If you missed this family fun movie in the theaters, it might be worth catching on DVD. It reminded me of Goonies a little in a kids save the day, heroic kind of way. It has a positive message and several poignant moments that can provide some great opportunities for discussion if you take advantage of them.
Justin’s older brother, Kyle, a dog handler in the military, dies in the service leaving behind a traumatized dog, Max. Max was going to be put down, but the family agrees to take him in—he’s their last connection to Kyle. Justin is angry and disconnected from his family…from almost everyone, really…and is doing some shady business deals with some really bad people. He’s on the brink of getting into serious trouble. He’s also the only one Max responds to. The two of them end up saving each other in multiple ways.
Getting in the Cage
There are several great moments and messages in the movie, but perhaps my favorite is when Max, suffering PTSD, has a total break down when fireworks go off (sounding a lot like being back in battle). Max, terrified, goes into his cage and won’t come out, and won’t stop barking. He’s terrified and traumatized. Justin’s dad had had it with him and wanted him to behave. Justin, however, had great compassion on Max and when he realized Max literally couldn’t come out of the cage because of his terror, he got on all fours and crawled into the cage with Max. There, in the cage, in the place of Max’s fear and failure, he comforted Max. It’s a beautiful picture of loving someone in their pain, of meeting them where they are at and loving them, right there, without expectation.
This is what Jesus did for us. It’s what he does for us. We were dead in our sin, incapable of performing, of being better, of healing our brokenness… and so He got down on our level. He joined us in our pain and brokenness and loved us, right there, as we were. And He does it every time we get stuck. He gets in there with us and ministers to us in that place until we are safe and secure enough to move beyond it.
Another great moment is when the family decided to take Max, knowing that he was potentially dangerous, traumatized and untrustworthy. He was a mess. He wasn’t stable. They could have gone out and gotten a new “good” dog, but they were willing to love Max, because he was “family.” Kyle had loved Max, so they chose to love what Kyle loved. They chose to pour their hearts and souls into him, risking everything for him, to love him and to hopefully heal him. They felt he was worth it.
This is beautiful on several levels. It reminds us that everyone is worth it, no matter how broken. And it gives us hope that there is no one (or animal) too far gone to be reached by love. It also gives us hope that maybe someone will look past our brokenness, our angry actions, our violence, and see beyond that—that they will see someone who is hurt and in need of love, someone they are willing to take a chance on and invest in. It also reminds us of the bond and power of family. Now, maybe your family isn’t like that, but God’s family is. If you are in God’s family, He defends you fiercely and fights for your freedom and health and well-being. He never gives up on any of his children. Never. And He commands the rest of the family to have that same kind of love for each other too.
Bucking the Family Trend
Part of Justin’s hurt and anger is because his Dad isn’t great at communicating affection. His mom points that out, but also encourages him that he doesn’t have to continue the trend. “Your father loves you very much; it’s just that none of you Wincott boys are very good at showing it. But if you wanna break that trend, I sure could use a huge right about now.” She not only challenges him to change the family trend, but gives him opportunity to do so.
The Bible talks a bit about how both blessings and curses can be passed down from generation to generation, and how those negative trends can also be broken and changed. The first step is often identifying the family trend, and then the next thing to do is to go to Jesus and ask Him to change things, starting with you.
Justin doesn’t have a lot of respect for his Dad, and he doesn’t only disrespect him himself, but he lets others do so as well. His new friend Carmen is shocked by this. She calls him out on it. She says, “I can say whatever I want about my old man, but someone else disrespects him….” She goes on to explain that while she might say something disparaging about her dad, she would never allow anyone else to do so. She might not always like her family, but she does respect and honor them. This started a change in Justin, but the real change began when his father got honest with him, sharing his own failures.
So often we think that people will respect us because we are great, but more often than not, they respect us when we are humble and honest. We appreciate people who are real. Justin’s dad was a “hero” in the world’s eyes, but he was also unapproachable and stern. Justin felt like a constant disappointment. 1 Corinthians 13 says that it doesn’t matter how much of a hero you are if you don’t love well. This is what Justin was feeling. His Dad may have been awesome to the world, but he didn’t care about that because he didn’t feel loved by his dad. When he finally saw his dad’s humility, and felt his dad’s love…then the respect came.
Ironically, we often find that the very thing we seek the most is the thing that eludes us. And then, we find it the moment we let go of our pursuit of it. When Justin’s dad quit demanding respect, gave up on it all together, got vulnerable and revealed his shame, that’s when he found the respect he’d been searching for. It’s the same paradox Jesus was talking about when He said that “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
Justin’s Dad was marked as a war hero, but when he was honest, he wasn’t the hero that the world had said he was. His dad explained, “They didn’t want to hear the truth… they just wanted a hero… Before long, I stopped correcting people.” So the public made him into a hero, when he hadn’t done anything all that heroic. We are always looking for something to worship. He went on to redefine heroism for Justin. A hero isn’t necessarily someone who does some amazing war feat or physical stunt, “A hero always tells the truth, no matter what the consequences.” It’s hard to tell the truth. That takes a crazy kind of bravery – especially when the truth is admitting your failure and weakness and humanity. That was Justin’s Dad’s bravest moment, admitting his failure to his son, admitting that his image wasn’t reality.
Christians struggle to be brave and honest about their sin because they feel they shouldn’t sin—they know better. On the other hand, Christians ought to find it easier than anyone to be honest about their sin, because they know God loves them any way and doesn’t hold it against them. He says there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). He loves them so much He died for their sin, so, if they know that their sin can’t separate them from God’s love (Romans 8:39), it ought to be easy to be honest. In fact, the Bible says that rather than feeling shame, we can look to the one who died for our sins and we’ll be radiant—we need never be ashamed.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed. (Psalm 34: 4-5)
Heroism is being brave enough to look to Jesus and be honest about who you are, who you aren’t, and what all you’ve done, and when we do so, rather than shame, we find love, and that makes us radiant.