Category Archives: Worship

The Greatest Showman: The God Who Is a Dreamer of a Million Dreams

The-Greatest-Showman worship4

All truth is God’s truth.  Great Christian thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, all believed it.  Whether it is spoken in Scripture or found in a Hollywood movie, truth is from God.

Recently I learned some truth from Hollywood.  I have to admit, I absolutely love the movie The Greatest Showman.  This soundtrack has replaced the Rocky IV soundtrack as my favorite.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why I made such an emotional connection with this musical.  I’m the kind of guy who would rather watch Die Hard, American Sniper, and baseball than musicals.  Yet, I cannot remember any other movie that I paid money to see in the theaters three times!  What is it about The Greatest Showman that makes me want to see it again and again?  Is it the tremendous vocals, the catchy tunes, the inspirational songs?  Is it the storyline and characters with which I identified?  Is it the triumph of love over tyranny?

Yes, yes, and yes.  But, my fascination with this movie goes beyond all that, beyond the celebration of the human experience that Hollywood was offering with this film.

Believe it or not, this movie, this product of Hollywood, an industry that is committed to secular humanism, helped me see God in a million ways, the Greatest Showman who created the greatest show just by speaking it into existence (Genesis 1:3) and breathing life into His dreams (Genesis 2:7).  Though it was probably not the intention of the director or producers, in each scene I found a little piece of an infinite God, a God of endless possibilities, a God who is a Dreamer of a million dreams.

ecclesiastes-3-11“He made everything beautiful in its time.  Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:11

I know there will be some super spiritual theologians who will point out the humanistic messages in this movie, like family is most important, or we can create our own worlds and improve ourselves through our own efforts, or that my comparisons of some of the characters to God breaks down.  I certainly do not elevate this movie to the level of Scripture.  But, even God used a donkey to convey a message (Numbers 22:22-35), and a wicked king to prophesy (1 Samuel 19:18-24), so He can certainly use Hollywood to speak His word.

Even the parables Jesus used broke down theologically at some level. For example, in the prodigal son, God is represented by the father who is a man, but a man is a singularity, not a Trinity (Luke 15:11-32).  So, the image of God in the parable of the prodigal son is incomplete.  Like Paul did at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34) in using creations of men to point to God, with this article I am gleaning truth from Hollywood to point to God.

We were created in God’s image with the ability to “create” as well, and we were given a cultural mandate to take dominion over creation. So, in a sense, we do get to live in a world we design, under God’s sovereignty of course (Genesis 1:27-31).  Unfortunately, the dreams mankind has dreamed for himself has created an ugly, selfish world.  We no longer dream God’s dreams.

A Million Dreams
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be (Genesis 1:1-2)
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make (Genesis 1:26)

In the scene where the young Phineas dreams of a life beyond his poverty, he sings my favorite song from the movie “A Million Dreams.”  (To get the full effect of the impact this movie had on me you have to read this article while listening to the movie soundtrack.)  Ithe greatest showman young barnum imagined God singing these lines as a child who is excited about the possibilities of the future.  Before you think I’ve fallen into the heresy of “open theism,” hear me out.  I know God is infinite and that He knows the outcome of every possibility.  Yet, like a child, He still exults in an outcome He already knows is certain!  In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton wrote

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, G_K_Chesterton-208x300therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.[1]

I connected with this film in a million ways because I identified with several of the characters.  With the older Phineas Barnum because I have been pursuing my own dreams for my own sake, and the dreams that came true in front of me were never enough.  With Phillip Carlyle because I am conflicted between wanting the comforts of my own world, but yet wanting something that brings joy.  With theatre critic James Gordon Bennett because I cannot seem to find joy in the role that I play in this life.  With the freaks and oddities of the Barnum Circus because I feel ignored and kept at a distance, not invited to the party.  With Mr. Hallett, Phineas’s father-in-law, because I tend to be someone who is interested in killing people’s dreams instead of being a dreamer myself.

amilliondreamscharity.jpgI am a cynic. A realist.  A pessimist.  Even, perhaps, a fatalist.  I tend to just resign myself to endure God’s will rather than embrace it with joy because it is the best thing for me.  But, every time I watched this movie I found myself wanting to be like Charity who longs for the dreamer to carry her along with his dreams.  This movie drew me to the Dreamer whose plans were for Israel’s good (Jeremiah 29:11), whose dreams are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), who can do anything (Matthew 19:23-30).

However big, however small
Let me be part of it all
Share your dreams with me
You may be right, you may be wrong
But say that you’ll bring me along
To the world you see
To the world I close my eyes to see
I close my eyes to see

These few lines from “A Million Dreams” have become my prayer.  They sum up why I so emotionally connect with this movie.  I want to be swept up in God’s dreams.  I want to share in them, whether my part in it all is big or small.  My realism does not seem to be real anymore.  I have been living in a gloomy fantasy world of my own design.  This movie helped me see that I am tired of my pessimism and now I long for something real.  Just like Phineas, I have been dreaming my own dreams for my own glory.  I am finding out, like Phineas, that these dreams will never be enough for me because I’m dreaming the wrong dreams.

I want to hope in something bigger than my own dreams.

The kind of faith found in Hebrews 11 is about an irrepressible hope in God’s dreams for a world that right now we close our eyes to see!  I may not know what God is doing. (You may be right, you may be wrong.)  What he does may seem right or wrong to me, but I trust that His dreams are the best, and that He never makes mistakes.  I want to be likehebrews11-6-1 those listed in the Hall of Faith, trusting that God will fulfill all that He promised even though I cannot see it. (To the world I close my eyes to see.)  “…for we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7.  Walking by faith is not about blindly going through life avoiding evidence.  Faith is about trusting in Someone who is trustworthy, who will do all that He promised.  With man, salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

For fame and fortune, Phineas creates a show to shock his customers, something that’s hyperbolic.  A show that isn’t real but brings joy to the dull, even banal lower class life.

The Greatest Show
Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for
Been searching in the dark, your sweat soaking through the floor
And buried in your bones there’s an ache that you can’t ignore
Taking your breath, stealing your mind
And all that was real is left behind

He even compares himself with a preacher who hoodwinks congregants to believe in something not real.  The comparison of religion to fantasy is troubling, but it doesn’t ruin the movie.

It’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open
It’s a preacher in the pulpit and you’ll find devotion
There’s something breaking at the brick of every wall it’s holding I’ll let you now, so tell me do you wanna go?

Phineas succeeds, but his success is not enough.  He wants to gain acceptance in the upper crust of society.  The only way to do that is to bring the social elite something phineas jenny share stage“real.”  He pursues this dream of joining the upper class, but he walks over all those who helped him succeed.  Phineas ultimately discovers, after all his success burns to the ground, that family is all that is true.  This “truth,” however is incomplete.  We might find contentment in family, but family will never satisfy us because God has placed eternity in our hearts.  We will never be satisfied until we become part of His family.  C.S. Lewis affirmed this principle when he said in Mere Christianity “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[2]

I saw a song of redemption and reconciliation in “Rewrite the Stars.”  The Groom wooingrewritethestars His bride, declaring His desire for her.  The bride feeling hopeless and unworthy.  The Groom gently reassuring His bride that she is His destiny if only she would believe in Him.  He has given His all for her, and wants nothing less than all of her.

Rewrite the Stars
All I want is to fly with you
All I want is to fall with you
So just give me all of you
[Bride] It feels impossible
[Groom] It’s not impossible
[Bride] Is it impossible?
[Singing together][Bride sings] Say that it’s possible [Groom sings] See that it’s possible

This movie awoke something in me that made me come alive.  Dare I say “resurrected” something in me?  After years of praying for a tender heart, watching this movie made me realize how long I have been living for my own dreams.  Chasing accolades from my vocation and my writing, estimating my value on the number of Facebook “likes” and favorable blog stats.  I’ve always lived in the future, always seeing my life as a stepping stone to something else.  Never satisfied with where I am at.  Never giving all of me in the moment because I have been saving some of me for the future version of me.

My dreams for me, I realize now, will never be enough.  These temporal dreams cannot fill the longing for eternity.

From Now On
For years and years
I chased their cheers
The crazy speed of always needing more
But when I stop
And see you here
I remember who all this was for

My pessimism made me believe that everything I wanted for my life would satisfy.  I just had to keep worshiping myself, reaching for more for me.  This movie made me “remember who all this was for.”  And from now on, I want to be all in, through the highest heights to the lowest lows.  I want to give my all to God because He has given all to me.

And from now on
These eyes will not be blinded by the lights
From now on
What’s waited till tomorrow starts tonight
It starts tonight
And let this promise in me start
Like an anthem in my heart
From now on

God’s dreams come true over and over again (Lamentations 3:22-23).  This theatrical encore of God’s dreams makes me want to stand and applaud, wanting more.  This movie drew me towards this Greatest Showman that I just can’t help but worship.

We were all created to worship.  All of us.  The secular humanist along with the most devoted Christian.  All of us have eternity inside of us, a longing for Someone that nothing in this life can satisfy.  The following video is a good illustration of this point:

We were all created to worship.  When the music picks up in the video above, the ensemble in the room couldn’t help but do what they were created for.  Something in them was stirred when they sang about coming back “home.”  Worship is infectious!  Didfromnowonworship you see how even those who were not there to sing this song just wanted to be part of it too?  Did you wish you could have been there, too?  They all may not have known that they were worshiping or whom they were worshiping. They may not have realized that the “eternity” God has placed in their hearts was yearning to worship the Greatest Showman who dreamed each one of them into existence.  But, they worshiped with gusto, longing to “come back home again.”  Deep was crying out to Deep, longing for the world for which they were made.

How much more, we who are redeemed should worship because we know of whom we worship and why we worship!  We know of the world we were created for that is promised to us, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We know where home is, and we know He is enough!

Like a child that exults in the monotonous, I want to watch this movie and listen to this soundtrack over and over again.  Never tiring of dreaming of God’s dreams that keep me awake!  So, thanks to Hollywood, I have awoken to the dreams God has for His world, a world more real than the one we see with our eyes, and His dreams include me.  I’ve renewed my covenant with God and it sings like an anthem in my heart.  From now on I want to exult in the million dreams God has for me.childexultinmonotony

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[1]
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London: John Lane Company, 1908), reprinted (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 65-66.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1952), reprinted (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 136-37.

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Spreading Christmas Junk

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Spreading Christmas Cheer Junk

Several years ago I was listening to a Christian radio station.  The setting was Christmas time.  The morning DJs were talking to callers about giving gifts.  One man called in and told a story about how he and his young kids gave gifts to needy children.  He told the christmasgifttochildentire radio audience “We gathered up all the toys the kids no longer played with.  Wrapped them up, and took them to our church.  Then we waited to see which child would pick the toys we brought.  To see the excited expressions on their faces was wonderful.”

The DJs praised this man for doing something so commendable.  But, was what he did really admirable?  From the man’s story, one phrase kept ringing in my ears: “the toys the kids no longer played with.”  Now, I don’t know who this man was, or the disposition of his children.  Yet, this phrase just rang so discordant throughout his whole tale.  The toys the kids no longer played with.  Why did the kids no longer play with those toys?  Did they have too many toys that they had forgotten about them?  Did they have to reach into the bottom of the toy box to get them?  Were they so used to the novelty of getting new toys that the mystique of the old toys had worn off?  Were they broken, worn, missing pieces?  Were they no longer the cool toys?

My mind was drawn to the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  No kid wants to play with a “Charlie in the Box” or a train with square wheels on his Island of Misfit Toyscaboose.  Now this stop-motion movie from 1964 personifies the “misfit toys” so that they are imbued with more worth than actual toys have.  So we can’t transfer our emotions for those fictional toys to the real ones.  The toys this man and his kids gave to those poor children might have just been “misfit.”

The man told of how the faces of the disadvantaged kids would light up when they opened their gifts.  To their credit, those kids demonstrated real gratitude in receiving second-hand gifts.  But, what lesson had this father really demonstrated to his children by giving gifts that cost them nothing?

King David refused to give a gift to God that cost him nothing.  In 2 Samuel 24, Gad the prophet brought the word of the LORD (YAHWEH) to King David.  YAHWEH had commanded that David build an altar to him on the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite.  David went to Araunah to buy his land in order to make an altar.  Araunah offered to give David the land, the oxen, the threshing sledges, and yokes for the altar and the offering.  King David, however, would not accept the gift.  He said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price.  I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that costs me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24).

I am not saying that giving second-hand stuff is always inconsiderate.  The toys this man and his children gave may very well have been decent, well-preserved toys, but, giving these toys cost them nothing.

In Malachi 1:6, God accuses his people of offering “misfit” animals for the sacrifice.  This offering was nothing less than sacrilege.  In fact, God called it “evil.” (Malachi 1:8).  It is the height of profanity and sacrilege to offer God something that costs us nothing.

In what way do we give God an offering that costs us nothing?  I am reminded of something I observed in church.  My family and I were attending a church that made a big deal about giving God a “hand clap of praise.” (For a perspective on why a “hand clapHands Applauding of praise” may not actually be an appropriate way to give praise to God check out this blog post.)  Every Sunday between the ending of singing and the announcements, the pastor whose turn it was to give the announcements would say, on his way to the pulpit before he started, “Let’s give the Lord a hand clap of praise” and nearly everyone would oblige.  One Sunday after the “hand clap of praise” command was given, I observed another pastor clapping his hands while looking around at his seat, as if he was searching for something.  At that point his focus did not appear to be on God, but on what he was searching for.  Yet, he was still clapping, as if offering God a “hand clap of praise.”  It seemed to me to be more of an absentminded exercise.  Now, he was a good man, but this gesture of worship really cost him nothing.

The Preacher warns us to be careful when we enter the LORD’s house not to offer mindless worship.  “Do not be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter I-Surrender-Alla word before God…Therefore, let your words be few…When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for He has no pleasure in fools.  Pay what you vow.”  Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4.  Words mean things.  When we sing “I surrender all” do we really mean it?  How many times have we made that vow and broken it?  “Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?”  Ecclesiastes 5:6.  Better to be silent before the Almighty God than to utter mindless words we have no intention on fulfilling.

I know this post is not the warm, fuzzy, feel-good message people like to hear around Christmastime.  But, what I say rings with truth.  In our gift giving this year, let us not offer gifts to God and spread Christmas junk to others that costs us nothing.  After all, the gift that God gave the world that first Christmas morn cost him the death of His Son.

 

Authentic Worship Is Not A Therapy Session

Is worship all about our therapy, to feel good about our problems?  Is the Sunday morning service primarily for focusing on getting rid of our metaphorical burdens and chains?  Do we approach Sunday mornings as if it is all about “having an experience with God?”  And those experiences all too often (if not every week) turn into us dwelling on how God can free us from our discomfort and pain.  I know that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), but there’s gotta be something more to worship than having it always being about our situations.  I just don’t seem to think worship therapy is what discipleship is all about.  Am I wrong about that?  Honestly, I really would like to know.  It seems most of this singing in church is all about us and not about God.

Beginning a sermon series in the Book of Daniel, our pastor referenced “cultural Christians.”  Like a “Summer Soldier” or a “Sunshine Patriot” these “cultural Christians” only follow Jesus when it’s easy.  When there is pain in the Christian walk, they do not obey God.  Our pastor said that it is impossible to be a cultural Christian and experience the real victory or the authentic joy of the Lord.  Cultural Christians are about an outward profession of faith, but inwardly they have compromised with the world because they prefer to be at ease.  They are not fooling God.  They are only fooling themselves, and perhaps, their fellow church goers.

My pastor’s sermon got me thinking how church services are often unwittingly geared toward making cultural Christians comfortable in their compromise.  As mentioned above, the worship service focuses on “having an experience with God.”  The songs chosen, the lighting, the use of multi-media, the strategically placed encouraging words, are about how God meets our needs, and is all we need, and can heal our pain.  The music, the congregation, the environment produce an emotional high that lifts the spirits of these cultural Christians so that they feel they can go on with their lives for another week.  Then, after their lives of compromise get them feeling down and burdened during the week, we’ll do therapy all again at the next Sunday’s worship service.

The cycle continues, week after week.  No one is experiencing authentic joy or real victory because there really is no true repentance, or true worship.  Inauthentic worship leads to inauthentic experiences.  But, because emotions are emphasized over the intellect, the authenticity of experiences is judged by how they make us feel.  After focusing on ourselves in worship, instead of God, we gather around people at the altar, in group hugs, maybe with some crying, and we feel that God is in it all because of the way we feel. (Anyone who questions these worship therapy sessions are thought of as just judgmental, and quenching the Spirit, because they make people feel bad.)

Some will object. “Shouldn’t we want to have experiences with God?”  Or they might say “Isn’t being freed from chains a good thing?”  Of course we should want to encounter God.  Of course being freed from burdens and chains is a good thing.  I know that God does change some people’s lives during Sunday morning services.  I am not challenging the good in experiencing God or in freedom from chains.  But, I submit that those things are merely by-products of authentic worship, and should not be the focus of our worship.  When the priests came to the Temple to worship, they brought a sacrifice.  Sacrifice is what our worship services tend to lack.  Instead of coming to the altar of the Lord with our sacrifices of praise and service to others, we merely offer our petitions for relief from our problems.  Real worship acknowledges God for who he is, not just for what he has done or can do for us.

Discipleship is measured by how we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus, not by how easy the Christian life is for us.