It’s a film with a classic New Year’s Eve finish . . . and don’t worry, I’m going to pass over the infamous diner scene. But “When Harry Met Sally” lets us eavesdrop on a poignant twelve-year romance between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. Sadly, we have all lost – far too soon – the other couple in the film: Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher.

After a myriad of false starts and we’re-just-friends, all of Harry’s angst and wistful passion for Sally come pouring forth during the countdown to midnight and Guy Lombardo playing “Auld Lang Syne.” She’s sure he’s just there out of a temporary loneliness, and that he honestly doesn’t know how to love a woman. So here’s his spiel which finally wins her heart.

“I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, YOU WANT THE REST OF YOUR LIFE TO START AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.”

I can testify to that one. Lisa and I had only known each other for a scant five weeks when I proposed marriage. Hey, I was itching to get down on one knee and pop the question after two, but endured an additional cushion of three more weeks just to becalm my family’s consternation. Listen, all you nervous nellies, that was 38 years ago, so see, I was right!

But the greater takeaway as we head into 2018 is this. The very best time for our Lord and Redeemer to return to our world would be this coming year. How about really soon? How about right now? Heaven with Jesus is going to be amazing and all good forms of mathematical infinity; I’d like for it to start as soon as possible. Let’s not say “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” unless we really mean it.



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Mom the Defender




It’s one of the sweetest moments in cinema history, and if you flip over to TBS this Christmas, their 24-hour marathon guarantees you’ll see Ralphie hoping for that BB gun (You’ll shoot your eye out!). But there’s a scene where Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) gets into a fight with Scut Farkus, the neighborhood bully, and manages to beat him up. Unfortunately, as he’s flailing away, a torrent of obscenities spills out of his mouth and Ralphie’s mom has to tug him loose and take her sobbing son home.

Mom in this story is a wondrous Melinda Dillon, and she plays this part pitch-perfect. She bathes his wounds and tells him to lie down and compose himself. But Ralphie’s beside himself, knowing Dad (a fire-breathing Darrin McGavin), will soon be home and will surely brandish the legendary strap.

In the kitchen, Mom hears whimpering from the cabinet under the kitchen sink. Little Randy is hysterical: “Daddy’s going to kill Ralphie!” “No, he’s not; Daddy is NOT going to kill Ralphie.” “Yes, he is.” She offers him a glass of milk and he stays in his hideout; both boys are dreading the arrival of their father.

When Dad gets home, a pensive Ralphie creeps to the table, awaiting judgment. Sure enough. Dad jumps right in on Ralphie. “Where are your glasses?” (Got busted in the fight.) “Did you lose your glasses again?” Mom edges herself between them with an innocuous fib. “Ralphie, remember you left these on the radio again. Now try not to do that anymore.”

When Dad presses for the day’s headlines, Mom carefully admits: “Ralphie had a fight.” Dad: “A fight? What kind of a fight?” And Ralphie’s mom passes it off. “You know how boys are. I gave him a talking to.”

Just then she spots the out heaven is offering her and the fragile son she’s protecting. Glancing at Mr. Parker’s sports page, she distracts him. “I see that the Bears are playing Green Bay on Sunday.” “Oh, yeah,” he responds, mentally following her right to the offramp. “Zadock’s got tickets. I wish I had.”

He buries his nose to the football stats, the fight forgotten, and there’s this sweet look that passes between Mom and son. Not a single word is spoken, but her loving gaze says it all. “I’ve got your back, sweetheart. I may have to be clever, even diabolical about it, but I will always be your defender.”

The narrator respectful concludes: “From then on, things were different between me and my mother.”


Merry Christmas, everybody.

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It may not be playing in theaters much longer, but the new film “LBJ” is definitely worth seeing. The story is profane in spots, and actor Jeffrey Donovan doesn’t look anything like John F. Kennedy, but Woody Harrelson (“Cheers” and “Hunger Games”) is entirely believable as JFK’s frustrated Vice President and then abrupt occupant of the Oval Office. The Dallas assassination scenes and depictions of Johnson’s rise to power are colorful and realistic. Interestingly, the villain in the film is Bobby Kennedy, who comes across as a self-serving and grudge-obsessed political little brother.

The hugely stirring plus to this movie is its chilling portrayal of the entrenched racism in the nation during the 1960s. Richard Jenkins plays Senator Russell, a bigoted Democrat determined to block the Civil Rights Bill from ever becoming law. The climactic scene is where he scoots his chair close to the President’s, lowers his voice so the maid and other African-American staff won’t hear, and then says: “Look, Mr. President. We do things a certain way here in the South; it’s always been this way, it always will. I’ll fight for our way of life with the last breath in my body. And don’t anybody tell us there’s one damn thing wrong with how we live our lives.” Johnson, who’s a good old Texas boy himself, and who understands perfectly, puts his face close to the senator’s and says right back in a voice cold with anger: “THEN WHY ARE WE WHISPERING?”

If that great moment doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, then maybe you need to grow a soul or something.



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The Ghost and Mr. Chicken



This is two weeks late, because “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966) is a classic low-budget fright fest often televised at Halloween. Don Knotts plays his Barney-Fife self: Luther Heggs is a 98-pound wimp who boasts that he’s taking karate lessons by mail. “I’ve made my whole body a weapon.” The film is comically punctuated by an off-screen character who keeps hollering out: “Attaboy, Luther!” His love interest is Alma, a girl much prettier than he could possibly hope to attain. She’s played by Joan Staley, who posed for Playboy in 1958 (oops), but is now active in her church and a prison ministry.

There’s a cute scene where she cooks him dinner and they’re sitting on the porch afterwards. He knows this is his one and only romantic shot, and he’s got to make some progress. But he stumbles through an overture which is quickly disintegrating. Finally he just blurts it out: “Look, Alma, you’re a real attractive girl. Way above average.”

Oh. “Well, thank you, Luther.”

“Um, well, that’s okay. Now me, I’m just your average guy.” No argument there.

Then he says the wistful line I have always cherished. “‘Average’ is just darned lucky to be sitting on the same porch with ‘above average.’”

I confess that for 37 years of marriage, that’s been the signature pitch at my house as well.

But here’s my deeper take on Luther’s confession. We serve a wonderful and infinite God who could bring the entire planet to repentance in one galactic display. He doesn’t need our efforts, our witnessing, our missionary sacrifices. He could commission the angels to reap a harvest of souls.

But for some reason He sent my parents to Thailand for 17 years. He invites me to live as a light for Him on a secular college campus. And I go: “Really? Me? Jesus, You want ME? I don’t get it. Because in the vineyard of evangelism, ‘average’ is just plain lucky to be working side by side with ‘above average,’ with our King of kings.”

I sure don’t get it. But thank You, Jesus. It’s a priceless honor to be on Your team.

P.S. By the way, the story ends with Luther and Alma’s wedding. He scores a chaste kiss off his bride, and the triumphant yodel comes through one final time: “Attaboy, Luther!”



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In probably the best-ever time-travel movie, Marty McFly rides the DeLorean back to 1955 and happens to make an offhand encouraging remark to his now teenaged and aimless dad. “You know, George, you can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it.” Years later he’s stunned to discover that his father rose to that challenge, not just taking Loraine (Mom) to the Enchantment-Under-the-Sea dance, but is now a successful science-fiction novelist living in a model house.

Let me tell you how this struck close to home in a wonderful way. My daughter was just bumping along in high school when one of her teachers, a Mrs. Adams, quietly confided to her, “You’ve got amazing aptitude in math, Karli, and I think you could go all the way.” Inspired, Karli began signing up for AP classes; at the age of 25 she received her doctorate in mathematics. Now a decade later, her teaching skills have blessed literally hundreds of university students. All because of that one life-changing remark.

In the Christian book, The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis solemnly observes that every single day we are nudging those around us either toward heaven or hell. Every kind, hopeful, inspiring word we say may reverberate throughout eternity, blessing and lifting others higher. “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself,” he writes, “your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”



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Theology at the Movies: Jerry Maguire





In his book, “A Man Named Dave,” Dave Pelzar points out this interesting reality: “When we forgive, we free ourselves from the bitter ties that bind us to the one who hurt us.” Have you ever pondered the irony of that? Here’s a person who has hurt you, wounded you. In terms of the scales and balancing and all the rest, they owe you big-time. Which is why you spend so many hours thinking about revenge and curses and flat tires for them. You’d like to get even.

But now pile on the double irony. When they’ve already hurt you once, and now they’re permitted to occupy your brain and steal from you maybe hours a day–and perhaps they get to do that for fifteen years–they’re ripping you off twice! For the original sin, and now again because they essentially own you. If a person owns your brain, they own you.

The late film critic Roger Ebert commented about a scene in “Jerry Maguire” where Renee Zellweger and Bonnie Hunt and a whole group of women were in a kind of twelve-step pro­gram. They would sit around and complain and dialogue and role-play about how terrible their ex-husbands had been to them. And there might be therapeutic value in some such dialogues, but Ebert mentioned in his review; “Someone should tell them that resentment is simply letting someone else occupy your mind rent-free.”

When you lose hours plotting and scheming and fantasizing about what that person did to you–and especially if your fantasizing and plotting is of the type which never fixes anything, which is generally the case–all you’re doing is permitting that person to spin your engine. They’ve essentially got their hands on the steering wheel of your life.

In the book “Pain and Pretending,” there’s an interesting twist on the New Testament teaching where Jesus told His followers how, if an enemy like those hated Roman soldiers commanded you to carry their pack for one mile, you should carry it for two. And for any person struggling with a Javert complex, a burning resentment, it sounds like the stupidest proposal in the world. Why in the world would you do that?

Ah, but notice. Ac­cording to Roman law, that soldier had a right to order any Jew to carry his load for a mile. And for that mile–man, he OWNED you. You were at his beck and call; he had the proverbial ring in your nose.

But now what happens if you voluntarily keep right on go­ing and carry his pack and his water bottle for a second mile? He can’t make you do that! And Buhler writes: “What Jesus was essentially saying was, ‘For the first mile, the soldier has you under his control; you are trapped. For the second mile, you are under your own control and are walking in complete freedom from the law. In other words, for the first mile he has you. But for the second mile, you have him. It is an act of power, respon­sibility, and choice, and the result is freedom.’”1

I don’t know how far we want to explore the metaphor of POWER through forgiveness. Although even the Bible teaches, in that famous chapter, Proverbs 24, that when you’re good to your enemies, you’re actually “heaping coals of fire on their heads.” But it is true that whenever we seek God for the purpose of moving our minds away from our hurts and away from our resentment, freedom is the promised result.

I remember an old anecdote, which I couldn’t track down regarding where it came from, though it reminds me of the late Dale Carnegie. But a certain person was maneuvering through heavy traffic, and everyone around him was driving like an idiot. People cut him off. People stalled their cars at red lights. Moron pedestrians dropped their grocery bags right in front of his car, etc. And a passenger in the front seat was about to have a coronary over it all. He was ready to pop a blood vessel. But the driver just calmly continued on his journey. When the apo­plectic passenger finally exploded: “How can you stand it? I’m going nuts!” the man driving said very quietly: “Why should I allow all these people to dictate how I live?” In other words, why should their behaviors and actions rule me?

Solomon observes that our re­sentments often swallow us up instead of the other person. “A man who digs a pit for others will end up falling in himself. A man who tries to roll a stone on someone ends up with the stone rolled over him” (26:27, The Clear Word).

            The same principle is enunciated in the New Testament, where Jesus taught so powerfully about forgiveness and loving your enemy. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul actually writes about sla­very . . . and this was real slavery! Men and women were inden­tured, sold for life because of their own poverty sometimes. And Paul basically says, “Don’t worry about it. If you’re a slave be content–although if you can buy your freedom, certainly, go for it.”

But then he tells his readers this: “If you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior while you were a slave, the moment you did this, your spirit was set free! . . . Christ paid the price for each of you to be free. Don’t think of yourself as a slave” (vs. 22, 23, The Clear Word).

The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “Under your new Master [Jesus] you’re going to experience a marvelous freedom you would never have dreamed of.”

If the apostle Paul–and of course, Jesus was inspiring these wonderful words–wanted real slaves, slaves in chains, to feel free inside because the grace of Calvary was in their hearts, how much more should we feel free, be set free from our grudges about someone nicking our fender in the parking lot? The Bible tells us: You have Jesus! So you’re free! Don’t think of yourself as a slave, and certainly not as a mental slave to that certain someone. Jesus says it in these words: “So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.” “Ye shall be free indeed,” is how you might remember the King James.

You and I might have to tell our minds many, many times: “Move away from there! Move away from that swamp of sinful resentment! Jesus has rescued us from there!” And now we can add this extra motivation: We just plain and simple don’t want that particular person out there to own us any longer. Jesus owns us, not them! Our minds belong to Him, not them! In fact, in that 1 Corinthians chapter where Paul talks about us being free, even if we have chains, he then adds: “You’ll experi­ence a delightful ‘enslavement to God’ you would never have dreamed of.”

I think with real regret about hours and even days and weeks and months that I’ve lost to the enslavement of a grudge. I let someone else run my mind, occupy it, fill it up . . . and without giving me a dime’s worth of rent. And all for what? Malachy McCourt once observed: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

That is such a stinger! And the sobering, wonderful reality is that Jesus Christ wants to release us from that death sentence. “I want you to have freedom,” He tells us. “I want to give you rest, give you respite from that huge, poisonous burden of the grudge you bear.”






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The sprawling crime stories, “The Godfather” and “The Godfather II” are undeniably sordid tales about the infection of evil. But I recall one line at the close that actually speaks hope to the suffering in our world. Is wickedness and rebellion going to continue forever, with God’s people simply escaping the pain by way of the cemetery and then  the Bible’s promise of the soul escaping to paradise? Or is Satan’s reign going to be finally and galactically defeated?

At the very beginning, a naïve Kay Adams attends a family wedding with her boyfriend, war hero Michael Corleone. She’s startled when he tells her the infamous “band-leader story” describing the Don’s role as head of a crime syndicate. “That’s my family, Kay,” he insists. “That’s not me.” But later, when Vito Corleone is shot by thugs, Michael offers to assassinate Sollozzo and a corrupt police captain. Still, though, he’s the innocent family lamb reluctantly forced to defend his dad.

Toward the end of Part One, when he returns from hiding out in Sicily and reconnects with Kay, it’s clear that now he’s head of the family, and orchestrating the Corleone empire’s vast criminal enterprise. He insists to her, though, that “in five years we’ll be completely legitimate.” The messy unfolding in the sequel, however, makes it clear that Michael’s developed a lust for power. Also, his bloodthirst for revenge will keep him locked forever in a state of lawlessness. He’s never going to change. In the movie’s tragic close, Connie begs him to forgive the pathetic Fredo. “He’s so sweet, Michael; he’s so helpless. Please!” Michael feigns a reconciliation, but has already ordered a hit on his own older brother.


Now to the moment in question. Kay, heartbroken at how her husband is locked into this amoral pattern, has divorced him. In a dramatic showdown over custody of the kids, she informs him that her recent miscarriage wasn’t that at all. With tears in her voice she declares: “It was an abortion, Michael. An abortion. It was a little boy, and I had him killed because THIS MUST ALL END!!”

It’s an awful moment, and the final credits roll as Michael sits alone and brooding on the porch of his highly guarded Tahoe mansion, looking out over the preternaturally calm waters. Out on the lake, crumpled in the bottom of a fishing boat, is Freddy’s corpse.

The Bible guarantees that evil will be overcome, not eternally borne in an endless stalemate between light and darkness. “This Must All End!”

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.


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