Hakuna Matata

Hakuna-Matata-Reconciliation

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”   Philippians 3:12-14

Our pasts have the ability to hold us back from what God wants to do in us and through us. Maybe some of us feel discouraged because of past insecurities or are scarred by a past event that is a struggle to move on from. Perhaps we feel dragged down by sin or the shame of something we have done. Whatever it is, we all have a past. Something that we desperately want to erase, overcome, or even run from. At least we think we can run. We think we can rid ourselves of past hurts or scars. Overcome them on our own strength. But we can’t. Somehow our pasts continually come back to haunt us.

For the last post in my Disney series, I decided to delve into an all-time favorite; The Lion King. In Walt Disney’s The Lion King, we see a recurring discussion on the topic of the past. The main character’s (Simba) prominent internal conflict is coping with the death of his father Mufasa and the guilt that haunts him over it. In the movie, young Simba has a close and loving relationship with his father, the king. Mufasa has a brother named Scar who was next in succession to become king until Simba comes along. Out of envy and evil ambition, Scar plots Simba and Mufasa’s murder so that he may become king. He sets them up to be caught in a stampede so that they will be trampled to death (I know. How is this a kids’ movie, right?). Mufasa is killed in the process but is able to rescue Simba. When Scar confronts him, he convinces Simba that his Father’s death is his fault and tells him to run away and never come back. Simba runs away into the desert to escape the shame and pain of the past. He almost dies from the heat when he is taken in by the comedic duo, Timon and Pumba. When asked where he is from, he tells them it doesn’t matter because he cannot go back. The two give the young lion some interesting advice.

“You’re an outcast, that’s great!  So are we.”

Right off the bat, the three have something in common. Hearing about Simba’s desire to change his past, Timon shares his intriguing philosophy: Hakuna Matata. You’ve got to put your past behind you. Bad things happen and the solution is to forget about it. “When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world.” Hakuna Matata means no worries. It’s a philosophy of not caring in order to block out the past or pain. It’s escapism really.

Flash forward and we see that Simba has grown up under the care of Timon and Pumba living out the “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle. When an old friend, Nala, suddenly appears and tells him that his home has been ravaged by his uncle and that he has to go back to stop him, Simba has to deal with a daunting truth: you cannot run from your past. Conflicted, Simba goes out to find solace. In frustration, he finally expresses his anger at his father for leaving him and his guilt of thinking that he caused his death. Then, he is met by an old baboon named Rafiki who was a friend of his father. Rafiki is seemingly crazy but gives him sage advice: The past can hurt but you can either run from it or learn from it. In that moment, Simba is finally able to confront his past. Rafiki tells him that his father never left him and that he lives in him. Simba, now reconciled with his past, is able to move forward and claim his right as king.

There are two conflicting philosophies in the movie about dealing with the past: Timon’s and Rafiki’s. Timon says to forget about it, which Simba later finds is impossible. He is having an identity crisis in a serious and comical way. He has trouble figuring out who he is because of how his past defines him. He runs away to live with a meerkat and warthog, eating nothing but bugs. Not only is he not taking his rightful place on the throne but he’s not even acting like a lion, who he was born to be. We often let our pasts define us. It wasn’t until someone (Rafiki) told Simba who he was that he was finally able to move on with his life. He became reconciled with his father, whom he discovered had never really left him. Rafiki tells him that he knows who he is. He’s  “Mufasa’s boy.”

Simba’s true identity and calling were found in his father. The only way that he could move on from allowing his past to define him and on to who he was truly created to be was to reconcile his relationship and find his identity in his father, the king.

We, in so many ways, are like Simba. We run from our pasts and let what we have done or the things that have been done to us define who we are. But our pasts do not define us if we are in Christ. We are told who we are. It is the God who sacrificed himself on behalf of our sins, Jesus Christ. He tells us that we are made new. We are sons and daughters of the king. We can be found in him and he in us. Being reconciled, the past is behind us and we can finally move on to who we are called to be.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”   2 Corinthians 5:17-19

 

The Fairest of Them All

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Today’s society is increasingly individualistic. We must think of ourselves first in order to survive or succeed. We must be independent and self-sufficient. But the Bible constantly reminds us of our call to community, often referring to Christ’s followers as the body of Christ and the fellowship of believers. We were created for community. A community founded on Christ-likeness. A community that reflects the servanthood, humility, and love of Jesus.

The character Snow White in the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Walt Disney gives us a great example of what it means to live out Christ-likeness. Snow White is forced to dress in rags and work as a maid in her own castle by her wicked stepmother, the queen. The queen is obsessed with being the fairest in the land and consults her magic mirror to guarantee that her title remains. One day, the mirror announces that Snow White, despite her ragged clothing and lowly position, has exceeded the fairness of her stepmother. In order to reclaim her title, the queen sends a huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill her. The Huntsman is hesitant but obeys her command in order to avoid the consequences of not carrying out the mission. He takes her into the woods but right as he is about to cut out her heart, he finds himself not being able to carry out her murder. He is overtaken by her gentleness and kindness and releases her. Snow White escapes into the woods until she happens upon a little cottage belonging to seven little dwarfs.

When she meets the quirky dwarfs she is immediately kind to them. She is even kind to Grumpy who is not very fond of her or anyone for that matter. As they contemplate whether they will allow her to stay or not she pleads with them and offers her services.

Snow White gives a prime example of humility, meekness, and servanthood.

These characteristics are foreign to our popular culture. As a princess, she should be entitled to everything. But we forget that throughout the movie. Why? Because she never acts like one. When you view her in light of her birthright, your perspective begins to change. Snow White willingly cooks and cleans for the imperfect dwarfs. She genuinely loves them and serves them. She never tries to get what she deserves. She is meek and mild. She is loving and kind. She lives out the character of Christ. As Christians, this is what we are commanded to imitate.

Philippians 2:3-8

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
We are encouraged to live individualistic and selfish lives. We are entitled and demand all that we think we deserve. The idea that we are to humble ourselves before one another, to sacrifice and think of the well-being of others before our own is a foreign and foolish concept. When we watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs we might ask ourselves, “What kind of princess submits to those she potentially has power over and serves those who should rightfully be serving her? What kind of princess loves the unlovable, thinking of them as more significant than herself?”

When we look at the gospel, the same thought must cross our minds. What kind of God did not seek to be like God but emptied himself to become a man? To become a servant, to die for those he loved. Jesus Christ came to show us what true love and divine humility look like. It looks like him and is achieved through him.

Snow White gives us a glimpse of the Christ-likeness we are to pursue. In the end, the princess’ love changes hearts and lives. The huntsman risks his life to spare her, the prince searches high and low to find her, and the dwarfs fight tooth and nail to save her from the queen. When Snow White is put under the sleeping death curse all come to mourn. They loved her and humbled themselves before her. Even Grumpy has a heart change and mourns the loss of the beloved princess. When she is awakened by the prince all rejoice and she is carried off to her kingdom.

When we are met with the love of Christ through the gospel it changes us. We are compelled to embrace Christ and become more like him. We are moved by the one who is truly the fairest of them all to live our lives with the same humility, servanthood, and love for others.

 

The Gift of Life is Thine

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“…For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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.”         Romans 3:22–25 (ESV)

I think we all have done things to gain God’s favor at some point in our lives. We bargain for what we desperately want or need. We stay out of trouble and keep our lives clean in order to avoid inconveniences or pain. If we’re good enough, Christian enough, we might just get what we want. We often get stuck in this false sense of the Christian God. The God who exists to grant our wishes. The God who can be appeased by good moral character or standing. Romans tells us that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift.”

Yet, we live our lives as if we can earn righteousness.  What a conflicting message!

Walt Disney’s Pinocchio is ripe with conflicting messages. One of the more interesting characters in the movie, in my opinion, is the Blue Fairy. The story starts off with Jiminy Cricket telling his tale of how he happened upon a small cottage where an old wood-carver named Geppetto lived. Geppetto was a good man but he was very lonely. That night Jiminy witnesses the old man make a wish upon a star: that his newly carved puppet, Pinocchio, would become a real boy and that he would become his father. Then, the Blue Fairy appears and with the words, “Little puppet made of pine, wake, the gift of life is thine,”  Pinocchio comes alive.

One of the primary messages of the movie is that dream and wish fulfillment come at no price and to anyone who desires their wishes to be granted. But the story does not play out that way. The Blue Fairy claims to have come to bestow a “gift.” Yet, her gifts come with conditions. She grants Geppetto’s wish because he is good and has brought happiness to many. When Pinocchio awakes she tells him that the wish will not be completed and he will not become a real boy until he proves himself to be brave, truthful, and selfless. He must choose right from wrong with the help of his conscience, Jiminy Cricket.

The whole movie is focused on Pinocchio failing miserably at all of that. In fact, virtually everyone he meets is the exact opposite of what he is striving to be. On his way to school, he is enticed to follow two sinister characters and begins an unfortunate journey. By the end of the story, Pinocchio ends up becoming a truant, liar, glutton, and a literal jackass before he is swallowed up by a whale.

The Blue Fairy reminds me of the common conception of God.  He comes to bestow “gifts” that come with conditions and prices. He gives us our hearts’ desires only if we are good and obedient and prove ourselves worthy. He grants us grace, mercy, and love if we deserve it.

Pinocchio was never able to live up to that standard. We will never be able to either. The redemption that is available to us is a gift through Jesus Christ. It is grace and cannot be earned.

In the belly of the whale, Pinocchio finds that Geppetto, his Father, had been searching for him all the time that he was lost. Geppetto notices Pinocchio’s donkey ears and tail and asks what has happened to him. When Pinocchio is too ashamed to tell his father all the trouble he has gotten into, Geppetto pushes him no further. He embraces his son and tells him that none of it matters. Pinocchio is reconciled to his loving father.

Geppetto shows us what God is truly like. He is not the Blue Fairy, demanding our good works for the gift of life. He loves without condition and embraces his children no matter where they have been or what they have done. Through Jesus Christ, we have the free gift of salvation and eternal life in Him. 

 

Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust

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As Christians, we use the term faith quite often. In fact, our culture is full of phrases pertaining to faith. You may be familiar with sayings such as, “taking a blind leap of faith” or people telling you that “things will work out if you just have enough faith.” Recently, I have been reflecting on what our culture sees as faith and if it actually reflects what the Bible says faith is.

Is faith blind? Are we really expected to have absolute trust in what we do not know?

   There is a scene in Walt Disney’s rendition of Peter Pan that I feel captures what is commonly thought of as faith. In the scene, Peter Pan is attempting to teach the Darling children how to fly so that they could travel with him to Neverland. He demonstrates his abilities and each of the children mimic him with no success. After thinking for a moment, He remembers the secret formula for flying… faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust. The children proceed in their attempt to fly after being sprinkled with pixie dust and thinking lovely, happy thoughts. This time they succeed. The children then leave their home with Peter Pan and soar to Neverland.

What exactly does this tell us about faith?

In the story, the children would be able to fly if they simply believed that they could. Faith and trust are equivalent to thinking happy thoughts. If we tell ourselves that something will happen then it is sure to happen. Faith is seen as trusting in your own ability to make something happen with positive thinking even when things seem impossible. You can do anything if you just believe that you can. This notion is almost as ridiculous as believing that you can defy gravity by sprinkling pixie dust all over yourself.

Today’s culture has strayed far from what the biblical idea of faith is. Faith is not based on a set of ideas, philosophy, mind games or intuition.

Biblical faith is a relationship of trust in God.

We do not just have authentic trust in God because we are told to or because we will our minds to but we base our faith on God’s past record of faithfulness in our lives and through scripture. In Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses, “I Am who I Am.” In the next verse, He further clarifies His identity by saying that He is, “The God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” God wanted to communicate to the Israelites that He could be trusted and all they would have to do is look at what He had done in the past for their ancestors. The same idea is repeated in the New Testament. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.” This verse restates the truth of the Old Testament; God never changes and the past proves that He can be trusted today and forever.

 

WARNING: Disney Series Ahead!

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I love movies and one of my favorite things to do after watching a film is relating its themes to Christ and Christianity. Disney movies are some of my favorites, especially when it comes to relating Christian themes. The bulk of my childhood was centered around watching princesses and talking animals and belting out songs that I had memorized all the lyrics to. Because of my deep rooted passion for these films,  I have always wanted to write a series of all of the little gold nuggets you can find in classic Disney. For the next few posts, that is exactly what I am going to do.

So, for anyone who is not a huge fan of these movies, I give you fair warning. Hopefully, I can change your perspective on some of them. Happy reading!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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There are two opposing forces within me, within us all. In an average day, I struggle with a variety of sins. Lust and pride, anger and envy. Most of the time you wouldn’t be able to tell. Some days are better than others. But there is a war that wages within me. I want to say that only a mere inkling of my sinful nature exists. That every day I manage to destroy a little bit of the evil that dwells within me and that every day it diminishes more and more. That I have, over time and with effort, made myself into a better person. I know of many people and have heard many stories about people who claim to have succeeded in this. I have believed in the past that it was possible. It is not.

When I think about the battle we have with our flesh and human nature, I think of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the classic by Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll is a respectable and decent doctor. Though he is a good man, he recognizes that there still exists a darker side within him. In an attempt to rid himself of this evil side, he creates a potion that will separate his good and evil selves from one another. What happens instead is that he temporarily transforms into his darker self, an alter ego named Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde is the epitome of evil and does immoral acts without remorse. Yet, Jekyll begins to delight in his transformation into Hyde. In the end, he attempts to rid himself of Hyde and fails, ultimately becoming completely overcome by his dark side.

Dr. Jekyll commits the very same mistake that most Christians and most people, in general, seem to make. We think that only a very small portion of sin exists within us and we have every capability of ridding ourselves of it. What Jekyll doesn’t realize is that his evil nature is a lot stronger and more prominent than he thinks. When he transforms into Hyde, his good nature begins to delight in the immoral freedom, shattering any implication that he had any good in him in the first place. His dark side was significantly stronger than his “decent” self and completely consumed him.
We are as foolish as Dr. Jekyll when we try to clean up our acts and do good deeds. We all have that all-consuming dark side within us. We can try all we want to mask, justify, or destroy it but it will not go away.

Paul talked a lot about this. In Romans 7:15-24 he says this:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

Jekyll and Hyde is a depressing story. After Hyde completely takes over Jekyll he kills himself before he is convicted of the murder he committed. Paul suffers from the same idea Dr. Jekyll did but with a twist. Paul tells us that nothing good dwells within him. He does the very thing that he hates because of the sin that is within him but unlike Jekyll, he has another realization. It is all out of his control. He cannot rid himself of sin. He cannot be freed by his good deeds or cured with a potion. He must be delivered.

Paul continues on in Romans 8:1-4:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”

What we cannot do in ridding ourselves of sin and malice, Christ did on the cross and delivers us from our sinful self. 

Life in the Pit

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Psalm 103 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I took a class in college that required me and a couple of classmates to each memorize and recite a large portion of the psalm. After reflecting on it over and over again, I made a special connection with the words of the psalmist. David cries out to God in the previous psalm (102) and asks that he not hide his face from him in distress, to incline his ear to him and answer speedily when he calls (Psalm 102:1-2). After reviewing the mercies of God toward him and in celebration of his deliverance, David then writes Psalm 103 and seems to speak of the answer to the prayer he writes in Psalm 102.

David reminds me of the depth of disparity in humanity. When I first read his words, I remember immediately relating to his descriptions of depravity. Humans are trapped under the weight of overwhelming sin, we are trapped in a pit of destruction. We are diseased, shamed, and desperate.

I often think of the times that I deny this fact.

I never want to seem weak in the way that David describes himself.

I also often think of the times that society encourages me to deny this fact.

We point to ourselves as the source of success, power, and goodness. Sometimes, there is no reason to “Bless the Lord” like David does in his psalm because we are not crying out for him to pull us out from the pit. We attempt to climb out ourselves, clean up our own messes, make our own way. But, our feeble attempts only sink us deeper.

I once had a friend who committed suicide. Ironically, he was one of my classmates who shared in the task of memorizing and reciting Psalm 103. He was also one of the most joyful people I had ever met; seemingly. I had no reason to ever suspect his desire to take his life. After he died, this Psalm became a memorial of him in my mind. I think of the depravity that must have weighed on him, like David in utter despair. The hopelessness and desperation that we come to feel are so very true. In the times of my despondency, the words of the psalmist gently carry the weight of my despair and remind me of something important: There are two truths that we must come to know. The first is that we are in a state of depravity. I am in sin and wretched despair. The second, Jesus has come to forgive, heal, redeem, crown with love and mercy, and renew. He pulls us from the pit of despair. I have every reason to bless the Lord.

Psalm 103:1-5

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
     and all that is within me,
     bless his holy name!
  Bless the LORD, O my soul,
     and forget not all his benefits,
  who forgives all your iniquity,
     who heals all your diseases,
           who redeems your life from the pit,
     who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
           who satisfies you with good
     so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.