Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Bloom in Barbados

My goodness. These people are dazzling. As is often the case, they don’t know it.

And that’s often where the pain is.

I’m not kidding—these Bajan (pronounced “Bay-jen”) Christians openly love God. In some ways, they’re like high school aged kids in love; they grin and laugh and tear-up at the mention of their Pursuer’s grace and affection for them. When we talk about Jesus around them, it’s like we’ve taken a peek at their journaled love affair—they get all happy and dreamy and maybe a little embarrassed.

But the Conspirator of this world (the Evil One) has long been sending them the message that they’re disqualified from anything of real value. Yes, God has made His love plain to them and they’re clearly enamored enough to be willing to do anything with Him. For a little while. But past experiences or educational fumblings or unresolved difficulties and tensions add up to scandalous headlines in their own minds that render them bystanders in God’s plan for glory. And pretty soon they begin to believe that someone else, someone who really has it all together, with education and upbringing and neat and tidy relationships should take the lead or help build the church. “We need an expert,” they might think, “and that sure isn’t any of us. I wonder when God will send to us the super Christians we need. Let’s begin praying for them now. Once they get here, then we can really get going. . .”

Have you ever heard something like that? That’s the kind of stuff the accuser of the church throws at these Bajan believers.

But God.

Somehow the mixture of love and sloppiness and belief and failure and hope and doubt has produced a church that is the envy of many—at least it should be. We should be studying them! They are at times so fragile that I think they can’t stand it—“I want to be strong!”—but we marvel at how God keeps them convinced that they’re right on course, right in the center of His will. They’re absolutely convinced that they need Him, and—shock—they openly act like it. Wonder.

Anyway, this fragile and delicate bloom in Barbados has me fascinated and in a little bit of awe.

They’re beautiful.

Here are a few pics from the last couple of days. (Click on the image to see it in a larger format.)










Monday, February 23, 2009

Barbados, Day 2

Don’t get mad at me if I didn’t tell you.

I’m in Bridgetown, Barbados, as part of a ministry team to a church there.

These are amazing people who make up an amazing church. Why they would so love God and each other makes God's work obvious. They sincerely want to grow in the grace and love of Christ, and to avoid some of the "Christianly" stuff that often goes with a growing community. You know, the stuff we do that looks spiritual, but is really fleshly control stuff. Here's how we get along, here's how we do church, here's how we don't, here's how we force unity, etc.

Herb Sims spoke at their gathering about "doing nothing." It was terrific. He drew from some of the many instances in which Jesus did only what He saw the Father doing and said only what He heard the Father saying. In other words, He did nothing on His own, but lived in order to know God all the time. And that's the new way of living for us, as well--life by the Spirit. It frees us from having to come up with what to do, and places it where it belongs--with Him.

Last night we met with some of the leadership of the church. Essentially, we hung out with them for several hours, which is another way of saying that we enjoyed rich fellowship. But that's too stuffy.

We spoke together about how God secured us individually, about our love affairs with Him, and about how that works out in the larger community of believers. They're from S. Africa, Canada, England, America, and even Barbados--fancy that, locals. And yet, each of them have this terrific story of discovering the incredible love and grace and mercy of God for them. It's magnificent to be among them.

This morning we'll meet with them again.

Here are some pictures from yesterday. Many of these pictures are taken from the balcony of the vacation home we're fortunate to be staying in.  

And if you would like to check out a blog written and contributed to by all the members of the team, go to http://barbadosproject.blogspot.com.









Here's a local gang. From the left, Pauline Karcher, Tracy Sims and Laurie Troublefield, part of the U.S. team.

These long pods rattle eerily in the wind, especially at night. The first night we were all puzzled as to what was making the sound.

We're staying at the top right of the building.

There are lots of sea turtles here, which we can see (though very briefly) from the balcony. This gives you some perspective on how big some of them are. In the next instant, the turtle turned and attacked the surfer, devouring him in mere moments. I would post those pictures, but for the sake of the children viewing this post. . .

I'll post more pictures, including some of the Barbados leadership team, later tonight. Pray for us?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Thirsty Alert


Just now I am fairly furious that neither thirst nor hunger always do for me what God intended they should do. What drives me nuts is that I’ll either arrange for satisfaction by collecting beverages and foods I like and believe will benefit me, or I will deny that I am thirsty and hungry. I loathe that I will posture satisfaction and fullness when I am actually parched and famished.

For centuries God has been telling His people to come to Him whenever they long to be satisfied. He doesn’t tell us we should pretend we are satisfied or that we should make do with what little we have—“Be strong, Ralph! There’s a good thirsty and starving lad.” God invites us—no, He commands us—to Himself! Our coming to Him best glorifies Him when we do it out of thirst and hunger because we believe He is our ultimate satisfaction. He has planned that thirst and hunger and filth and sin and weakness and bondage and frustration should be things He provides for, not for us to work out and get over. He is our freedom, He is our satisfaction, He is our strength.

So it’s crazy that we put up with so much thirst and hunger, mislabeling it as suffering for Jesus or some such nonsense. He doesn’t want us to have any circumstances or to endure any suffering detached from Him—He wants us to come to Him and know Him as Satisfier of the Saints. Faith doesn’t say, “Be confident! Be self-assured!” Faith says, “Go and get confidence from Him!”

I want more and more to offer myself to God because I’m thirsty, because I’m hungry, because I need a bath, and because I’m a mess. I’m old enough to have figured out that nothing slakes my thirst, nothing satisfies my hunger, nothing cleans me up, and nothing straightens me out except Him. Anything and everything else covers over the very thing that calls me to Him—my need. There is no shame in that! It has always been this way.

Centuries ago, God said to His people:
"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3a)

It’s our soul (that part of us that perceives and expresses a response to circumstances) that is tortured and tormented by thirst and hunger. The storms that buffet our souls can only be stilled by Him, not by our fleshly navigational skills, no matter how expert. We’re not supposed to be able to fix ourselves or clean ourselves up apart from Him. People who cannot find God satisfying are the ones who bathe before visiting with Him, who posture strength in His presence and satisfaction already when drawing up a chair at the vast banquet of God. “No thanks; I’m on a diet. . .I’m really quite full, actually.”

Does this make sense?

I don’t want anything disguising my thirst, I don’t want anything covering over my hunger because those things are my easiest and most certain avenue to Him and to His Spirit. Fullness is His promise, thirst is the alert.

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (John 7:37-39a)

So when I talk to God I tell Him about how dissatisfied I am, how thirst and hunger are driving me nuts(!), how frustration and failure in this world are making me crazy. I know people will think I’m weak and foolish—“Didn’t he go to college to learn how to overcome all that?!”—but it’s likely that I’ll be knowing and delighting in God in a way they cannot. Is that boasting? Ha! Not a chance. I’m just paying attention to what seems to bother or threaten me most, and offering myself in that condition to God, my Satisfier.

Okay, then. Rant over.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Getting What You've Got


Think of someone who bugs you. You know, someone who really gets under your skin and makes you want to do, well, something. Maybe a really good yell would be enough. Maybe not. And now, compare that person’s effect on your personal bug-o-meter with how God affects you on that same scale. Who wins?

For me, it’s God—hands down.

I’m not really complaining, though it might seem that way. People bug me and I want to whop them or get away from them so they can bug someone else. And, sure, sometimes I’ll get introspective and try to figure out why people bug me, and what that means about me, bugged as I am. That’s about as far as it goes.

But when God bugs me, when He begins prodding me, I know it’s toward something He wants for me, something eternal, something designed specifically by Him for me. Something He knows I cannot do without. “In order to go further, Ralph, you’re going to have to get this. Do you feel the pressure? How about the nagging disappointment? Is dissatisfaction haunting you? Good! You’ve been on a path that has kept you from what I have given you; it’s time you got it.”

To be clear, what God has given me is Himself. There’s nothing better that I’ve ever found, and no goal is better or higher than finding the way to know and enjoy Him. It’s where I belong, it’s where I fit and it’s how I live. It’s like I’m home when I’m knowing Him. But so much gets in the way, so much seems bent on deceiving me into believing there is another way for me to live, a way that’s better, a way that will get me what I want. Like there’s something I want more than God.

There isn’t.

What I’m getting at is something I want to write and talk about for the next, oh, twelve years. It’s that important. Here it is:

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Rom. 7:6)

God thinks that the change He has made for you and to you is radical and complete. He thinks that, at the cross, He got rid of the rulebook that, while commanding us how we must live, always was against us. We must not attempt to follow it anymore—He’s not involved! Neither should you be. He has made you new and alive, and has birthed you into a new way of life—by the Spirit. That’s for the rest of your days; it’s now and it’s yours. It’s your new normal. This was His triumph at the cross! (Col 2:13-15)

An essential ingredient in this new way of living by the Spirit is that you believe it’s for you and that you thirst. That might sound trivial, yet until we’re convinced that life by the Spirit is our new normal, we’ll be seduced into dabbling at it. And that will hurt. That’s where frustration lives.

So at the risk of seeming self-serving, read my book. There’s way too much in there for you to miss, way too much explanation about what God has done for you and to you so you can grow in life by the Spirit. If you haven’t read it, get it—at no cost if you like. It will help you on the way to where we're going.

For this next season I’m going to be concerned not so much with what happened to you by God, but how to shake off the deceitful web of this world and get going in your inheritance—the riches of life by God. God Himself is what you want.

He’s yours. Let’s get Him.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Good Look Behind


A while back I was driving on the freeway when my rearview mirror decided to commit suicide. In an instant, it leaped away from its secure and beneficial position, crashed on the dash and rolled onto the floor, there to lie in state. I couldn’t believe it.

Grief over the untimely and unnatural death of the mirror swept over me, and I became vividly aware of how instantly insecure I felt.

I couldn’t see behind.

Until replacing it about a week later, each time I drove somewhere I felt little security about what was before me because I had become insecure about what was behind. I drove around always on edge and with virtually no confidence. For a while I forced myself to drive without a look behind, but until I replaced the mirror, I never felt right.

I do that sometimes in life, as well, and it’s terribly dangerous because I don’t do good without a good look behind. My going forward first requires a look back at what has been done for me by Jesus. If I forget to take a look, or if I can’t see behind, I’ll be out of sorts wherever I go.

I must know and have settled in my heart the momentous occasion of my past crucifixion and resurrection with Christ Jesus. If I don’t, I’ll bash around in my day like a bumper car at Disneyland; fun for a while, but getting nowhere. When Jesus died, in Him the guy I used to be died, too. When Jesus rose from the dead, the new me did, too.

My look behind at what Jesus did for me and to me means I can go forward, knowing the truth about how to live and look at what’s ahead. And everything’s different. From then on I regard nothing and no one from a worldly viewpoint (2 Cor 5:16). Instead, I listen and look for the Spirit’s involvement with me and figure He knows about everything and everyone else. It’s then I’m led by the Spirit, which has become my new normal way to live. Knowing what’s gone on behind me allows me to look forward with confidence because I know that I’m really living. I need that! And it’s then I live for what’s eternally true, not for what’s temporarily before me.

In view of the past, I can see ahead--and it doesn’t look so bad from there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

There Are Times. . .

. . .when certain scriptures leap up in my heart in recognition and need. Here's one of them for today:

Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4

Magnificent!

We've actually been raised with Christ through His resurrection, and, because that's true, we can only see what's real from that position. We're now in Christ--there's no gettin' out of Him--and He is our life.

Man!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Scroll Reveals Proverbs 31 Woman Was A Lazy Bum


JERUSALEM — Archaeologists and scholars say a scroll unearthed in present-day Palestine is a long lost chapter of the ancient book of Proverbs. The so-called "thirty-second chapter" reveals that the industrious woman portrayed in Proverbs 31 was a myth, albeit a cruel one.

"This is a day of liberation," said Jennifer Scorgan, the speaker at a women's retreat in Ohio, when news about the discovery filtered in. The meeting was interrupted to make the announcement, and women burst into tears, then stood on their chairs and cheered.

"Four thousand years of impossible expectations have just been lifted," Scorgan bellowed as hundreds of women embraced each other and gave high fives.

"'Revolutionary' is not too strong a word for the chapter's content," said Wanda Benedict of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, lead researcher for the team. "As we translated it, we started getting tingles."

The scroll, viewed by journalists in Jerusalem, includes the final words of Proverbs 31 — the famous chapter which lays out a lifestyle for godly women. The text then continues: "Ha ha ha, fooled you. Anyone who took the last part seriously must have a major performance complex. Here's the deal. Forget the home business, making clothes for the kids or putting a hot meal on the table every night. A woman ought to do what she can to get by. Raising a family can drive you nuts, so just try to survive. If that means waking up late and lolling around in your jammies until noon, go for it. Go to the mall, buy something nice for yourself. You deserve it, girl. It's your life. Don't sweat it too much. God loves you no matter what. Here ends the holy book of Proverbs and the sayings of King Lemuel, learned from his mother."

As news of Proverbs 32 spread through Christian circles, women around the world erupted with joy. In India, a women's prayer group stood in the streets and ripped Proverbs 31 from their Bibles, then danced on the pages.

"We are free!" they chanted.

In Australia, Christian women openly rejoiced.

"I've been shamed by that chapter far too long," said Sally Winters, 42, of Brisbane. "Every Mothers Day I grit my teeth through sermons about the so-called ideal wife. This [new scroll] is unbelievably refreshing. The writer of Proverbs was wiser than I thought."

"Now if only they'd find a chapter about the Proverbs 33 man," added another woman.

Publishers say they will add Proverbs 32 to Bibles beginning in 2009.•

(Because I suffer from a warped sense of humor, I often cruise by a sort of Mad Magazine web site called LarkNews.com, from which I got this spoof article. I always feel better after visiting the site--it's like my drug of choice. Well, one of them anyway. I recommend it.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Obedience For Dogs & Me


My daughter has a Nintendo DS. Yes, my wife and I actually chose to give it to her for Christmas. What evil thing does that say about us?! Hmm…

Anyway, she has this game where she gets and trains puppies, raising them from puppiness through adultness. To do it, she gives them behavioral commands like “Lie down!” and “Sit!” and “Roll over!” Sometimes the Nintendo dogs obey, and sometimes they don’t, which provokes my daughter to say it again—a little more strongly. It’s funny because not only does she speak with clarity and deep authority (well, at least it sounds pretty convincing for a girl her age), but our own dog, sitting next to her, carries out the commands. Well, some of the commands.

And I wondered, “If my daughter said those commands with an encouraging tone, a really upbeat inflection, would the dogs follow through and obey more readily or less?” And that got me thinking.

What if I thought of God’s commands to me as wonderful, life-securing and encouraging orders, instead of grumpy and foreboding demands? I mean, I know God is always correct and spot-on in His assessment of everything, so why does my fleshly mind attach a doom and gloom tone to His directions? Does the Spirit talk to me in the same manner as He would to, say, Pharaoh? Jezebel? Nebuchadnezzar? Or, how about the devil? Same?

If I was hanging out with Pharaoh one day and God showed up with something to say, would His commands to me sound the same as those to Pharaoh? Of course, I suppose we’d have to make certain exceptions for content. “Pharaoh, you brutal subjugator of my people, take out the trash...and then go to Sheol.” And, turning to me, “Ralph, you greatly favored, heaven-bound son of mine, take out the trash.” Would it all sound the same?

I don’t think so.

There are those who think obedience is the most important part of the Christian life—I’m not one of them. I think believing God is first. And while the obedience-is-king crowd might say, “Well, of course believing is first,” I don’t think they really mean it, especially because they often come across as stern and dour, obedience monitors among us. They major in it, and we’ve noticed.

I think the reason many of us fail to obey the New Testament oriented commands of God is because we think they come to us from a sort of high school principal—Do this, Ralph, and you won’t get into trouble. So, the only thing I believe at that moment is, “Well, I’d better do it, or I’ll get detention.” See what I mean? My belief is in avoiding the consequences of disobeying authority, not in the brilliance and well-intentioned motives of the trustworthy principal. That sounds like a dog’s life, doesn’t it? Do the right thing, or you’ll get a boot across your back-side, you mangy mutts. Is that all we are to God, a special pack of dogs? To be certain, obedience is a vital, indispensable part of Christian life, but why we obey is, I believe, even more important.

So, today I’m doing what God says to do because it’s coming from my Father, who is perfect in love, perfect in knowledge and grace, and perfect in how He sees and treats me. I have a pretty good idea of what He did for me and to me through Christ, and I have a decent idea of what He thinks of me. It’s pretty fantastic.

He’s amazing, and He’s amazing toward me—I believe that, and I believe Him. Obedience comes from there.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Just For Fun

I enjoy humorous looks at the future, and so include this one here; hope you don't mind. This cartoon captures perfectly the Obamafication Effect now in full swing here in the US.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Top 10 Redemption Flicks of 2009

(According to Christianity Today, the following are the 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2008. Go here to read more reviews of each of these films.)

What do irresistible robots, racist curmudgeons, and sensitive pachyderms have in common?

So, what's a "redeeming" film? The definition varies, but for our list below, we mean movies that include stories of redemption—sometimes blatantly, sometimes less so. Several of them literally have a character that represents a redeemer; all of them have characters who experience redemption to some degree—some quite clearly, some more subtly. Some are "feel-good" movies that leave a smile on your face; some are a bit more uncomfortable to watch. But the redemptive element is there in all of these films.

We also let each of our voters choose "One That Got Away"—a single film they wish had made the final list. Think of those extra films as sort of our "honorable mentions."

1. Wall•E
directed by Andrew Stanton
"A meaningful masterpiece that offers as much food for thought to adults as it does to children." "Whimsical comedy, thrilling action, threads of Noah's Ark and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and an inspiring mechanical hero—a fusion of R2D2, Woody Allen, and Charlie Chaplin—who reminds us that humanity at its best, living responsibly and passionately, just might help us out of the mess we've made at our worst." "Unconditional love." "A wake-up call to be aware of the beauty that is round us at all times." "A thing of beauty—a true artist's picture that is both entertaining, provocative, subtle, sad, and joyful." "Existential longing, awe and apocalyptic hope form the ambitious thematic terrain of this poetic, mesmerizing film." "A timeless parable about love in the ruins—a testament to the power of love to transform darkness into light."

2. The Visitor
directed by Tom McCarthy
"A withdrawn professor's static life is shaken up—and ultimately enriched—by his unexpected involvement in the lives of a pair of illegal aliens." "When Walter reaches out to two needy immigrants, he changes their lives and redeems his own, becoming a Christ-like sufferer alongside the oppressed." "A tale about the rewards of living with courage, conscience, and compassion." "It buys the right to discuss the U.S.'s treatment of immigrants because it was first and foremost a story of people. I cared for these people." "Though the film tackles a weighty issue and—ultimately—provides no easy answers, it is thoroughly satisfying. It oozes goodness, humanity, and a classy reverence for dignity and trans-cultural decorum." "A film about tricky political issues that eschews polemics in favor of real compassion."

3. Gran Torino
directed by Clint Eastwood
"Eastwood adds an interesting new wrinkle to the themes of mortality, violence, revenge and redemption that have been so prominent in his more recent films." "Some have said that Gran Torino doesn't have a happy ending, but the symbolism of what happens points to loving sacrifice and the complete commitment of one's life for the betterment of others." "We see a man redeemed from hatred to love for neighbors who steadily and persistently showed him love—even when he continually pushed them away." "Profound on a number of levels—a commentary on our contemporary zeitgeist but also a timeless story of redemption, sacrifice, and grace. It's Eastwood working through his own Dirty Harry mythos, atoning for his own cinematic sins in the same way that any of us must reckon with our past as we age and the world changes."

4. Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who
directed by Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino
"When the Mayor of Whoville raises his voice to a mysterious, invisible presence in the sky, he shows his people how to live with courageous faith. When Horton risks his own reputation to save microscopic lives, he reminds us of the importance of looking closer, and of serving with humility." "The film encourages us to look both 'up' and 'down'—to humble ourselves and see ourselves as small, yet also to see the greatness that exists in others who we may find all too easy to dismiss." "A wonderful allusion to how God loves us." "Horton has such love for the Whos that he cares for them without fail—and wants to know them, and characters trust and believe without seeing. Neither the Whos nor Horton have 'proof' for the existence of the other except for the voice they can hear. Horton listens to the still, quiet voice and chooses to believe the impossible—even in the face of opposition." "Horton is one of the year's best and most inspiring heroes; celebrates courage, dedication, compassion and even forgiveness."

5. Rachel Getting Married
directed by Jonathan Demme
"Rachel is a badly broken character haunted by her mistakes and painful memories. But as she brings her baggage into the midst of her sister's wedding, she rips open deep wounds that stretch back through her family's history, testing everyone's capacity for patience, grace, and forgiveness. All of this plays out in a multi-cultural community that is not merely tolerant—they celebrate each other, and they acknowledge that, for all of their mistakes, they have some sense of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like." "The superficiality of hipster culture is contrasted nicely with the very real, very deep grief, shame and brokenness of a family living with a pain that can never be completely healed. A stirring portrait of the need for forgiveness, and the occasional possibility of finding it—or granting it." "The film—especially in a one very tender scene—shows what unconditional love looks like." "A highly compelling, superbly acted assemblage of intimate, interpersonal moments. It might be my favorite wedding movie ever."

6. Fireproof
directed by Alex Kendrick
"Few box office hits have taken the sacred institution of marriage so seriously." "A vast improvement on the Kendricks' previous film, Facing the Giants, in which everything wrapped up with a tidy bow after the main character got right with God. Here, the protagonist still has struggles aplenty after his epiphany—much more like real life as we know it." "It's not a perfect movie, but what strengthens the movie is its open and single-missioned heart to proclaim God's love, and how that love can be shown through marriage." "The most poignant moment may be when the main character describes how he keeps trying to love his wife—but she stubbornly pushes him away again and again—and realizes that this is exactly what exists between God and him."

7. The Dark Knight
directed by Christopher Nolan
"The most accomplished superhero movie yet made." "A moving, complex, fascinating look at order and chaos, and how the gap between these things is often filled by people who sacrifice themselves and their reputations for the greater good." "For all its darkness, the film proposes that not everyone may be a hero, but heroism can come from anywhere." "Displays how good men courageously stand against evil—and how evil responds, attacks, and changes them." "Under the surface—perhaps unknown even to the filmmakers—is that this film shows Batman as a Christ-figure who self-sacrificially takes the sins of others onto himself, knowing it is the only way to save others and bring hope. Batman becomes an outcast so that the people of Gotham would have hope." "Dark, ferocious and provocative; a genre-redefining take on the superhero movie." "A superhero epic about terrorism and the problem of evil—thematically, it treads the same ground as No Country for Old Men, and it's arguably more complex."

8. Shotgun Stories
directed by Jeff Nichols
"When three brothers—Son, Kid, and Boy—were abandoned by their abusive father, they watched him become a Christian and raise a new family. But he never came back to make amends. And so, after his death, his sins continue to infect an Arkansas community, turning family against family. Jeff Nichols' astonishing debut is a riveting drama about civil war, parental responsibility, growing up, and the hard work of breaking a cycle of violence." "A small, searing little film about family, violence, and America. It's remarkably understated and subtle, but packs a big punch." "Haunting morality play about bad blood between two sets of half brothers." "Makes the case that sitting together silently on the porch can be more heroic than revenge.

9. Slumdog Millionaire
directed by Danny Boyle
"Beautifully paced and tenderly told—a Dickensian chronicle of one boy from the slums of Mumbai who transcends his circumstances (with a lot of luck) and reaps the rewards of a humble, honest life. It's also a love story, in the most cheerfully clich├ęd sense, and it's all so wonderfully earnest. Not a shred of cynicism." "Not a warm and fuzzy feel-good movie, but an alternately grueling and touching slog through the life of a Mumbai orphan who may be destined for a happy ending, despite his horrific life circumstances." "Not just a movie where star-crossed lovers finally find their way to one another. Not just a movie about a poor Indian child rising out of a horrible life on the street to accomplish great things. It is also about providence and how all things are used for good by something greater than ourselves. As the film clearly says, all things happen 'because it was written.'" "Full of light and color, this fast-paced fairy tale is unabashedly romantic, gloriously unpretentious in its simple portrayal of a love that conquers fear and darkness."

10. Man on Wire
directed by James Marsh
"While this is a documentary in which criminals celebrate the crime they pulled off, it's hard to deny the beauty of Petit's seemingly impossible dance on a high-wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Not only is his personality engaging, and his feat nearly unthinkable, but he brings a sense of wonder back to the sight of those towers." "It's exciting to be reminded of what even a few people can do if they work hard, plan hard, and dream hard." "A truly gripping, enthralling adventure of a film." "A concise film with broad, life-affirming reach, though it doesn't hammer you over the head with its significance." "A senseless act of beauty." "Some say it's about the artistic crime of the century, but this is no celebration of wrongdoing; rather, it's a movie about one man's dream to inspire many and to bring some beauty into the world, and the hard work it took for him to achieve it."


The Ones That Got Away
We asked each of our voters to choose one movie they wish had made our list of 10 most redeeming films.

As We Forgive
Due to prison overcrowding, some 50,000 perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda (in which about 1 million people were killed) have been released in recent years, many of them returning to their home communities where they killed their neighbors. Sounds like a formula for more bloodshed, but amazingly, forgiveness and even reconciliation are occurring all over the country as former enemies now work side-by-side to rebuild communities, homes, and—most significantly—broken relationships. This marvelous documentary, by Laura Waters Hinson takes you into several of these gut-wrenching and soul-inspiring stories.
—Mark Moring

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
OK, I'll readily admit this movie is not all that it could have been, altering and omitting some of the fine points from the book. But then Prince Caspian is not an easy book to adapt; the narrative is clunky and it's one of the weaker entries in The Chronicles of Narnia. The film is still entertaining as a fantasy epic and, more importantly, it retains its core story and message, a metaphor for waiting on and trusting in the Lord to deliver us when things seem most hopeless.
—Russ Breimeier

Defiance
In the face of such horrors as the Holocaust, sometimes the only thing that helps us move forward is the heroes who emerge out of ordinary men and women facing extraordinary odds and enemies. Defiance tells the true-life story of the Bielski brothers, four heroes who rose above the death and devastation that was German-occupied Poland and Belorussia during World War II. They fled to the forests with as many other Jews as they could rescue and crafted their own society—doing the best thing they could to stage their defiance against the German forces: by living with dignity and hope.
—Camerin Courtney

Doubt
Centered around allegations of sexual abuse within the Catholic church, Doubt could have been nothing but a complete trashing of religious faith. Instead, it's a powerful parable about trust, an affirmation of the primacy of faith and the reality of doubt, a celebration of compassion, and, in Philip Seymour Hoffman's Father Flynn, one of the most sympathetic portrayals of religious faith the big screen has seen in years. The story is told with the utmost simplicity, but it tackles complex realities with real grit.
—Josh Hurst

The Fall
At one point in The Fall, the suicidal stuntman asks the young immigrant girl, "Are you trying to save my soul?" It is a key question, for indeed she is, even if she is unaware of it at the time. As the man spins his incandescent yet repugnant tale designed to distract the innocent girl from his true intentions, she reacts not with the calculated resolve of logic or reasoned adult judgment, but with the implorations of one human being who has simply and fundamentally come to love and value another human being. It is this unconditional, unvarnished, unsophisticated adoration that brings the despairing man back from the brink.
—Brandon Fibbs

Happy-Go-Lucky
One of the hardest things for a film to do, or a book (or any art, really), is to portray a truly good character who is also believable and human. In Happy-Go-Lucky, thanks to the direction of typically dour Mike Leigh and the effervescent performance of English actress Sally Hawkins, such a character is impressively realized. "Poppy" is a 30-year-old single schoolteacher who lives in a modest flat in North London and rarely has a frown on her face. This feel-good movie explores, probes, and puts Poppy's uncommon happiness on trial—gracefully exploring the question of how anyone can be authentically joyful and decent in a world gone mad.
—Brett McCracken

Iron Man
The strangest thing about the "other" great superhero movie of this summer—Iron Man—is that it's not really about a superhero. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) just has power: privilege, money, brains, and education. Without his fancy-schmancy suit, he's just a smart, rich guy with a crazy pacemaker. That's why Iron Man matters: this is a superhero we can emulate. Stark just takes what he has, and instead of staying home and arguing over whose fault it is that the bad guys have guns, he assumes responsibility and does what he is best able to do. That's the kind of "superhero" we're all hoping for right now.
—Alissa Wilkinson

Ostrov (The Island)
Russian Orthodox spirituality pervades this haunting, parable-like tale of a guilt-ridden ex-soldier who is taken in at a monastery and never leaves. Locally reputed as a holy man, "Father Anatoli" (former Russian rock star Pyotr Mamonov) hides his spiritual gifts, like the early Franciscans, under outrageous behavior, embodying the archetype of the holy fool. Deceptively—or rather NOT deceptively—simple, but profound, Pavel Lungin's film engages the supernatural in a persuasively naturalistic way.
—Steven D. Greydanus

Pray the Devil Back to Hell
You may not have heard of this movie; it wasn't widely distributed, and even some of our own panel missed it. That obscurity is a shame because if any film shows true redemption, the power of prayer, and how the church—or just one believing individual—can make the difference in a broken world, it is this short, powerful, unassuming documentary about Liberia. Specifically, it tells the story of how one woman rallied others to help her country rise out of the bloody days of civil war and the injustice of president Charles Taylor thanks much to the Christian Women's Peace Initiative who rocked their nation with conviction, prayer, fasting, and a call for peace.
—Todd Hertz

U23D
This live U2 concert, projected onto IMAX screens, treats moviegoers to the best seats in the house for a show of breathtaking power and inspiring songs. To borrow one of Bono's lyrics, it may be "even better than the real thing." Unlike those 80,000 exuberant fans in the crowd, you can put on your 3D glasses and soar over the audience, glide across the stage, and look over Larry Mullen shoulder as he pounds the drums—all while Bono's lyrics inspire people with real hope. In word, melody, and gesture, he constantly reminds us that this music is about something more than feelings, more than thrills. It's about love, peace, hope, and the Almighty who inspires them to sing.
—Jeffrey Overstreet

Wendy and Lucy
A woman with very little money runs into some problems on her way through Oregon: her car won't start, she's arrested for shoplifting, and—most significantly—she loses her dog. The remarkable thing about Kelly Reichardt's latest film is that it elicits not mere pity for its marginalized protagonist, but compassion, as it draws us into Wendy's desperate, terrifying, and occasionally hopeful experiences and compels us to ask how we would act in her place, and whether we would reach out to her, as one or two characters do, if she happened to cross our path.
—Peter T. Chattaway