The Man Who Invented Christmas – Movie Discussion

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The Man Who Invented Christmas is the charmingly told backstory of Charles Dickens and how he came to write A Christmas Carol. Thematically, as you would expect, it overlaps greatly with A Christmas Carol—forgiveness, caring for the poor/generosity, forgiveness, love, redemption, family, change, etc.—except you understand where those themes come from in Dickens’ life at a greater level. (For instance, he was forced into child labor himself because of his father’s poor financial decisions—so you can understand his deep hatred of the work houses and great compassion for the poor.) The story was captivating, fun, wholesome, inspiring…perfect for the family and perfect for the holidays—everything you might hope and expect about the making of the quintessential, classic Christmas story.

Since so many of the themes overlap with A Christmas Carol, (and therefore you likely don’t need help thinking of how to have faith driven discussions with those themes), I’m going to focus on something different for discussion—the difference between faith and insanity.

We have all heard (ad nauseum) the quote that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Agreed. Except, the stubborn, strong-minded questioner (maybe rebel??) in me kept thinking of times in my life where I felt compelled by God to keep going on some path that wasn’t producing results…and trust that they would someday. So I secretly chaffed a bit at that phrase. I kept that mostly secret though, because, I mean, everyone knows that it’s crazy do keep doing the same thing and expect different results—right? Which is why my soul rejoiced when I heard Kris Vallotton point out that “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity…and it’s also the definition of faith.” YES!!! This is why the Israelites could march around Jericho day after day with nothing happening, and yet expect the walls to come down. It’s why the disciples could cast their nets all night long, catch nothing, and throw them out one last time, hoping for a harvest.

As I watched this movie, this fine line between faith and insanity is what I couldn’t stop thinking about. Charles’ father spent money when he didn’t have it. He spent to create an image, impress investors, create more wealth. He spent to delight others, as well as himself. He spent it as if he had it, and in the end, his family suffered dearly for it—Charles as much as anyone, as he ended up ripped from his family and forced to work in the poor house as a young boy. Charles was bitter and angry at his father for his selfishness and irresponsibility. Yet, we also see Charles spending money he doesn’t have to create an image and garner more investors and create more wealth, as well as to help and delight others. (The one area where Charles and his father are vastly different in this is Charles was frugal towards himself, but generous towards others. His father was far more generous towards himself.) It was literally painful for me to watch Charles spending money his family didn’t have, knowing he was putting them all at risk. In many respects, Charles’ spending habits were like his father’s, and yet, he was expecting different results.

Add to that, after Charles’ great success with Oliver Twist, he wrote three flops. He’d written three complete failures, and yet was convinced he should write again and this time it would be a success. So much so, he was risking all his money, his financial stability, his family’s future, everything on it. Faith or insanity, I ask you??? It looked like insanity as I watched, as much as it looked like bold, crazy faith. In some ways, the answer we have to that question as we watch is largely based on the results. If it had flopped and his children had ended up in the poor house, we would probably say he was insane. As it was, Dickens pretty much changed the world with that book. In six days all his copies sold out and overnight, charitable giving soared as a result of it. His book changed catapulted Christmas from a relatively minor holiday into holiday stardom. He changed the culture with his book—the book he was willing to risk everything for.

I would love to say I have some formula, some sure-fire way to distinguish faith and insanity. Or to ensure that faith will equal success. I think of Daniel’s three friends who were thrown into the fiery furnace. Their faith looked like insanity, too. And they, too, risked everything for their faith. I love their response, “Our God will rescue us, but even if He doesn’t…” (Daniel 3:17, paraphrase and emphasis mine). That is faith—it’s obedience no matter the result. And that is the key thing—obedience. I suspect that is the major difference between Dickens and his father. One spent money for image and personal gain (primarily) and the other was far more motivated by generosity and kindness. Charles Dickens’ greatest desire was to do good in the world. The movie doesn’t focus on faith in God at all, but in as much as the Bible teaches that whatever we do to the least of these, we do as unto the Lord, we see a great deal of obedience to the heart of Jesus in Dickens. He wasn’t writing the book to increase his family’s fortune, he was writing it to help people change, to teach them to lighten the load of their fellow man, to inspire them to open their hearts towards one another—and he was compelled to do it. He was compelled to risk everything for it. That feels a lot like obedience and faith. And I suspect that even if this book had flopped, too, he would not regret having told the story he had to tell—because faith is about obedience more than results.

One final point of interest—Dickens couldn’t get the story to come out right, couldn’t figure out the ending…until he forgave his father. I find this intriguing. He was completely blocked with the character of Scrooge, seeing no hope for change in him (and therefore greatly disappointing his proof readers with a tragedy wherein Scrooged never changed and Tiny Tim died instead of the Christmas comedy that it became)—until he was able to see that there was good in his father. Yes, his father made huge mistakes, but for all those, as his sister pointed out, “You won’t find a kinder man.” When he was able to give grace to his father, he was able to give grace to Scrooge.

Concurrent with that, forgiving his father allowed him to confront his own, deeply embedded fears and find grace for himself. His time in the workhouse had scarred him. He was haunted by the voices of people telling him he was useless. His inability to forgive his father was keeping him from forgiving himself. Thinking his father could never change, or that the harm he had done negated the good he had done—those things were judgements he held over himself (and therefore over Scrooge) as well. Forgiving his father was a lynchpin to setting himself free…and to the ending of his story. What a great reminder to us all.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How are faith and insanity similar? What do you think makes them different?
  • What are the similarities and differences in Charles and his father’s attitudes/behaviors towards money?
  • Why do you think Dickens couldn’t finish his story at first? What do you think changed things for him?
  • How did forgiving his father set Charles free?
  • Do you think people change?

Read quotes from The Man Who Invented Christmas, here.

 

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Coco – Movie Discussion

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Curses and blessings—Coco centers around curses and blessings as much as it centers around family and aspirations (specifically aspirations for a musical career). Given that, it’s not hard to see how the movie can provide some rich opportunity for good discussions about faith and character.

The movie starts with Miguel saying he thinks his family is cursed. He goes on to explain his generational backstory, one in which his great, great grandfather left his family to pursue his career as a musician. Imelda, his great, great, grandmother at that point went on to forge her own career as a shoe-maker, providing for herself, her daughter and future generations. She was bitter, however, never loved again, and never allowed any music in the family again, blaming it for her husband’s loss.

As the movie goes on, it’s tempting to feel that the generational curse was passed down from a man who chose career over family, but the real curse is in Imelda’s unforgiveness. Her bitterness made her a controlling, dominating, bitter matriarch who stifled her offspring unless they fit into her mold. She was fearful and ruled her family with fear, fear of being abandoned again.

Miguel loves music, but has to hide this from his family. On the Day of the Dead, he ends up in the land of the dead, and in order to return to the land of the living, he needs Imelda’s blessing. She decides to give it ONLY on the condition that he give up music forever. This raises some interesting questions about blessings. She is clearly selfish and using the idea of a blessing to control and manipulate – which is clearly wrong. However, we see in the Bible where God promises blessings to those who obey His commands, and curses to those who rebel (see Deuteronomy 30). This isn’t about manipulation, however, but about consequences. I’ve been wrestling with this—what exactly is the difference? When should a blessing be freely given, and when is it acceptable for it to be attached to a condition? I don’t have a clear answer for this, but to be sure, Imelda’s motives are selfish and that is a good indicator that something is wrong.

It’s easy to see that Imelda was wrong, especially as we find out that she falsely judged her husband all those years. It’s not, however, as easy to see how wrong Miguel was. If she’d given her blessing to him at first, he would have felt justified in following after his hero whose motto was “Seize the moment [no matter the cost].” He didn’t value his family as he should have, because he felt they were holding him back. He had elevated music (career, passion, aspirations) over family and relationships, just as he’d been told his great, great grandfather had. It took meeting his great, great grandfather for him to begin to see the value in family, the cost of regret, the hollow pursuit of fame. He had made music a god to be served over all else in his life. Once his priorities were realigned, and music became a tool to serve him (and not the other way around), then it was something that could be a blessing and not a curse in his life. THEN, he could receive Imelda’s blessing without conditions.

The Bible says to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). In the movie, family relationships are the most important (this is very much a cultural value), and family relationships are important, but they aren’t primary. The lesson is valuable, but we need to replace it with our relationship with God. Not everyone has a good family like Miguel had. And even good families cannot be first in our lives—God comes first, above everything. But the principle is good—once Miguel got his priorities right and put relationships first (should have been his relationship to God and obedience to His will), THEN music and everything else could be added to him. Had he not gotten his priorities right, however, giving him music would have been destructive to his life.

One final thought about forgiveness and assumptions. Imelda assumed the worst about her husband. That assumption caused bitterness which held her and her family in bondage for generations. And, in the end, to make matters worse, she was wrong. Love does not assume the worst, it hopes for the best and it covers over wrongs. Had she acted in love towards her husband, she would not have brought generations of pain and bitterness to her family. When we assume the worst about people, when we judge them harshly and take away a woundedness from our disappointments, we hurt ourselves and everyone around us. We become the living dead. Grace and forgiveness sets us all free and brings life.

The great, great grandmother held a grudge against her husband and music that she passed down through the generations (so strongly that Miguel would say they were cursed), all because she assumed the worst about her missing husband. She was wrong about him. Not only did her false assumption hurt herself, but it hurt her family for generations. When we assume the worst about people, when we judge them harshly and take away a woundedness from our disappointments, we hurt ourselves and everyone around us. We become the living dead. Grace and forgiveness sets us all free. It brings life. It is interesting to note that she wasn’t able to give Miguel her blessing until she had forgiven her husband and been healed from her bitterness. The call to love others, to hope for and assume the best, to even cover over their wrongs…it’s not just about setting us free and bringing life to us…it’s about those around us. This is one of those conditional blessings…when we do this, we are blessed and able to bless others. When we don’t, we bring curses upon ourselves and others. And those blessings and curses, they last for generations, so, as Deuteronomy 30 says, “God sets life and death, blessings and curses before us, so choose life so that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

 

Questions for Discussion:

  • What does it mean to be part of a family / IN a family?
  • When is it okay to have conditions for blessings, (i.e. I’ll pay for college if you keep your GPA at an acceptable level), and when is that a wicked manipulation (i.e. Imelda saying she’d only give her blessing to Miguel if he gave up music)?
  • How might it have been bad for Miguel to receive Imelda’s blessing earlier in the story, before he’d seen the true ugliness of his hero?
  • The Bible says to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and then all these things can be added unto you. What does that mean? How does Miguel’s journey follow this verse? What things are you tempted to seek first in your life?
  • How might things have been different for Miguel’s family if Imelda had hoped for the best in her husband (i.e. if she had considered that it was possible he wanted to come back but something happened to him)? Is there a time you can think of when you have assumed the worst about someone, and then realized you were wrong?
  • Is there any bitterness in your life? How is it affecting others around you? How can you choose to love (i.e. hope for the best, and/or cover over the wrong) and how might that set you free and bring life to you and people around you?

Click here to read quotes from Coco.

 

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Murder on the Orient Express – Movie Discussion

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**Spoiler Alert**

While the movie is, on the surface, a murder mystery, at a deeper level it’s really about the growth (or perhaps “changing perspective” is more on point) of the main character, Hercule Poirot. He is a man of absolutes. He “sees the world as it should be, so the imperfections stand out.” In his perspective, “There is right. There is wrong. There is nothing in between.” By the end, however, his black and white world is dismantled. He finds the killer, but also finds compassion and understanding for what was done. “There was right. There was wrong. Then there was you. I cannot judge you for this,” he says. “What is justice here?”

What changed? How does a man like Poirot go from black and white, right and wrong—an absolutist standpoint—to one of moral relativism? In his words, “I have seen the fracture of the human soul… until one crime became many. I depend on order… but now, perhaps I am asked to listen to my heart. I have understood in this case that the scales of justice cannot be even weighed.”

Poirot’s journey is very much the journey of our modern world. The black and white moral absolutism we used to adhere to was too narrow. It didn’t allow for understanding, for gray, for complicated realities. So, the pendulum swung. The new generation rebels against it’s predecessor and goes to the other extreme until we are so sympathetic to people’s why we aren’t able to judge the what any longer. This is what happened to Poirot. He so understood the why of the murder, he couldn’t say that it was wrong.

The problem is in the extremes. Focusing on the what without understanding the why makes us intolerable and harsh. Focusing on the why without ever judging the what makes us a lawless and dangerous society. Someone in the movie said, “They’re not killers. They’re good people. They can be good again.” The thing is, they did kill. They may not do so again, but they did—in a personal and violent way, each sharing the knife and stabbing their victim. I would also like to point out the obvious issue of semantics here—that when you say someone “can be good again” you are also admitting they have lost that goodness. Yes, they can be good again.   And yes, they aren’t killers in the sense that some people are, with a thirst for blood, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they did kill in cold blood.

The movie seems to want us to agree with Poirot. It wants us to come to a place of relativism, too. To agree that murder can’t be judged as such when it’s justifiable revenge. But this is craziness, because let’s face it, everything seems right to us in our own eyes. We always think our cause, our pain, our revenge…is justifiable. We are not good judges of our own hearts. For a godless people, this is all they have, perhaps. But for those of us who know the Lord, we have a different hope. We don’t have to fight for our justice, because He defends the oppressed. He takes responsibility for vengeance. He is a perfect and just judge who can perfectly weigh in the balance both the what and the why of our actions…and of everyone else’s. He will fight for us. We don’t have to do that. We only have to be obedient…and “do not murder” is a BIG point of obedience. It IS wrong. Just because something is understandable, does not make it right.

Poirot did, perhaps, need to learn some compassion. It was probably good for him to gain some understanding of why people were led to murder. That doesn’t, however, mean that he therefore had to justify their actions. As my elementary principal used to say, “You can explain it, but you can’t excuse it.”

This is what makes Jesus so astounding. His ability to say, “Has no one condemned you? Go and sin no more,” without becoming a moral relativist. He gives incredible grace because He understands, better than we do ourselves, our own weaknesses. And yet, his standards are perfect and unchanging.   He judges sin and demands it be atoned for, not simply swept under the rug. He also, in His great mercy, love and understanding, decided to pay for it Himself so that we could go and sin no more. Like Poirot, He wanted us to be declared innocent. He wanted us to become good again. Unlike Poirot, however, He never tried to deny our sin. He didn’t cover it up or ignore it. He paid for it. He doesn’t say, You aren’t really killers, this was a justifiable and isolated incident. He does say, You are guilty. You should have trusted me instead of taking things into your own hands, but I’ve paid your debt. I love you. I want to wash your sin and stain in my blood so that you can be clean again.

We are like those passengers on the train. We have all sinned. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. And our sins have been found out. We are guilty. Thanks be to Jesus who was not puzzled or at a loss as to what to do with us. His world view wasn’t thrown into chaos by His understanding. Rather, He made a way for us to be made clean again and brought back into right standing with Himself and the law.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26

Questions for Discussion:

  • How do you think the movie should have ended?
  • Would you have found the killers innocent or guilty? Do you think their actions were justified? Why or why not?
  • Do you think Poirot’s shift from absolutism to relativism mirrors our society and it’s shifting pendulum?
  • How easy is it for you to justify your own actions?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the statement that “no one is righteous” and/or “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”?
  • Whether its justifiable or not in your own mind, how does it make you feel that Jesus never denied your sins, but He did pay for them so that you could be washed clean?

Click here for quotes from Murder on the Orient Express.

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Wonder – Movie Discussion

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Maybe if we knew what everyone was thinking we’d know they’re not so ordinary and we all deserve a standing ovation once in our lives. – Auggie

Wonder is a one of those rare, truly-good-for-the-whole-family movies. Not only is it clean and fun and touching, it’s also inspiring and convicting. One of those movies that will encourage you to grow as a person. If some movies are like eating dessert, they taste good but offer no real nutritional value for your soul, and others are like eating vegetables, they may be good and healthy for your soul but aren’t quite as delicious going down…this one is like eating a fabulous piece of cake, and then finding out it’s actually chock-full of vegetables and protein and things that will benefit your soul. That’s a rare find! And on top of that, for those of us literary types, it’s actually a brilliantly-crafted, well-written story.

It’s the story of Auggie Pullman, a young boy whose birth defects accounted for countless surgeries and much physical deformity in his face. Previously homeschooled, he is forced to finally brave public school as he enters the fifth-grade (as if middle school isn’t hard enough on any kid!). He suffers betrayal and meanness and gossip—all amplified by both his physical deformities and his insecurities. And yet, as his sister Via points out, “School sucks and people change. So, if you want to be a normal kid, then those are the rules,” indicating that his experiences in Jr. High aren’t about him being different, they are actually just a part of his being normal—a thing he longs for. Her solution for this, besides simply accepting these things as a normal course of life? Embrace family. “So… we are each other’s best friends,” she says.

This is part of the movie’s genius. We see how unkind the world is to Auggie, and yet, his experience, though heightened, is still very normal. It puts things in perspective. It shows us how extraordinary and yet how normal we ALL are, and our experiences ALL are. This is the point Auggie comes to at the end of the movie as he not only survived fifth-grade, but thrived in it. “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle and if you really want to see who people are, all you have to do is look,” he says. “Maybe if we knew what everyone was thinking we’d know they’re not so ordinary and we all deserve a standing ovation once in our lives.” It’s almost oxymoronic to say that everyone is extraordinary, because extraordinary sort of precludes the possibility of everyone—it’s extra, beyond, not normal. And yet, we can all be extraordinary, not normal, in different ways. We are heroic as we fight our own unique battles. Everyone fights them, which makes it common, but the battles themselves are unique, which makes us extraordinary.

This is another part of the movie’s genius—and I dare say the most significant: it doesn’t just showcase Auggie’s struggles (and his greatness); it shares several character’s private battles (and their greatness). It’s brilliant. It may revolve around Auggie’s story, but it doesn’t only tell Auggie’s story. As the earth rotates around the sun, different parts of the earth are highlighted, exposed, displayed for all to see. It’s a metaphor Via uses to describe her family— “Auggie is the sun. My mom and dad and me are the planets orbiting the sun.” Her point is that everything in her family is always all about Auggie. (And this is hurtful to her as she never feels like she is the center of her parent’s attention.) What she misses, however, is that as her family, and the story as a whole, rotates around him, the light of Auggie and his struggles is what illuminates her and the other people in the story. Her beautiful character is revealed by him.

It is how the story functions. He is the center, but we don’t only get his point of view. As the story rotates through its orbit, various characters are highlighted and we get to see and hear things from their point of view. Yes, it is all in the light of Auggie, but that’s because he is the light that is highlighting their struggle. We see how Via struggles because she thinks her family cannot handle one more thing on their plate. She feels like an only child, abandoned by her parents, and yet—she fully understands that Auggie needs them. Via’s best friend is jealous of Via’s loving family. Auggie’s friend Jack Will struggles with wanting to be friends with Auggie, but also wanting to be cool with the “cool kids”. And so it goes. Everyone is fighting their own difficult battle. They make mistakes. They do cruel things even, and yet, when their story is illuminated, we see why and we are moved with compassion. It makes our rejoicing over their course corrections later even greater.

The writers could have accomplished this in other ways, I’m sure, but the beauty of this movie is that both the message and the means of learning that message are instructive. They don’t simply point out that everyone has their own struggles. They don’t just tell us to be compassionate and forgiving towards others. Instead they go beyond the message and give us a method to get there. As they take time in the story away from Auggie’s journey to hear what’s going on with everyone else, they are teaching us by example to be less self-centered. They are teaching us to pause and watch and listen to those around us. They are teaching us that everyone has their own perspective, their own way that they are being affected by your collective experience. You may be going through the same circumstances, but you will experience them differently, be affected by them uniquely.

Most stories have a third-person point of view (often an omniscient narrator). Many have a first-person point of view (like the way you see your life—it’s through one person’s perspective). Not a lot of stories have a multiple first-person point of view (Hoodwinked is another example). Wonder chose the latter because it isn’t just telling Auggie’s story; it’s telling us that every person’s story is worth telling and worth a standing ovation at some point.

Near the story’s end, Via is in a play and her monologue gives insight into another nugget we are supposed to take away from the story. She laments, “All that was going on and we never noticed??? … Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you.” There is so much going on in the world around us and in people’s lives all around us…and we never notice. When we do have a moment of clarity and insight, when we do see the heroic struggles within each other, when we do see the beautiful tapestry God is creating, we are compelled to say with Via, “It’s too wonderful for anyone to realize.”

And then the story circles back to its center, to Auggie—the boy whose deformities and struggles and beautiful wit and character and brilliance and kindness shone a light on all those around him, highlighting and bringing clarity to their own stories. At his fifth-grade graduation his principal, Mr. Tushman, quoted Henry Ward Beecher and said, “Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.” I’m here to award the Henry Ward Beecher award to the student whose great strength has carried up the most hearts.” And he awarded it to Auggie.

Auggie’s story wasn’t just about himself. He had the wonderful ability to see other people, to see things from their perspective and put himself in their shoes.  He said, “If Chewbacca went to school here, I’d probably stare, too. [Aside to Chewy, imagining him there:] Hey, I’m sorry if my staring made you uncomfortable.” This is how he is able to forgive meanness in others—he imagines being in their shoes. Mr. Tushman told the school bully, “Auggie can’t change the way he looks, but maybe we can change the way we see.” And at graduation, he said that Auggie “carried up the most hearts”—Auggie did that by changing the way people saw, and that started with changing the way HE saw.

The messages in this movie apply to everyone—it’s about being the best sort of human imaginable. I haven’t brought Christianity into the article yet, but it’s there. Jesus came to teach us all how to be the best sort of human imaginable. It’s just that sometimes, we’ve made Christianity about something other than being fully and best human. We’ve made it about rules and religion and snobbery. But with Auggie, there’s nothing snobbish…and he is very much like Christ. He forgives his enemies and is kind to those who persecute him. He lifts up those around him and makes them better people… I could go on, but isn’t that exactly who Christ was? Someone who carried up the most hearts by the attraction of his own? God may not be mentioned in the movie, but there are books in the Bible where He isn’t mentioned either. Just because His name isn’t spoken, doesn’t mean He isn’t still throughout the story. He is all in it for those who care to look for Him.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How did hearing other people’s stories and points of view change your perspective of them in the movie? Would it change things if you could do this in your own life—learn to see other people’s points of view? How could you do that?
  • In what ways did Auggie “carry up the most hearts”?
  • In what ways is Auggie like Jesus?
  • What does it mean that, “Maybe if we knew what everyone was thinking we’d know they’re not so ordinary and we all deserve a standing ovation once in our lives”?

Click here to read quotes from Wonder.

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The Star – Movie Discussion

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The Star follows the familiar advent story except it does so through a different (and fun but fictional) perspective—that of the donkey who carried the pregnant Mary on his back into Jerusalem. Here are 10 lessons (with discussion questions) we can take away from the story.

  1. Accepting God’s Plan—Mary (especially) had to be willing to yield to God’s unusual plan for her life. She had to choose to surrender and yield her life if she was to become the mother of Jesus. Yielding isn’t easy. It isn’t always pretty. But it is worth it. What things have you had to accept from God’s hand that weren’t easy, but worth it? Is there anything God is asking you to surrender to Him now?
  2. God’s Plan isn’t always easy—Mary and Joseph struggled. They had to take a long journey while she was very pregnant. There was no place for her to have her baby. (Just to name a few of the difficult circumstances they faced after they said yes to God’s will. Saying yes to God isn’t any guarantee that things will therefore be easy or simple. It simply means that even your struggles are in the center of God’s will. The movie makes this very clear—listen to their discussion: Joseph: Just because God has a plan doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, and that scares me. Mary: This IS hard. We don’t always think about how Mary and Joseph must have struggled, so I loved this raw honesty. What examples can you think of in the Bible where God’s plan wasn’t easy…in fact, it was scary…for those who followed it? How does this help, challenge or encourage you?
  3. Even the rocks cry out…why wouldn’t we expect the animals to know?! Without a doubt there is a lot of anthropomorphism going on in this movie, but on the other hand, the Bible makes it clear that the earth itself recognized its maker when He came, so it is such a stretch to believe that animals would as well? Well, to be fair, they were a bit like us—they saw the star and knew it was something important, but they didn’t know the baby Jesus was a King until they were told. Still, it’s an interesting question to me, how much revelation did the animals in the stable have? There’s that song, Mary, did you know? But I wonder, Donkeys and sheep, did you know?
  4. Joseph and Mary were very much human…and he struggled with fear of not being able to provide. The movie shows the real humanity of Jesus’ parents. Joseph was a man, a husband, a father…who struggled with the things men, husbands and fathers struggle with—things like not being able to provide for his wife and family. It’s easy to see the cozy nativity scenes with their glowing halo of warming light and see it with such a nostalgic sweetness. It’s good to be reminded (just a little, it is a cute little kid’s movie, after all) of the gritty reality of them and their lives at that time. Did you think about Mary and Joseph and their lives differently because of this movie?
  5. Our examples inspire others…even though we may not know it. Mary was a woman of prayer and her example impacted others. When Bo (the donkey) was in a bind, he imitated Mary and tried prayer. “I could try praying. Um…let’s see… how did Mary do this?” That’s the thing about influence though, we rarely are aware of it. We don’t know who is watching us, who is taking note, or when they might just be desperate enough to follow our example. Bo wasn’t asking Mary to teach him about prayer. He never told her he noticed her praying. He probably wasn’t even all that interested at the time. But a time did come when he was interested, a time of desperation, and she wasn’t there to know about it, but her example inspired and instructed him. Whose example have you followed, been inspired or helped by? Did they know about it? Do you work to live a good example for others to follow?
  6. Our “little” offering may be exactly what is needed. When Mary and Joseph found the stable, one of the animals said, “It’s not much, but there’s plenty of light!” It was a poor offering, and yet, after finding the town hotels all filled up, it was a glorious offering. The animals had no idea how beautiful that little stable was because they had no idea how desperate Mary and Joseph were. Don’t let the smallness of what you have to offer shame you into withholding what you have. Offer it. You never know how beautiful your little gift may be to the one its given to. What do you have to give? Have you ever been ashamed that what you had to give wasn’t enough?
  7. We should have mercy on our enemies. An evil man and his two dogs were in pursuit of Bo throughout the movie. In the end, Bo was in a position to let them die, or save their lives. In the spirit of Jesus (who he hadn’t even met yet), Bo chose the latter. He chose to love his enemies and do good to those who persecuted him. That beautiful act of mercy opened the dogs’ hearts to change. They followed Bo to see the baby Jesus and again, there was a defining moment. The other animals, Bo’s friends, were scared to see their enemies and persecutors come into the sacred space. They easily could have acted in fear and kicked out the bad dogs, but instead they gave grace and welcomed them in to the place of worship, into Jesus’ presence. The story line of these two bad dogs had to be my favorite part of the movie. This was such a pivotal time in their lives—that time when they either decided they were bad dogs who could never change, or when they decided they could change and be good. And a large part of that decision had to do with how the “good” animals chose to respond to them. Would they only see them as evil, or would they allow them to change and be good? Would they welcome them into their circle of love and worship? (This is SO much like the story of Saul’s conversion to Paul and welcome into the body of believers after he had been on a mission to kill them.) It’s hard. It is hard to love our enemies. It’s hard to let go of fear and choose grace, mercy and trust. It’s hard to let someone questionable into our safe space and place of worship—but how we treat them often determines who they become. It’s the way of Jesus, to speak life, even into things that are void, empty, chaotic, dead… It was his very first act in Genesis 1, and one He has continued throughout all of time, and we are supposed to be like Jesus in this. Bo and his animal friends are a great example for all ages! Do you have any “enemies” that you can show mercy to? Have you ever shown mercy, grace, forgiveness and/or acceptance to someone who was an enemy, or at least, not a very good person? Or has anyone ever done that for you? How do you think things would have turned out if the animals hadn’t welcomed the bad dogs to the manger?
  8. Freedom brings choice. Once they were free from slavery to a bad master, the bad dogs had to make a choice, were they going to be bad dogs or try to change? As mentioned, a huge part of that process was that the other animals welcomed them and showed them that they could be good. The other huge part of that process is that the bad dogs themselves had to decide to change, or at least, they had to decide they wanted to. At first, they felt they didn’t have a choice. “We’re bad dogs,” they said. But Bo reminded them, “You don’t have to be. You’re free now.” (Their evil master was dead, so they weren’t slaves to sin anymore—it’s such a cool presentation of the gospel!) So one of them asks the other, “Thaddeus, are we good dogs now?” (Like he wonders if it can be that simple.) Thaddeus answers him, “We have to try.” He understands that it may be a difficult process to change your way of being, but he also sees that they have a choice and that it’s worth the fight. They were slaves to sin and their evil master before, but with their freedom they had choice. They weren’t forced to be good, goodness is a choice. Jesus never forces us to follow Him.
  9. Often we don’t know the importance and/or magnitude of things in our lives until they’ve passed. Bo carried the pregnant Mary on his back, but he didn’t know till after the fact that her baby would be King. Bo carried Mary with a willing, joyful heart, but just imagine if he’d grumbled and complained at the task the whole way. How ashamed would he have been when he found out that he’d been carrying the savior?! The lesson here is, no matter the burden you are carrying, always assume you’ve got a king on your back. Hebrews 13:2 mentions a similar idea, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” I think this is why we are told in the Bible to do EVERYTHING we do as unto the Lord. Because we never know just how significant it may be. Have you ever been surprised to find out that something you did turned out to be a way bigger deal than you knew at the time? How can Bo’s example encourage you to do everything you do as unto the Lord?
  10. Every knee will bow in the presence of Jesus. The movie ends with one of the wise men telling the group in the stable that the baby Jesus was the King. They were all there, all had seen the baby, but not all had fully known who he was until someone revealed the truth. When that happened, everyone—kings, shepherds, animals and even the bad dogs—all knel before the baby Jesus. This is our role as Christians. We are surrounded by people who may have seen Jesus, may know something about Him, but who don’t actually realize that He is King. Our job is to live lives that reveal the Kingship of Jesus (as we also tell people who He is). As we do so, the people around us will kneel, because in His presence, every knee will bow. Do you know people who know about Jesus but haven’t recognized Him as King, haven’t knelt in His presence? How can you be like that wise man who helps others recognize that Jesus is King?  

Click here to read quotes from The Star.Click here to read quotes from The Star.

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Marshall – Movie

marshall_xlg

The Lord commanded Moses to solicit his brother’s help.

While Marshall is the story of Thurgood Marshall and his beginnings with the NAACP in a career-defining case, it’s the story of his reluctant recruit, Sam Friedman, that I found particularly compelling and instructive.

Friedman was not a trial lawyer, nor did he have any desire to be. He didn’t ask to be involved, didn’t want to help. He was practically forced into helping Thurgood Marshall, and only agreed because he simply had to get Marshall in the door, and then he’d be done with it all. Or so they all thought. The judge, however, refused to let Marshall speak in court, and required Friedman to try the case. Suddenly, he was roped into something he hadn’t wanted to be part of, something inflammatory that he couldn’t hide from. Something he would certainly be persecuted for (later he was in fact beaten up for his involvement).

As Friedman and Marshall were discussing his involvement, Sam asked incredulously, “You want me to try this case?” Marshall replied, “No. I need you to try this case. The Lord commanded Moses to solicit his brother’s help. He shall be your mouth and you shall be his god.” Friedman was Jewish, so the reference was meaningful. The Bible is full of reluctant recruits. Moses himself was a bit reluctant, if you’ll recall. God is often calling us to something greater than we really want to be a part of—often because we know that His higher call will require us to grow, to change, to work, to suffer. There are the Marshall’s of the world who volunteer, who want that higher calling, who feel an inner compulsion to it.   But I think the majority of us are more like Friedman. We are reluctant, so God eases us in with something a little benign, until we find that we are stuck and compelled to move forward. You might even feel you’ve been tricked into it.

Along the way, however, something began to change in Sam. He didn’t want to get involved, but once he was, even a beating couldn’t sway him. Along the way he became a believer, a crusader. Along the way he realized it felt good to make a difference in the world, to work for something that mattered in the world. Some things you just don’t know until you experience it. This is why God sometimes “tricks” us into things. He knows that once we get a taste of something better, we’ll prefer it.

Marshall saw the change in Friedman. He told him, “I need an army of lawyers like you, Sam. An army of lawyers who don’t even know they want to make a difference… Who I can train.” Once Sam was trained, that reluctant Sam who was literally forced into service, he never left. He became an advocate for civil rights. THIS is discipleship. It’s taking people who don’t even know there’s a higher calling for their lives, and training them. It’s giving people a taste of not just living for comfort and for themselves, but living for a purpose, for the service of God and His Kingdom. It’s bringing in an army of people who will fight against the darkness in the name of the Christ. People who will “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, …set the oppressed free and break every yoke… Share your food with the hungry and … provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, … clothe them, and not … turn away from your own flesh and blood” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Questions for Discussion:

  • Have you ever been forced into something you didn’t want to do, and then found you liked it?
  • How did Marshall “disciple” Friedman?
  • Marshall may be the bigger name, but how important was Sam Friedman to Marshall’s success? How does this make you feel about your role in the world?
  • We don’t necessarily want to be pushy, but is there anyone in your world that you feel you should nudge into something deeper and richer and better? Someone you should be discipling?

Click here to read quotes from Marshall.

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Thor: Ragnarok

ragnarok-movie-header

This latest Thor movie is a ton of fun and lighthearted laughs (but thankfully not the raunchy kind that are so popular today). It was really delightful! It also covers a lot of ground, especially in regards to topics for conversation. Leaving aside the massive topic of the character and nature of God (because Odin and Thor are supposed to be gods, but aren’t like GOD at all… they are more like super-powered humans), I’ve mentioned just a few below.

  1. Families are complicated.
    All three kids have “daddy issues” with Odin. Hela and Loki both want the power and blessing that was passed to Thor (though, he had to go through a lot to be worthy of it before he got it). Hela was a complete secret to the boys. Loki is a trickster and schemer and you never really know if he can be trusted—but Thor continues to hope for the best. He always loved his brother. There is a lot of pain and drama to explore in this crazy family which, frankly, is strikingly similar to the family dramas that played out in the Old Testament kings and patriarchs and their offspring. (For example, Loki bears some resemblance to Jacob, another trickster.) Too much to unpack here, so let’s summarize a few key things:

    • Families are nearly all complicated.
    • It doesn’t matter what you come from or who your parents or siblings are, you still get to choose who you will be. They don’t have to define you.
    • Jesus says to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). This applies to (some members) our family too. This is how Thor treated Loki – always innocently hoping for the best, but wisely, shrewdly, preparing for the worst.
    • Malachi 4:6, it’s God’s plan to repair the relationships between children and fathers. “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”
    • Sometimes you will discover hidden secrets in your family that will threaten all you thought you knew. You can survive that. It may seem to negate what was true to you before, but things aren’t always black and white, all or nothing. Often, if not most always, things are both/and. The wonderful thing is that there are no skeletons in God’s closet. You will keep learning more about Him, because He is infinite, but His character is perfect and consistent. So no matter how you might be shaken in your earthly family, you need not be shaken with your Heavenly Father.
    • You and your siblings will probably not have the same experience of your parents. You may even have seemingly opposite experiences and opinions of them. And in reality, in many ways, you did grow up with different parents than they did because people grow and change. They aren’t the same people with you as they were with your older or younger sibling because they’ve had a different amount of experience. Add to that, the differences in your personalities brings out different dynamics in them. And finally, changes in external circumstances bear great influence on you all as well. Understanding this can help you have grace when other people have different perspectives. Again, both can be true.
  2. Respecting our neighbor’s freedom isn’t the same as not getting involved. Loki says they should respect a neighboring country’s freedom and not get involved. But Thor questions that. He asks if Loki really means they respect their “freedom to be slaughtered,” because that’s what was happening. Sometimes we use “respect” as an excuse to protect our own selves, and/or to defend our complacency.
  3. Heroes run toward their problems. It is tempting to run away, or to just check out and not face hard things. We numb ourselves with substances, with entertainment, with work, with all sorts of things…anything to just hide from our problems. But that’s not what heroes do. It’s also not what Christ would do—at any point He could have numbed or even escaped His suffering all together. He didn’t have to come to earth. He didn’t have to suffer the cross. But He did, in full force. And He tells us to pick up our cross and follow Him. Our goal on earth shouldn’t be to avoid suffering, but to suffer well when the time comes.
  4. You can see without seeing. Jesus said that to the Pharisees. Odin said it to Thor. “Even when you have two eyes, you see only half the picture.” As Thor lost his eye, and his hammer, that’s when he began to see more truly. Kind of like Saul/Paul who was blinded for 3 days, and learned to see the truth of Jesus and the scriptures for the first time. Sometimes we only gain something when we lose it.
  5. We can mistake a tool for a source. Thor assumed his hammer was the source of his strength. Therefore, when it was gone, he felt helpless. Like his sight, though, it was when he lost his hammer (which had become a crutch) that he found his true strength. Odin helped him understand. “Are you the God of Thunder or the God of Hammer? That hammer was to help you focus your strength.” It was not the source of his strength. It did not magnify his strength. In fact, his strength was too great for him to handle in his immaturity, so the hammer was there to channel and focus it. Rather than amplify his strength, it more nearly muted it. By this point, however, Thor had the maturity and strength to handle his power without the hammer…he just had to learn that his tool was merely a tool and not his source.
    The Christian life is filled with this same temptation. This is why God nearly always changes things up on us. Just look at how He did miracles in the Old Testament and you’ll see—His battle plan and the tools He uses for victory and miracles…they change every time. Why? Because we people are quick to make a tool into a source and therefore into an idol. God wants us to continually see HIM as the source, our only source. HE is the way, the truth and the life.   HE is the one, true, all-powerful, all-knowing, everlasting God. So He will allow the things we trust in, the things we love, the things we put our hope in to be taken from us again and again—not to be cruel, but so that we would learn to seek them first in HIS arms. When we do, we often discover, as Thor did, that those things were crutches that we needed for a time, but that they were holding us back and slowing us down (as crutches will once their purpose is served). That thing we thought was the source of our strength was only a tool. Our true source lives within us and has unlimited power if we will go to HIM for it, instead of relying on external tools. (Reminder, God has given us ALL things that we need for life and godliness, 2 Peter 1:3.)

Questions for Discussion:

  • Who do you relate to most in Thor’s crazy family, and why?
  • Can you think of any Biblical families that have similar dynamics to some of these in Thor: Ragnarok?
  • Have you ever mistaken a tool for a source?
  • Thor lost an eye but gained sight. Lost his hammer and gained power. Have you ever lost something, but because of that found it in even greater measure?
  • What method of escapism is your go to? (Substances, Netflix/entertainment, shopping, sports, busyness, etc.) How do you fight that temptation?

Click here to read quotes from Thor: Ragnarok.

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Be Strong and Courageous

Deuteronomy 31:6, as God clearly intended it!  🙂  Enjoy!

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Same Kind of Different as Me – Movie Discussion

same-kind-of-different-as-me

Same Kind of Different As Me is based on the wonderful book/inspiring true story by the same name. It’s worth both reading AND seeing. (Don’t miss their second book, What Difference Do It Make, either!) It’s the life-stories of two very different men, a wealthy (white) art dealer and a homeless (black) man, and how their paths crossed and they became friends. It was a friendship that changed both of their lives for the better, and ultimately the city and the world in some measure. Their story is provocative and inspiring and full of opportunities for you to have some deep discussions with your friends, Christian or not.

Here are just a few (11) of the beautiful lessons and take-aways from this movie.

    1. Vision changes things. Deb had a vision of the poor part of the city being transformed. She saw flower boxes and beauty. A place where the poor people in that part of the city knew that they mattered just as much as the rich people on the other side of the tunnel. Her vision changed everything. The Bible says that people perish without a vision. Not many people had a vision for that part of town… Deb’s vision changed everything.
    2. Ron began the movie saying, “This [city] is my home…and it’s broke.” Ownership/Possession changes our response to things. When we feel something is OURS, we care about fixing what’s broke. We don’t have that same feeling about something that isn’t ours. Just think how different it is when we rent an apartment, vs. own a home—our response to what’s broken greatly changes with our level of ownership. When we begin to see our neighborhood, our town, our city, our state, our nation, our world as ours… however far that sense of ownership and possession goes… we begin to get involved, deeply involved, in fixing the things that are broken in it. So, how far does your sense of ownership extend?
    3. Most homeless people weren’t always homeless. As Ron and Debbie got involved with the homeless, they began to hear their stories. Stories about where they came from and how they ended up homeless. Sometimes it’s surprising to hear what someone was in their “former” life—people with impressive back grounds who fell on hard times/tragic circumstances. Other times, you have to think, if I’d come from that childhood or background, I’d probably be homeless, too. The more we learn about each other, the harder it is to throw stones.
    4. Friendship is a thing to commit to, not a thing to take lightly. Denver didn’t just jump into a friendship with Ron. He had to think about it, because for him friendship is a commitment for life. He doesn’t do “catch and release” friendships. We assume everyone treats friendship the way we do, but sometimes it’s good to have that conversation, to ask someone what friendship means to them. We might find their definition of friendship is more serious or more casual than ours. In either case, we, as Christians, are called to be the kind of friends Denver was. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, how much more our friends?
    5. Sometimes we don’t understand someone’s response to us because we don’t know their history. Denver was extremely cautious about a relationship with Ron and Debbie. They later found out that he had suffered great racial injustice and persecution in his youth and because of that, had sworn never to even talk to a white person again, especially a white woman. Once we know someone’s story, their responses make a lot more sense.
    6. “While the journey of the homeless can often begin in a hopeless place, [it doesn’t have to end there].” There is hope for the homeless, but we may have to be the ones who see it for them first. Denver certainly didn’t have much hope for change. Debbie brought that to him and to Ron… Both men began to see the possibility of change for Denver (and the whole homeless community) because of her vision.
    7. Often the most important thing we can do for the homeless is to let them know they aren’t invisible, that they matter. Denver told Ron, “When you give a plate of food or $1 to a homeless man, what do you think you’re doing? Helping?! No. A plate of food don’t change nothing. You’re telling him you see him. He’s not invisible.” And that is a far bigger deal than most of us can imagine.
    8. When you choose to see someone’s heart instead of their actions (past or present), you are speaking life into them, telling them they are more than what they do. After Denver confessed his past sins to Debbie and Ron, she simply said, “You’re not a bad man. You have the strongest heart.   And I’m glad we’re friends.” She spoke to all that was good in him and let go of the bad he had done. She saw his heart (not his actions) and that gave him permission to see his heart (and forgive his actions), too. Jesus did the same when he told Peter, right after Peter had denied him three times, “You are a rock, and on this rock I’ll build my church.” He didn’t focus on Peter’s actions, but on his heart, and that brought life to Peter.
    9. We don’t like being reminded of how privileged we are, because that makes us humble and accountable…and uncomfortable. A man at Ron’s country club confronted Ron about Denver being there. “We come here to get away from the world and I’m not sure how good it is to be reminded of how fortunate we are.” This is the sad reality. We feel entitled to our riches and we don’t want anything to lessen our enjoyment of them. When we come face to face with people who have needs, we have this nagging sense that maybe we should do something. Maybe our riches are just for us…maybe we have a responsibility to share them. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (2 Corinthians 9:11, emphasis added). We have been blessed so that we can be a blessing to others. We are to steward all God has given us, not to simply possess it—and part of us deep down inside knows that, but chafes at it.
    10. Sometimes you just gotta bless the hell out of people. Ron’s Dad was challenging, to put it gently, and Ron was angry with him. Denver told him to just bless him. “Your daddy got a good man inside of him,” he said. “Bless him.” Later, Ron told Denver, “You were right about my dad. There was a good man inside my dad. I just had to do a lot of digging.” To which, Denver dryly replied, “Sometimes you just gotta bless the hell out of people. Your daddy had a lot of hell in him.” Similar to Jesus who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44), or Paul who wrote, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse,” (Romans 12:14). Bless the hell out of people!
    11. God is the original recycler; He turns trash into treasure. This story is all about how God turned what the world considered trash, in a marriage, in a man, in a people group, in a part of town… and turned it into treasure. This is who God is. Note how when Jesus came, he announced to everyone that this is who He is. He started to read from the famous “beauty for ashes” passage in Isaiah and said essentially, “That’s who I am and the business I’m in… recycling and upcycling.”

 

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21)

Questions for Discussion:

  • What is your response to the homeless around you? Honestly?
  • Have you ever talked with a homeless person and heard their story?
  • When someone shares their past sins with you, do you see their heart (and who God has made them to be) or do you see their actions (and who they have been)?
  • Are you a catch-and-release kind of friend or a committed, keep-it-forever kind of friend? Have you ever had someone catch and release you as a friend? How did that feel?
  • If God is truly in the recycling/upcycling business with people, then how does that change the way you see yourself? Other people? Is there anyone in particular that you might see differently under that perspective?
  • Who do you know that might struggle with feeling invisible? How can you let them know that you see them, and that God sees them? The homeless and the elderly are two significant people groups that often feel invisible. Who else?
  • Who do you know that might need you to “bless the hell out of them”? How hard is that to do? How might you begin to do it?

Click here to read quotes from Same Kind of Different as Me.

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Victoria and Abdul – Movie Discussion

victoria and abdul

Victoria and Abdul is the somewhat true story of the friendship between Queen Victoria and a commoner from India, who became her closest friend and advisor…and in many respects was as a son to her. It was touching and humorous and even at times biting (and appropriately so).  It had a lot to say about things like prejudice and greed and entitlement and ignorance and imperialism… and did it with subtlety and directness, humor and sarcasm and yet managed to do so with gentleness and even grace. It was well done. Instead of railing against what was wrong with the world or the people in it, the movie focuses on a better way of doing things. Let me explain.

Victoria’s staff and her children were furious at her attachment to and elevation of Abdul. They were mad because he was common (they were snobs). They were mad because he was Indian (they were racist). And finally, they were mad because he wasn’t them (they were entitled). It would have been easy to make a movie that was bitter in tone, that focused on all that was wrong and unfair in their treatment of both Victoria and Abdul. And while the movie does reveal some of those things (as it has to for the sake of the story), like how the staff tried to sabotage Abdul, and how they threatened to commit Victoria to an insane asylum because of Abdul, it doesn’t focus on their wrongs.

Instead, the focus of the movie is the good and the beautiful—in Abdul himself, and in the relationship between himself and Victoria. They couldn’t change the opinions of the people around them, but they could live by example. They could live better. They could give grace. Abdul set the example in this. He told Victoria that we are on this earth for a greater purpose—to be servants. This is how he lived his life. He didn’t strive for position or power; he only aspired to serve. He served her with his whole heart, and he won hers in the process. Even when she advised him to go home because she knew it wasn’t safe for him in the palace anymore (because of her son and her staff), he didn’t try to defend or protect himself. He continued to choose a life of service to her. “This is my home…. I am your servant. As long as I shall live, I will always be by your side.”

This is the Christian life, or what it should be, anyway. That we don’t try to protect our lives, but rather we give them wholly in service to the Lord. Even when it seems unsafe, we vow that we will never leave His side or His service. We also don’t try to defend ourselves. We may be falsely accused, and misunderstood, but what does it matter if only God knows the truth? Victoria defended Abdul—he never defended himself. God will defend us. He is our advocate. And frankly, His is the only opinion that matters. What is it to us if the world misjudges us or has a low opinion of us, so long as we are good with Him?

In regards to his enemies, Abdul was gracious and forgiving, never repaying the evil they did him. In this way he also models the way of Christ. Mind you, he was not a Christian; he was Muslim. Nevertheless, even non-Christians may, at times, show us what it is to be like Christ in one way or another. See what the Bible says about this:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[a] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[b]

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:17-21

And again, we read:

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
and see good days must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”[a]

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:9-14)

The reality is that in the end, Abdul did suffer for his friendship with Victoria. On top of a lifetime of insults and injury, when she died, he and his wife were instantly and mercilessly kicked out of their house and everything that she had given him was burned. It was mean spirited and cruel. Nevertheless, he was blessed. He was blessed to have known and loved her, and to have been loved by her.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Why do you think people were so jealous of and hateful towards Abdul?
  • Have you ever been in Abdul’s shoes? Have you ever been surrounded by people who were jealous of you or hateful towards you for no good reason? How did you respond?
  • Have you ever been Berti’s shoes (Victoria’s son)—and had someone come into your life that seemed to steal your place? Have you ever been really jealous of someone?
  • How did Abdul model the life of Jesus (even though he wasn’t Christian)?
  • Have you ever tried to return evil with good? To bless those who persecute you? How hard was it? What was the result?
  • How do you feel about the statement that “even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”?
  • Is it easy or hard to let God be your defender (versus defending yourself)?
  • Can you imagine getting the point where the only relationship that really matters to you is your relationship with God—such that you didn’t care what everyone/anyone else thinks, so long as you know you are good with God? On a scale of 1 to 10, how close are you to that being a reality?

Click here to read quotes from Victoria and Abdul.

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