Thoughts on the movie Ragamuffin

Last Friday, the Bradenton branch YMCA allowed us to host a showing of the movie Ragamuffin, the story of the late Christian musician Rich Mullins. Normally “Christian” movies are synonymous with “cheesiness” and bad acting. While the Ragamuffin actors may not ever see an Academy Award, I thought they did a fantastic job. Whereas with movies like Fireproof, you just have to give them a pass because its a “Christian” movie, I didn’t feel that at all with Ragamuffin. I could gladly show this movie to a non-Christian friend or neighbor and not be embarrassed.

While the acting was way beyond what I anticipated, the story-line gripped me and the honesty sucked me in. It was real. Rich was a real dude. He yelled at people, he was lonely, he was possessive, he cussed, and he drank. A lot.  The guy who wrote, “Sing praise to the Lord” and “Awesome God” had a drinking problem. He was a flawed human being, with feelings of emptiness, guilt, worthlessness despite a successful career in the music industry. As a fellow deeply flawed human being I resonated.

One takeaway from the film was the importance of a father’s love. Rich never felt loved by his dad. No matter how much he sought it, it just never came. And it stayed with him his entire life. His mother loved him, but his father’s love was as necessary as it was elusive. Dad’s matter. The words “I love you,” from a father are powerful and emancipating.

Still, we are reminded in this film, that we are not forever stuck in a bad-dad quagmire. An earthly dad’s love is not ultimate. While an earthly dad’s love is powerful, the gospel speaks hope of an even better Father. The journey is tough and slow, but the Christian can hear “I love you,” from the Ultimate Father. And that itself has the power to change.

Rich struggled his whole life. And so do we. The gospel is the power to save (Rom 1:16) us and change us, but it is first of all an announcement or proclamation that Jesus has already dealt with the problem of sin. We never stop struggling in this life. It might not be as visible as alcohol or drugs, though it just may be. The gospel is good news to all kinds of strugglers.

I think this film will make you cry. I cry way more now that I have three kids. I think with each one, I became more prone to this expression of emotion. I cried long before Rich died. And then when he did, I continued to cry, thankful for the dark room.

The most surreal experience was Rich’s brother Dave Mullins (who introduced the film and actually interviews the actor playing Rich in the film), standing next to me singing Rich’s song. I’m just a guy who knew little about Rich, yet was having trouble holding it together. And his brother who knew and loved Rich, was filled with joy, singing Rich’s song right next to me. Wow. Dave believed the gospel, and his singing called me to believe as well. Rich though he died, yet shall he live.

If you can’t find a showing on the tour, then you can purchase it in early May. I’m certain I will.

 

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Liam Neeson’s "Rebel-Yell" vs. Robet Duvall’s "Servant-Yell"

Yesterday I blogged about the move The Grey and mentioned a saddening, but powerful, as well as biblically accurate scene depicting Liam Neeson shouting expletives at God demanding him to reveal Himself and do something at that moment.

Several sermons ago in my “I See Tree People” on Mark 8, I gave an example from one of my favorite movies The Apostle. Robert Duvall is also shouting to and at God. Contrary to the shouting scene in The Grey, I used it positively. In fact it is actually quite a refreshing scene.

I’m going to compare these two scenes/activities because I think there is a right and wrong way to yell at and pray to God. 

1.) Before you yell at God for whatever reason, it is always good to believe that He exists and is a rewarder of those who seek him.  I just ripped that off from whoever wrote Hebrews 11:6  

 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Robert Duvall’s shouting match already assumed God is there and is a rewarder of those who seek Him. His problem is that he just couldn’t see why God let his wife run off with the previously declared “puny” minister of youth and then kick him out of the church they both started. He believes but doesn’t see. He believes but is also having trouble believing. Whenever there is doubt mixed in with faith, we need to bring that doubt to Jesus. I personally think that mixed faith can be offered to our Heavenly Father in the form of yelling and shouting. 

But there is a difference between this prayer-yell and Liam Neeson’s yelling at God. Liam’s character doesn’t come from a posture of struggling belief. Instead it arises from a skeptics stance demanding God to prove Himself. Quite a different thing altogether.

Does God ever hear the prayer of skeptics? Well yes, because many people pray for faith to believe and are granted that faith to believe. But if you are not convinced, even with mixed-up faith, that God is there and is a rewarder of those who seek Him, I don’t see how you have any ground from which to stand up and yell. Better to be on the knees asking God to grant faith, even if you’re not sure you even believe He exists, then to stand and yell in judgment.

This isn’t from Mt Sinai but from the Valley of Geoff’s Personal Conviction.

If you believe, or even believe/doubt, God can take your tears, questions, and even shouts. Probably not a good idea to throw in cuss words, but I think he can even take those words and do something with them. If he can turn wailing into rejoicing he can turn cursing into blessing.

2.) Just because we raise our volume don’t assume that means God will respond quickly. Might work with our kids, but doesn’t “work” with God. Neither prayer scene concludes with an “answer” or even a conclusion from the Lord, but what each does with the non-response speaks volumes.
In The Grey, Liam Neeson’s character gives God about 25 seconds to act. In The Apostle, Robert Duvall is up all night praying/yelling at God. Loudly and “longly.” When we yell or pour out our hearts to God, we may not see an immediate response. That’s OK. That was David’s experience. And because our Heavenly Father denied Jesus’ cries of being forsaken on the cross, we don’t need to fear silence forever. But silence doesn’t mean He isn’t there or doesn’t care, as interpreted incorrectly in The Grey.

3.) Yelling at God needs to be grounded on His promises. If you don’t make a cheer-leading squad or get the raise you want, you could yell and pour out your heart. If you are a child of God, you can yell at God like any stupid kid. But we see a bit more sofisticated and sanctified yelling from Duvall. He yells in accordance with God’s promises. Jesus promised peace to his troubled disciples in John 14 and then reminds them of this when he revisits them after his resurrection. At times peace can be as elusive as former WVU receiver Tavon Austin in the open-field. Our peace comes and goes. And when it goes we can bring to our Heavenly Father’s attention: “You promised Father…..” Duvall is yelling for something God has already promised where as Neeson is demanding God do something He’s not promised to do. It’s better to yell, “God give me peace because I don’t have it now and you promised!” then to yell, “God give me a better job because I know that is a true need of mine and you promised to meet all needs!” If you’re yelling at God, I think we should probably yell over things He has specifically promised to give us-but for some reason has for a season withheld the current existential blessing of such promises. And by the way, one thing I’ve learned is that God has nowhere in His Word promised perfect peace in this life this side of heaven. 

Billy Idol sings about a “rebel-yell” and Liam Neeson shows what one looks like. But Robert Duvall, gives us a great picture of a “servant-yell.” I hope this has encouraged you in your own prayer-yelling.

Insights from the movie The Grey

The Miami heat are on a 26 game winning streak. That’s somewhat impressive but lost in all the media hype is the fact that this Sunday marked the longest preaching streak of my young “career” at 4 weeks in a row. Now Lord willing this will pale in comparison when our new church plant gets going, but some people have begun to compare these two amazing streaks (at least one person has….). 

Yesterday I alluded to a movie where a band of Alaskan plane crash survivors are picked off one by one by a pack of wolves. The movie is called The Grey. It is a quite disturbing film, but one also jam packed with deep existential questions and competing philosophies.

One of the closing-though not final so this is not a spoiler alert-scenes depicts a hardened and formally agnostic Liam Neeson yelling at God, if He’s there, to do something, deliver him, and reveal Himself. He releases a number of expletives directed at God, not referring to Him as a father, but as Mother ________ (and we’re not talking about the mother hen gathering her chicks imagery-Matt 23:37) demanding that he prove Himself.

The scene is moving. It really is. He has just uttered his first prayer in the movie crying out to Jesus to help him with a task and Jesus says, “no.” You want to hear an answer. At least I did. It seems, “Ok God, here’s your chance!” But there is no response from the heavens. Perhaps God doesn’t respond to expletives? After all, everyday there are crazy winged creatures flying around His throne declaring Him, “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6). 

Perhaps, but the answer is much more complex than that. And much more simple. Now I don’t know the director’s intent, but this non-reponse from God is actually quite biblically consistent. I don’t think this director leaves us with a movie devoid of God. There is much more than the plethora of “f-worded terms of endearment” behind God’s non-response. Here are a number of them.

1.) Jesus never responded to “prove yourself” demands. He didn’t do it with Satan. He didn’t do it with folks who demanded signs. That is just not how He rolls in the bible, so we should not think it should be any different in the real world, or in the cinema for that matter.

2.) Miracles in and of themselves, never, by necessity, lead or have led to a person believing in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Never. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, the Pharisees saw that miracle and wanted Jesus dead. Immediately. They wanted Lazarus dead too! But it is not just a Pharisaic response, but also a Gentile response. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas heal a crippled lad. The country folks don’t turn to immediate faith in Jesus, but consider Paul and Barnabas to be Hermes and Zeus respectively. They can barely stop the locals from offering sacrifices! Likewise, God speaking audibly or doing a crazy miracle today will not make anyone by necessity, become a Christian. Data has to be interpreted through the grid of a worldview. A “proof” of God’s existence doesn’t make someone repent, rest upon on Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Miracles were/are never sufficient in and of themselves to produce saving faith.

3.) God has already revealed himself in Creation and Conscience. According to the bible, the existence of this physical world tells some of the story. Psalm 19 reminds us that the heavens declare God’s glory and something about Him.  Romans 1 reminds us that the existence of the invisible God can be discerned from the visible world. Ecclesiastes 3:11 explains that God has put the idea of “eternity” in the hearts of men.

4.) God has already revealed himself through the person of Jesus, who is the “image of the invisible God.” Now of course only one generation in a small part of the world actually laid eyes upon this Jesus. But those eyewitnesses of his resurrection didn’t just risk life and limb to spread this news, all of them lost life and limb with only one exception. Regardless if you believe Jesus is who he says He is, God’s answer to the demand he prove Himself will always be the same: I already have. Don’t miss it.

 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….Hebrews 1:1-3

So when you’re tempted to demand God prove Himself, and then base your faith upon whether He does or doesn’t prove Himself to you satisfactorily, remember He already has proved Himself in Jesus.

Brief review of Beware of Christians

As I do from time to time, I browsed the “New Releases” and “Recently added” sections on the Netflix site last Friday. This is always a very sad time, and I don’t know why I continue to subject myself-and my wife-to such sorrowful futility. Like going again to check what’s in the fridge, even when you know there are no more snacks left-but you just check for the sake of checking, I go through these hopeless motions every so often. Always with same results. 

After realizing nothing offered any promise, I decided to check on other sections. For some reason I browsed the “Documentary” section and saw Beware of Christians. I had seen it before and thought the title was captivating enough. So I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did.

The documentary comprises 4 college students really investigating what Christianity is all about. They know what their pastors and parents have told them about the bible, but they want to remove themselves from their current setting to see what really lines up. Armed with some bibles, video, and enough to clothes to get them through a month or so, these young twenty year old’s take an honest look at their own hearts. 

They stroll through a number of different countries focusing on a different issue in each place. Materialism, sexuality, persecution, alcohol, all get their fare share of air time. At each locale, the group picks a theme scripture verse or two regarding what the bible really teaches against the backdrop of each local post-Christian culture. 

But they find themselves more encouraged than discouraged. They see Christian foreign exchange students, and hear a European witnessing about Jesus to ballerinas. They come across people apathetic to the gospel and hypocritical Christians, yet come across one who articulates justification by faith alone. They interview the equivalent of an American idol finalist who is voted off the show fans learn he is a virgin. 

They are college students, so they are goofy. They literally slap each other and steal post cards meant to be sent to a girlfriend. But they are open, honest, and non-judgmental. 

Much is there to commend this documentary, but I will highlight two things.

1.) Church  
Normally a quest to find out what Jesus is “really like” and what he “really says,” foolishly takes place in isolation from community and in separation from a local church. While these kids sought to get away from the normal religious expression of American Christianity for a season, they do emphasize being a part of A local church. They actually condemn church hopping! How refreshing.

2.) Prophetic Students?
Churches need young folks to be part of a church body. They think differently, and that’s often good, even if it makes “aging” folks (I’m balding and graying, so I feel qualified to say “aging”)  uncomfortable. They bring energy, enthusiasm, and honesty. The younger generations are far more open and whereas our older generations are much more guarded. Younger folks often ask the question: should we really be doing church this way? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes no.

Students in high school and college will say things that are clearly nutty, and their authenticity may be more a product of popular philosophy than a belief in the power of the gospel. That’s why a church needs both young and “aging.” 

But I found myself, a 35 year old pastor, being very challenged by these twenty somethings. I know that they don’t have jobs yet, and wives or kids. But these kids called me to pursue Jesus more passionately than I am now. College prophets. Make sure you put yourself in the path of both young and aging Christians. They former might make you feel uncomfortable, but then again, that’s what prophets do. Be glad for them.