World Cup so it's a chance to see good soccer and watch America be successful at stuff.

I actually didn't watch the USA-Brazil match live. I had to choose between lunch with family/friends and the game and I chose actual people over tv. It was an amazing game that captured the attention of the nation. Even watching the replay a couple days later on ESPN Classic gave me goosebumps. This team seemed destined to join the Miracle on Ice hockey team in the history books of great champions.

Something happened on the way to destiny though.

Back to Facing the Giants... the first time I watched the movie I was loving it for the most part. In fact, when the team loses in the playoffs and the team still knelt down to praise God even after a loss I wanted to do the one thing I've never thought people did in the movies: stand and cheer. The movie doesn't stop there though and literally ends with everyone getting what they wanted. The infertile have children, the guy with a car that doesn't run gets a car and the team somehow gets back in the playoffs and the wind literally changes direction so that they win. I'm not opposed to happy endings. I love Disney films. Those things always have happy endings. What I didn't like is that the story it was telling is that the Christian life ends that way.

Final switch to the soccer game. Finding a place to watch the game was one of my highest priorities for Sunday afternoon. I got together with friends and went to B-dubs and started watching the game. My Amtrak train had to leave shortly after the 2nd half started so I wasn't going to see the end of the game but I was confident that the 1-0 lead would be more than enough. It was a shock to read on my cell phone that the team had lost in penalty kicks. It shouldn't have gone this way...

Life doesn't always have a "happy ending" when we look at what we think is the end of the story though. We don't always get free cars, couples can't always get pregnant, the wind doesn't always change. While we see the example of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho we can also see Jesus talking to his disciples. They see a blind man on the street and ask if it's because of his own sin or his parents' sin that he's blind. Jesus tells them that it's not from sin but because God's works were going to be displayed in him.

Sometimes God gives us the things that we ask Him for. Sometimes the wind does change and we can rejoice in the blessings that He gives us... but sometimes He allows us to lose so that His glory can be seen in a greater way. 

The loss to Japan was disappointing to the team and to a nation that wanted to celebrate a deserving victory.

Sometimes though, we don't get what we want or deserve. 

Much more often than we realize, that's a good thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What would you do with a Million Dollars?

So this weekend I traveled to Chicago, IL. There were a few reasons that this was a good week to visit. There were good friends that also were going to be in town at the same time. It was a chance to visit the downtown Chick-fil-a for the first time. My main reason for coming, however, was to audition for the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" game show.

Knowing useless trivia is my bread and butter. There's a reason that Wikipedia is one of my most visited pages on my web browser. There are few things that I am more confident about than the fact that I could be very successful on a show involving answering trivia questions. (Especially when it's multiple choice.) So, because of this, I went to Chicago, ran from lunch at Chick-fil-a to the commuter train to the racetrack where the auditions were being held.

I waited in line. Eventually we were moved to another line inside of the racetrack complex. Finally the line moved up to a conference room where everyone was handed a free t-shirt, magnet and ticket to a horse race sometime in the next few months. On a normal occasion that would be enough for me. Just the experience of doing something out of the ordinary like this would be worth it. I knew I could do better though.

We were handed a test in an envelope and told not to open it. After everyone was seated and we were given instructions we took a 10-minute test involving 30 multiple choice trivia questions. Only the top scores would move on to the interview with a producer. I wouldn't have admitted it but anything less than moving past the trivia quiz would have been a failure.

I moved on. :)

When I got to the interview they asked me about something funny I wrote on my application (I promised to overthrow the teachers when running for 8th grade student council... somehow didn't win. Kinda fishy.) Then to close out the interview they asked what I would do if I won a Million Dollars. The truth is that my motivation was just to win the game. I hadn't given a lot of thought to the money. I knew that I would pay off my school bills and not have to worry about getting a job while in grad school but they wanted something a little more interesting. I guess I'm just too pragmatic.

After a couple seconds of thinking I told them that seeing as ministry was my passion in life that I would fund projects around the world that could use help. I'm sure I sounded like a Miss America contestant. As I sat waiting for my train back downtown into the city I thought about whether or not I had been truthful in my answer. I came to 3 options I could use the money for:

1. Buying something I could never own- I jokingly told a friend that I should have said I would buy 100 years worth of season tickets to the Detroit Lions. The truth is that there is an allure in all of a sudden having the resources to purchase something that I probably will never purchase with the salary of a youth pastor with grad school debts. Boats, houses, Rolex watches, designer clothes... all of these things that would probably only be purchasable if I did something like win a Million Dollars...

2. Set it aside for security. This would be more than just paying for my school bills. I know that if I set this money aside then I wouldn't have to worry about retirement or paying my currently non-existent kids' education. I would never have to worry about finances again when I have a $750,000 safety net in the bank. I'd never have to live in the apartment that has less space than a normal bathroom and more cockroaches than a normal trash dump. I'd never have to worry about losing a job and being homeless. There would be that security there. As someone who'd like to be married sometime it really would take a lot of pressure off of finances.

3. Give most of it away. I'd be pretty committed to giving at least 10% to my church. Even opportunities like a game show come from the Lord and it's His money to distribute as He sees fit. It's why I'm faithful to give when my paycheck is $150 now because I want to be faithful with what He's given me. So the question becomes, what about the money after that? Would I regret helping a missionary if I all of a sudden lose a job or have a child with a serious health problem? Could I trust the organizations I helped not to use it simply for the 1st and 2nd purposes above?

The answer to the problem

The problem I see with spending it on things I would never be able to buy is that it really reveals what's important to me. It's evident already what's important to most Americans. Things. We build up our supply of things and things and more things. We evaluate how we're doing in life by the number of things that we have. The truth is that I think that most of those things would leave me feeling pretty empty. Especially 100 years worth of tickets to the Detroit Lions. The Bible never says that it's wrong to have money but it does say that the love of money is the root of evil. I would probably buy a nicer car, maybe a few other things that aren't excessive but are currently out of reach.

The second issue is one of security. Is it wrong to be secure? It seems like security is more of an American/Western idea than a Biblical one. I'm not sure that it's wrong to be secure though. There are people out there saying that you aren't trusting God to supply your needs if you have a savings account. It seems like that's a little like saying you aren't trusting God to protect you if you drive down the correct side of the road. I think God blesses common sense. There is another side of security though where I know that I would miss out on my faith being purified in the stress of needing to rely on God to supply my needs if I always lived in a giant safety net. Some security would be helpful but too much would be, instead of a love of money, a love of myself.

Finally, the prospect of giving the money away. Some people have the Spiritual gift of giving and would give away their t-shirt if they saw someone that needed it. I'm not sure that I'm gifted in that particular way but I do have to ask, if I had the resources to help needs be met and the Gospel to be spread, how could I live with myself holding on to the money? What cost are a few "toys" if there are children without water? What cost is security if there are people dying without knowledge of the Gospel?

So, while I don't know that I would give all the money away, I believe now that I was giving my actual answer to the producer. I would probably make sure I had money set aside for an emergency fund. I would probably set aside money in an account to grow so that I didn't rely on working until my dying day to provide for a family. I would probably go to a few more Cubs games. I would definitely pay for school.

If I didn't use the money as a tool to spread the Gospel would be a waste to even go on the game show in the first place.

Friday, July 8, 2011

There's No Catch to Grace

A month or so ago the College Group went to a lower-income neighborhood and took over a laundromat. This was purely a ministry to the community. A chance to show the love of Christ to the people around us. People generously gave the money to pay for the soap, for the fabric softener sheets, the quarters for the machines... this was a chance to show people what being the Church is all about.

We were warned before we went that people would try and abuse our generosity. Not that we weren't willing to wash whatever clothes they brought. We were in it to serve people. What people would abuse was that this was there chance to use as much soap as they could.

One woman in particular was fixed on getting "enough" soap for her clothes. We poured in the proper amount. Then, at her insistence, we poured in another cap full of soap. This wasn't enough though and before we knew it she was pouring half of the bottle into the machine. Before we got to the point of giving her the bottle I was standing next to her and she complained that "I'm going to have to wash these again. You guys aren't putting enough in."

In this woman's mind, there had to be a catch to our generosity. We couldn't be there focused on providing her with clean laundry. We must be there to do a half-way job of doing the laundry. We must be there to cut corners. We must be there to save our soap for later. She would rather put in so much soap that her clothes come out dingy than trust that we were there for her good.

This might seem a little ridiculous. The truth is that we go through life looking for "the catch" to things that seem to good to be true. And we're usually right. A free year worth of Chick-fil-a for being one of the first 100 people in a new store? More like 52 coupons for the #1 meal. Still really generous but at about 20 coupons in, I'm really tired of always eating the #1 meal. The Original Chick-fil-a sandwich is great but I'd like to branch out! (Others somehow get other meals with their coupons but I just don't have that level of charm.)

We look for the "catch" when it comes to the gift that God gives us who trust in Him: grace. We take the good idea that those who love Christ will keep His commandments and we twist it into a catch. We twist it into a need to do things to earn that grace. We make sure that we always go to church (especially on vacation). We make sure that we listen to the right music, we read the right books, we vote the right way. None of these things are wrong... but they become wrong when we're doing it to gain God's approval.

Grace is getting the things that we don't deserve. We don't deserve the Holy Spirit indwelling in us. We don't deserve the blessing of fellowship of other believers. We don't deserve eternal life. These are the the big things. We don't even deserve the small blessings that God gives us. James 1:17 says that every good gift comes from above.

Every good gift comes from God.

And He doesn't come with catches.

He gives gifts out of love. His desired will is for you to enter into relationship with him but He isn't like the kid on the playground that gives things to gain allegiance and then takes it away when he doesn't get what he wants.

So let's stop looking for the "catch" to grace. Let's stop trying to earn it and instead live a life where we are free to serve Christ out of love, not a need for approval. When we live lives seeking approval we end up painting a picture to the people around us that's not much different than the lady who wants more soap.

And that's not a picture that gives people a very good idea of the love of Christ.