Most books, in one way or another, are about giving answers.
Not so with Larry Crabb’s new book Real Church. It doesn’t give answers as much as it asks questions. Good questions, important questions, about the nature of what Jesus envisions the church to be. The kinds of questions that are rarely asked nowadays in the evangelical church, mainly because we assume we’ve already got those questions answered, and the questions we concern ourselves with now are about how to do everything we are already doing better. We ask “One service or two? Contemporary or traditional? Sunday School or small groups?”
This book, however, is about entirely different questions, questions that go much deeper: “Why are mature people who love God drifting away from church? Why do people who have little commitment to Christ enjoying church, and why are they not growing? Why is it not enough for a church to call people to belief in Christ and to lead moral lives? What are the marks of a church that creates people & community that are truly supernatural?”
In his preface, Larry himself writes:
What church would compel me to attend? What kind of church service would I hate to miss? What church would I feel privileged to be part of? I had a hard time coming up with an answer. So I decided to think more about it. I think best with a pen in my hand. Hence this little book.
By the end of the book, he hasn’t come up with pat answers, but he has asked some penetrating questions (in fact, twelve of the chapter titles are questions, such as “So What Is It that Makes a Gathering a Church?” and “It Will Offer Salvation and Help for Righteous Living: Is that the Deep Change God Wants?”).
Larry does, however, lay out four marks of a church that he would want to be part of:
- Understands and encourages dynamic, transformative Biblical truth
- Understands and encourages spiritual formation
- Understands and encourages spiritual community
- Is energized to do the missional work of the Kingdom
So, what did I get out of this book? Besides taking a ton of notes & quotes, Real Church gave me new perspectives and categories to think through what it truly means to “do church,” as well as my own private spiritual formation. If you want to think seriously about the church and the Kingdom then read this book.
Most people have played Pac-Man at some point in their lives. Most of us will get past a few levels, only to eventually get eaten by the ghosts and lose the game.
An expert, however, can play the game through its 255 levels without losing once. How can they win so flawlessly over and over again? Simple: the game always stays the same. The ghosts (the bad guys) have behavior patterns that never change; learn the patterns once and you master the game. The Pac-Man you won at in 1980 you can win at today doing the exact same thing because it is the exact same game.
And that, my friends, is precisely how people are not like Pac-Man. People change.
Yes, I know you already knew that, but do you live like it? Have you thought about the implications of it?
The people that you knew in 1980 do not exist anymore. They have become different people. The people you knew last week do not exist anymore either; they have become different as well, and so have you.
This means that the relationship that you have with them has to change. If you “play” your relationship with your parent, your friend, your spouse, your child, in the exact same way that you did ten years ago, you will lose— people are not like Pac-Man. This is a prime reason relationships fail: the people change, but the relationship does not.
The moral of the story? Look at your vital relationships with your friends and your family. Are you trying to play by exactly the same rules? Do you expect your spouse to devote the same amount of time to you as she did before she had children? Do you expect your friend to be able to drop everything he was doing to go golfing the way he did before he got married? Do you expect your teen to relate to you the same way he did as a tween?
For a relationship to grow and flourish it has to change with the passage of time, just as the people that make up the relationship do. Don’t try to force your past rules or past expectations on the people in your life; always be looking for “new patterns” to win at your relationship “games” everyday.
Until last week, I had successfully resisted Twitter like I had succesfully resisted golf— convinced that both were horrible wastes of time that had deviously enslaved millions of victims.
What, you say, is Twitter? Launched in October 2006, Twitter is a “microblog”— a way of communicating publically about yourself over the internet in short sentences, spur of the moment. You can post short updates about yourself (have to be 140 characters or less) by either website, web-enabled phone, or by text messaging direct to twitter. There are over two million people on Twitter; many people send out these short postings (called “tweets”) throughout the day, informing the world of what they had for lunch, if they’re stuck in traffic, the latest project they are working on, how their meeting went, and on and on it goes.
So you can see why I steered way clear of such a horrible waste of time. But one week ago today, I thought, Hmmm….. I’ll try it out, what could it hurt? Well, so I’ve done 46 “tweets” in the past 7 days, I am following 26 people (most of whom I already had contact with as writers strung from Canada to Australia) and 13 people are currently following me. I’ve tweeted both from computers and from my iPhone, on serious topics and not so serious ones. I’ve also had twitter forward my tweets directly over to my Facebook page where they show up as Facebook updates.
It’s actually been an interesting & intruiging week of twittering. I try to be cautious about what projects are worth my time investment, but I’ve decided Twitter is a winner for me. It is a unique way of sharing life together, of building community, even in a limited way, with people that you never could in any other way. Tweets tend to be informal, spontaneous, less guarded, more open and honest, less “image conscious” than some other ways of communicating. It’s also a good way for me to communicate something that is on my mind worth sharing but not long enough to write up a whole article about. Bottom line: I’ve enjoyed twittering my week away.
So what did I “tweet” about? Here are some of my posts over the last week:
(First one) Can’t believe I broke down & actually signed up for Twitter. I am now fully a slave to the machine…
checking out http://culture11.com/ —-new online magazine/web 2.0 social community might have some possibilities
Just searched for people tweeting in Kingsport— 20 active in the whole town– do I live in a tech mecca or what?
Just installed http://tinyurl.com/5lf7n7 woo hoo! almost as fun as an iphone!
Pathetic geekness example: last night I dreamed I was telling someone how cool ubiquity is and then installed it on his computer.
Panera asiago roast beef sandwich for lunch– mighty tasty!
Lying in my hammock beneath a maple, gently rocking, listening 2 crickets & 2 Michael Card, watching my son–this is nourishment 4 my soul
As I face life’s challenges, its good 2 know that I will b more than I am now;I will continue 2 grow in strength & wisdom as I walk with God
Telling someone that they have cancer is such a hard thing. For both of us.
Intruiging how the constraint of 140 characters limits my usual verbosity & causes me to think carefully how to creatively express myself…
interesting article on Governor Palin”s infant son with Down’s from Al Mohler: http://tinyurl.com/5zwun2
twittering is a little like doctoring, in that there is real value in sharing in the lives of others, even if it is in episodic snippets…
From a blog I like— “We have an unspoken integrity agreement with every other person on the planet that says, “I will not hurt you.” ”
sooo tired… exhausting day, exhausting week… but in the midst of the exhaustion a gentle joy, for I really do love to care for people
how about some Red Skelton to start off your weekend… http://tinyurl.com/5n9r77
Subtle, pervasive, disturbing– how often we connect with another person thinking “What can they give me?” Another sad effect of the Fall.
My son Andrew ran in his 2nd cross country meet this morning– I couldn’t be more proud of the man he is becoming.
When I go into Walmart now I think everything there is going 2 b pushed into trash piles by a spunky robot in a 1000 years.Thank you Pixar!
So many Christians see just a ticket for heaven later & a moral code for now. Life, transformation, growth, beauty– not even on their radar
Sitting in a swing watching my son Andrew cut the back yard with my john Deere stx38 lawn tractor for the 1st time. Doesn’t get any better!
Why do I read the Bible this morning? Duty? Inspiration? Routine? Analysis? Or realizing my need, & desperate for the life of God?
2Co 5:17 I am a new creation sounds great, but it presupposes v14-15 I have died with Christ, no longer living for myself but only for Him.
Threw away broken exercycle, computer, trimmer, & disposal today–all <8yrs old, all easier 2 replace than repair in this society… I wonder how much this easier 2 replace than repair ethos bleeds over 2 our friendships, our marriages, our churches in this use it then trash it society.
Trying out twitpic, here’s a worthwhile investment that the family has enjoyed, the koi pond I built last year. http://twitpic.com/9xcd
spent most of day doing yardwork, now I’m sitting back watching UT/UCLA football (INTERCEPTION TENNESSEE!!!!), & working on a blog post
I am reminded how natural it is to treasure happiness in my heart above all else- & no matter how innocuous it is always the path to death
Fighting poison ivy on right side of face. I wonder if this is what the first stage of a Borg implant feels like?
First soccer practice of the season with my son Michael. http://twitpic.com/a15c
Reading thru Ecclesiastes. Many want 2 peg Solomon as either in perfect sync with God or else totally reprobate… Maybe instead he was just somewhere in the middle, both saint & sinner. Just like me.
gal 5:23 “against” the fruit of the spirit there is no law. Greek “against” compares higher to lower; Paul says the Spirit is a higher way
This just in: How did Luke figure out what Darth Vader got him for his birthday? He was able to feel his “presents”!
Working on my next blog post… Guess what it’s about? My first week on Twitter!
So, if you’re curious enough, you can check out my latest tweets by pointing your web browser to :
As I said before, they’re also showing up as updates on my facebook page, and on the sidebar at the bottom of my website www.lightalongthejourney.com. Or you can sign up for your own account on www.twitter.com and join the fun!
I’m not much of one for little poems found on the internet, but I stumbled across one last week that made me think:
Never take someone for granted
Hold every person close to your heart
because you might wake up one day
and realize that you’ve lost a diamond
while you were too busy collecting stones…
So, I thought to myself, am I piling up pebbles or digging for diamonds? Am I spending my life accumulating piles of “stuff” or seeking out treasures that are far more precious?
The poem’s concern is about losing a “diamond,” a treasured friend. As I thought, I realized the bigger problem for most of us is finding those “diamonds” in our lives. When I live in a culture where most people don’t know the names of their neighbors who live down the street, where we haven’t been in the houses of most of the people in our Sunday School class, where we spend most of our spare time watching a screen instead of actually interacting with (gasp!) REAL PEOPLE, how are we going to find true friends?
So here are some thoughts on how to dig for diamonds, a few steps on the path to true friends:
First, you’ve got to know what a true diamond is, and its incredible value. I think many people have never had a true friend because they don’t even have a frame of reference. That is, they don’t even realize what a true friend is, and what a precious treasure a true friend can be in one’s life.
If you’ve got a true friend, you have a treasure beyond words. You have someone you can pour your heart out to, both the beautiful and the ugly parts of it, someone who will strengthen and encourage and heal, someone who will walk with you through the victories and the failures, someone you can truly share your life with. Many people have never experienced friendship like that, ever. They don’t know what they are missing.
Others may have despaired of ever having a friendship of such depth & beauty. Some may have concluded that they’re not worth either having a “diamond” or being one themselves. But whatever your background, know this: It’s worth it. You can pile up mountains of success pebbles, but they will never equal the value of one true diamond friend in your life.
Second, diamonds are always found in the rough. No diamond comes out of a mine looking polished and brilliant. In fact, diamonds don’t look much different than ordinary rocks at first. So, if you’re thinking of digging up a “diamond” (1) who is always kind and giving and understanding and (2) who will never hurt your feelings and (3) who will instantly become your ultimate best friend, I have some news for you: that person doesn’t exist. Instead of searching in vain for that perfect diamond, look at the imperfect people whom God has brought into your life, and be a friend to a “diamond in the rough.”
Remember, one of the wonderful things about friendship is that you can “polish” each other over the years and that both of you can become more precious and beautiful as a result of being together. Accept that there will be some rough spots along the way. Ever put gemstones in a rock tumbler? Only by the long process of rock hitting and grinding against rock is their inner beauty revealed. As the years go by, a true friend will bring out your true strength and beauty and brilliance as you bring out theirs.
Third, digging diamonds takes a lot of time and effort. While people talk about “love at first sight,” there is no “friendship at first sight.” Intimate friendships take time, a LOT of time, plus a lot of effort to develop. Saying “Hi” at church or asking about their kids at a baseball game doesn’t cut it. Being a doctor, I have the blessing of both knowing and serving people daily and usefully contributing to their lives. But even those hundreds of meaningful acquaintances are not a substitute for one deep friendship.
Let me give a personal example: My best friend and I started out having breakfast once a week ten years ago, and we kept that up for several years until I moved away. We now enjoy a rich bond that has benefitted both of our lives in ways we never imagined, but it took over 100 hours one-on-one time to reach that level of friendship.
So, when was the last time you invested 100 hours in developing a friendship with someone? When was the last time you invested 10 hours? Friendship is like cleaning out your garage— it won’t happen unless you schedule the time, and then go do it. Schedule time to email, have a list of buds to call on a monthly basis, pencil in a morning a week to have breakfast with someone. When you think of something to do for a friend, do it right then. Procrastination leads to many missed opportunities and sorrowful regrets. Remember, real friendships don’t “just happen”— you have to make them happen.
Which brings me to my last thought, you’ve got to dig the right way. Here are some “digging tools” to help you on your journey to true friendships:
Be a person who loves: If you’re around a person just for what you can get out of them, forget it. If your primary reason for “being a friend” isn’t to serve them, help them, and love them, then straighten out your heart with God first. Which brings me to my second point,
Be a person who gives: Think about how you can give to this person, of your time, of yourself, of your resources. How can you wisely and meaningfully invest yourself into their life?
Be a person who’s “safe”: Ever had a well-meaning person give advice you didn’t need, when you really just needed someone to be there? Ever had a person make you feel uncomfortable by immediately stating their opinion on an issue, not knowing you had a different perspective? Ever had a person you just felt uncomfortable to be around, didn’t feel you could be yourself around? DON’T BE THAT KIND OF PERSON! You will never develop a friendship unless you’re a person who people feel “safe” to be around.
Be a person who listens: There will be a time to say something that’s hard for them to hear in the right spirit of wisdom and love, but most of us are way too quick to speak, and way too slow to listen. Listen. Listen. Then listen some more.
Be a person who connects: This is the most challenging part of being a friend, learning to meaningfully enter deeper into another’s life to help them become all that God has intended them to be. They will never let you in unless you are loving, giving, listening, and safe. Once you are in, that’s where experience, wisdom, prayer, and reliance on God must guide you. There is no formula, but there are resources that can help you think about what it means to be a good friend. One of my favorites is Larry Crabb’s book Soul Talk: Speaking with Power Into the Lives of Others.
To be part of God’s great plan in the life of another through the ministry of friendship is one of the most fulfilling experiences God grants us in this life. As Dr. Crabb states, “Dancing with the Trinity into the lives of others is the secret of joy.” So go out there, start digging, start dancing, and find true treasure in your life.
A long time ago I read a science fiction short story about a world where the government enforced “equality” by making people with good eyesight wear glasses with smudges, people who were beautiful had to wear masks (so not to make ugly people feel bad), people who were smart wore a hearing aid that buzzed loudly so they couldn’t keep track of what they were thinking, people who were strong had to wear weights on their arms and legs. Finally one man ripped off his mask and weights and a ballerina’s mask and weights and they were finally free to dance with the grace and freedom and joy that they had always longed for.
Although that writer was probably just wanting to make a satirical political statement, he actually was describing our world. All of us are born enslaved to sin (Romans 6:17), and even after we receive the new birth we still struggle with sin. I have wounds, clouded thinking, selfish desires, & sinful patterns of behavior that are just like the masks and weights and smudged glasses of the protagonist of that story. And unfortunately, so do you, and so does everyone else on this planet. And as we try to relate to each other, whether in business or church or as friends or spouses or parents, we stumble and trip and often end up knocking each other down instead of dancing with freedom and grace.
That’s why the perichoresis is precious to me. Perichoresis is an ancient theological term that I have written about before that describes the perfect love and harmony and relationship that exists between the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit as like a dance. Before the universe was created, God both knew and experienced life— a life of perfect community and relationship. The Trinity perfectly knew, perfectly loved, perfectly related, perfectly experienced. And this experience was not just some static frozen stare, like three statues cast for eternity in cold concrete. The experience of the Trinity was and is and forever will be the most dynamic, joyful, and expressive relationship not only that is, but that could ever possibly be. There is no human way to imagine it, but dance probably does come the closest.
Why is knowing this about God so precious to me? Because God has invited me into His eternal dance. That is why God created the universe, to create children that could see His glory and His love and His perichoresis, and in seeing Him would treasure Him, and could become one with Him and one with each other. This was Christ’s prayer for us before He was crucified:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:21-24)
This is the hope that the apostles have also given us, that one day we will be stripped of all the weights and sins of this life and be able to see and love Christ and see and love each other in ways we now can not even dream of:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:49)
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Every relationship that I experience now is a mixture of sweet and bitter, as misunderstanding, mistakes, hurts, and selfishness are always present to some degree. But one day that will all be past: all relationships will be healed, and not only healed but experienced in a freedom and grace and joy that we can now not even conceive. And the dance will continue to grow in sweetness forever, relating to the Trinity and to each other. That, truly, is the hope of heaven.
But there is more than heaven that is precious about the perichoresis, for God wants us to start dancing now. Through being one body in Christ, through the regeneration and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can start today to dance. We can love, we can forgive, we can serve, we can laugh, we can grow in holiness, because we know who we are, who God is, and what heaven will be like. The verse after 1 John 3:2 says “And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” And the verses after 2 Peter 1:3-4 tell us:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
“For this very reason”— because we have God’s promises, we have the desire and the power to grow in love and holiness as we dance the never-ending dance of being the children of God. Hear the music. Dance today.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:15
Ok, so it’s been awhile since I did a Monday Media Meltdown, but I saw two movies this weekend that both made me go…. Hmmmmm….so here I go again with the amateur analysis. These two movies were radically different, but in another sense they were echoing the same theme: “It is not good that the man should be alone.”
Elizabethtown is a confused mess of a movie that I and most critics agreed had some good intentions but just couldn’t deliver. At least I found out from the movie that all people living in Kentucky are strange (Oh, but I already knew that by reading IMonk). (Oh, sorry, Dr. Mohler, I didn’t mean you.)
The other movie I saw was the brilliant and moving Bridge to Terabithia. Although very different and far superior, Bridge shares with Elizabethtown an archetype of artistic, creative male estranged from his father in a cruel world has perky blonde enter his life and through intrusive creative playful intervention and friendship rescues his soul, while also trying to deal with themes of friendship, death and dysfunctional families on the side. Hmmm…… wierd.
But what both of these movies really spoke to me was the plight of living in a fallen world. Even before the Fall, God stated that man was not meant to live in isolation, but in community. After the Fall, the need for community is even greater, with our need to strengthen and comfort each other against the effects of the Fall, but unfortunately the Fall has severely damaged our ability to live in community, for we and the ones around us are warped by sin and act in selfishness.
That’s where the beauty of the new life in Christ comes in. Because of Christ, we become spiritually alive, we are indwelt by the love and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and we can truly pour God’s love and wisdom and strength into each other. What these two movies hint at, we can experience in reality within the body of Christ: redemptive, transforming friendships that will one day culminate once again in a life of perfect community with God and with each other.
That is God’s desire for us: to do the hard, sacrificial, joyful work of real friendship and community, to pour Christ into the lives of others and allow them to give to us. Let us not just read about it, but do it, today.
Know a young person (or even yourself) that wants to do “social networking” on the internet— the ability to have a goofy page, do emails and IMs, get together in virtual groups, and meet new people?
Yea, like MySpace. But with the constant barrage of ads of skimpily clad females, the sexual predators, and other trash in MySpace, it’s just not a safe or wise place to hang.
Enter Xianz.com (yes that’s a supposedly cool way to spell “Christians”), the self-styled “Christian” alternative to MySpace. I created a profile last week to test out the service. I am not “into” the whole social networking scene at all, but wanted to get a feel for both the technology and the flavor of the Xianz experience.
The upside? generally well-done interface, most of the features are well implemented. There seems to be alot “going-on” in the community, forming friends and groups is straightfoward, and people seem to be friendly and pretty “normal.” There are many Christian music acts represented, and there are some contests and special events as well.
The downside? There is still potential for evil in cyberspace, no matter what the format or protections. Sexual predators are hard to spot even if they’re living across the street from you, so you never be sure if you’re only seeing a photo and some text on a screen. Beyond that obvious evil, just the ordinary stuff like heretic theology, neurosis, and immaturity are again hard to spot online. I would think that xianz would be much more useful to keep up with a group of friends you already have than trying to make new ones, and you can configure the interface to basically keep you invisible to people you aren’t already associated with.
Overall, I was pleased with the interface and the potential for xianz, especially for young people who want this kind of online experience and can be talked out of using MySpace for it.
If you want to try out Xianz just click this link to take you there.
This film documentary could be titled “Extreme Extreme Famiily Makeover.”
It shares a basic premise with all of the “reality TV” shows— fairly typical American dysfunctional family gets thrown into lifestyle and situation totally foreign to them.
But then the REALLY extreme happens— God shows up.
Not in a fire or earthquake, but in a still small voice.
In plowing a field together. In sharing meals and reading stories.
In playing in fields and ponds. In conversation at a country store.
In living a radically different life, not for money or a new house or to be ogled at by millions of people, but to walk with God.
Six years before this film was made, Tommy Waller left his suburban job and suburban house and suburban income and suburban lifestyle and took his family to a house without electricity in a remote Tennessee Amish community.
The results? A Journey Home– a journey to a true home, to a place and a lifestyle that became a lot closer to God’s original intent for a home and a family than many of us in Western culture today experience and live.
Is this video telling you to sell your house and give up electricity and have 11 kids?
No, and neither is God.
Am I going to sell my house and buy a horse and plow?
No, God isn’t telling me that either.
But am I willing to listen to God, to the still small voice that is so hard to hear in the midst of this awful din of Western culture, to carve out whatever time and space, whatever lifestyle that would help me best walk with God and glorify Him, no matter how counter cultural or difficult?
I think that’s the question this video is asking, and the question that God is asking me too.
Interested? This award winning documentary is available for purchase here.
The Gospel Driven Life blog has recently had a series of posts on a subject not talked about much, the perichoresis of God.
So what is the perichoresis? It literally means “dance around,” and it was the term that the ancient church Fathers chose to help describe the nature of the Trinity. Three distinct beings, all God, all in perfect love and knowledge and joy, perfectly mutually indwelling each other in all their thoughts and actions throughout all eternity. The best word picture they could come up with was three dancing as one joyfully around, the perichoresis.
I wish I had the words to communicate how breathtaking and beautiful and vital and glorious the perichoresis is, both to God and to us. Let me offer a few implications to introduce you to its beauty:
- The perichoresis means that the very nature of God is relationship. God has never existed alone— community is as much an integral part of what it means to be God as love and justice and omnipotence and immutability.
- Since we are in the image of God, the perichoresis means that community, real community, is an integral part of what it means to be human as well. “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18 ESV)
- Because of the perichoresis, one of God’s purposes in creation was to exist in community with mankind. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in unbroken community before the Fall.
- The perichoresis is the example, the pattern, of the community that should exist within the body of Christ: “They may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…that they may be one even as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:21-23 ESV)
- It is the perichoresis that God invites us into right now, He offers to us, every day, every minute, to enter the dance with Him. Larry Crabb in his book Soul Talk pictures what the Holy Spirit is saying to us:
Jesus gave you life. I’m stirring it up. Go! Enjoy the Father. Adore the Son. Dance with Us! You’ll have the time of your life.
So come on, dance with God today—you’ll have the time of your life!
P.S. Take a look at the lyrics of the song Lord of the Dance, one of my favorites.
In this week’s Monday Media Meltdown, let’s talk about a recurring theme scattered among several dramas over the past years, that of dreams dying and being reborn:
In Under the Tuscan Sun, Diane Lane plays a woman with her dreams of success all in hand, until an unexpected divorce broadsides her. On a whim, she buys a run-down villa in Tuscany and has an entirely new dream of having the villa be the focus of her new life—with friends, cooking, children, a wedding. Everything seems to go wrong from the start—or does it? She has no friends to cook for, until she starts cooking for her Polish renovators and ends up becoming a great cook and an even better friend. She has no baby, but she gives of herself so her friend is able to have her baby in her villa. She loses her man to marry, but she helps two young lovers and sees their joy consummate in a wedding at her villa. At the finale, she looks back and realizes that she indeed gets all her dreams—but in a very different way than she first envisioned. After a friend points this out, she replies, “You’re right – I got everything I asked for.”
In Mr. Holland’s Opus, we find a man in his twenties taking a job as a high school band instructor to put food on his table. Over the next thirty-some years, he grows to care for his students and embrace this vocation, even though he still yearns to fulfill his dream of writing a great work of music. Although way over-dramatic at the end, a grateful former student sums up the movie’s message: “I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life. ”
In The Family Man, Nicholas Cage plays a stereotypical self-absorbed executive with absolutely no value for human relationships—until an “angel” strips away all his material success and plops him down as a tire salesman in Jersey. Although the ending of the movie stinks, we watch his progression as he realizes that the gift of relational intimacy is worth more than all the money and power of his dreams. When he is tempted to start valuing money and fame again, his wife tells him, “maybe I was being naive, but I believed that we would grow old together in this house. That we’d spend holidays here and have our grandchildren come visit us here. I had this image of us, all grey and wrinkly, and me working in the garden and you re-painting the deck. But things change. If you need this, Jack, if you really need this, I will take these kids from a life they love and I’ll take myself from the only home we’ve ever shared together and I’ll move wherever you need to go. I’ll do that because I love you. I love you, and that’s more important to me than our address. I choose us. ”
What can we learn from these movies? First, that dreams die in a fallen and imperfect world and that we cannot go on and grow and live until we let go of them. We see this in the Bible as well, from Joseph’s dreams dying when he is sold into slavery to David’s dreams of being King die when he has to flee from King Saul. Second, that dreams that are self-focused and value things over people need to die. I am reminded of Christ’s story of the rich man who built bigger barns, only to find out that something far bigger than his barns were at stake. Third, we need to learn that the dreams ought to be focused on community, on relationships, on what we can give to those we are closest to. God created us to live in community, with others and with Him. Fourth, we should remind ourselves that we serve a loving Father who delights to give us good gifts, but that we should have the humility and wisdom to let Him do the choosing, let Him bless us beyond all that we can imagine, in His time and in His way.