Trollhunters and the Value of Life

I’ve been watching Trollhunters, a Netflix original series, with my kids lately. We’ve all been enjoying it. It’s well-produced, full of thrilling action scenes that bounce around an epic mythology and a diverse array of characters.

If you’re a fan of the vision of Guillermo del Toro, as exemplified in movies like Hellboy and Pan’s Labryinth, you’re in for a treat. Trollhunters is overflowing with the same colorful, zany design. (And also, Ron Perlman). As such, it can be a bit dark and scary, but this makes it more thrilling when the darkness is chased away.

While I can’t give it an unqualified thumbs up as appropriate for all kids, there is one lesson it bestowed that bears repeating, one that we would all do well to take to heart.

One of the main characters, a big troll named (I kid you not) AAARRRGGHH!!!, is a self-avowed pacifist, trying to atone for his violent past. His principles are tested and reiterated at several points throughout the show. About halfway through the series, however, he violates his pacifism to save the life of Toby, his human friend. He deals a killing blow to a dangerous killer troll.

Toby looks in shock at his friend. “AAARRRGGHH!!! Your oath!”

And AAARRRGGHH!!! says, “Your life more important.”

This highlights a profound truth. It is found everywhere in Scripture. Some principles are greater than others. Jesus says that there are two commandments that are the greatest. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. When he says these are greater than the others, I take it to mean that they are greater than the others.

And the character of AAARRRGGHH!!! understands the “love your neighbor” part more than most.

If we don’t put “love your neighbor” in its proper place, then we descend into self-righteousness, similar to the Pharisees. They would tithe from their spice rack, and declare that all they had was to be given God…and then neglect their own mothers. It sure looked and sounded great.

If my family is assaulted, I can sound high and mighty, and act superior by citing verses like “turn the other cheek” or “love your enemies,” and use them as a cover for cowardice while sounding extra holy and pious. If I fail to do something, what I’m really doing is hating my family. Hating the neighbors God has put directly under my charge.

This is one reason why the Bible has such a nuanced view of deception. The Hebrew midwives, when commanded to kill all the baby boys, lied to Pharaoh. To be honest in that situation would have been hating their neighbors. And God blesses them for their dishonesty.

Our principles are just something else we can end up boasting in, puffing ourselves up. But we should be careful to boast only in one thing.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14

We are called to lay down our own lives. But we don’t get to choose to lay down the lives of others. Those are the very lives we should be cherishing more than our own.

This can play out in many different ways in our modern world as well. We are susceptible to the language and rhetoric of compassion, all the while harboring a hatred and contempt for our neighbors. If you have offered support for taking care of the poor or taking in refugees…and then “volunteer” someone else’s time, resources, and/or money, you are guilty of this.

Likewise, a friend should not seek to hurt another friend. But in some cases, the loving thing to do is to deliver a properly timed wound. “Niceness” isn’t necessarily a Christian virtue, and coddling can be just as hateful as a knife in the back.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

“On these hang all of the Law and the Prophets.” Your neighbors life is more important than the letter of the law.

“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6

Discerning the correct path in a given situation isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, it requires a lifetime of practice (Hebrews 5:14), of honed wisdom. If it requires a quick decision, it becomes even harder.

But maybe AAARRRGGHH!!! the troll can can give us some valuable insight.

How do we engrain a love of our neighbors so that it becomes habit, engraved on our hearts and minds?

Donald Trump, Father Hunger, and the Sleeping Giant of Masculinity

First, go read this open letter to Donald Trump. I’ll wait.

The predominant narrative about the popularity of Donald Trump (colored by a desperation to stop him), explains it away as appealing to our baser instincts, such as racism, resentment toward our ruling class, and loyalty to the tribe. Nationalism, in particular.

Every Republican nominee for the past 30 years has been accused of hyperbolic nonsense, such as virulent racism. Remember Romney’s “war on women?” This makes the hysteria almost meaningless and rhetorically inert. It’s also not true. Trump is poised to gather more minority votes than any other Republican nominee in decades.

There certainly is truth in the ruling-class resentment, which I can sympathize with. The nationalism charge also rings true. This is part of the power and appeal of his immigration stance. But it begs a few questions. Why now? And why Trump, of all people? Why is he resonating so strongly?

Trump is actually tapping into something much deeper than any type of nationalism, any type of racial animosity. It’s much more instinctual. Visceral. The scary thing is (at least for those who are genuinely afraid of him), Trump has only just gotten started. This is still just the primary. He has come nowhere close to waking the sleeping giant.

People have no idea what’s about to burst from the seams of our culture, and it’s going to be shocking for those who don’t see it coming.

Did you read the open letter I linked to above? Good.

The key thing to note: Troy grew up without a father in the home. He sees in Trump a leader, a role model, something to aspire to. Someone who wins. Someone who leads. Someone who ruthlessly finishes a fight, but then is gracious to the vanquished. For lack of a better term…someone who acts like a man.

He sees in Trump a father figure.

It doesn’t matter if any of those things are true or not, just that they are perceived to be true. And he is not the only man to think that way. Not even close.

We live in a culture with a deep, gnawing father hunger. Two to three generations without any male role models, no examples of true, masculine strength. Even many that had a dad in the home still grew up functionally “fatherless.” There is something about Trump that resonates on a level that many can’t explain.

He is certainly a master of persuasion. Trump knows what he’s doing. But why is it working so well?

Fatherless men see a public figure oozing masculine energy in a way they have never really witnessed before. He is perceived as an alpha male, a leader who other men want to follow.

They see someone who, when hit, fights back. He doesn’t back down. And he wins. They wish they had the courage and conviction to fight like that. They grew up in a school system and culture that demonized masculine energy and strength, so seeing someone flaunt it openly is cathartic.

They see someone who doesn’t lurk off in shame when accused of something. He is not crippled by insecurity. They wish they could be like that. They are used to being nagged to death.

They see someone who shrugs off insults and laughs at stern finger-wagging. They wish they had that confidence. They are used to being nagged and hen-pecked to death, used to groveling for approval.

They see someone who doesn’t stumble over himself to apologize when someone, somewhere, claims to be offended. They wish they weren’t afraid. They hate themselves for tiptoeing around what they feel is the truth, silently afraid of being called a sexist pig for accidentally wearing the wrong shirt.

They see someone who has attracted and married three beautiful women. It feels like it shouldn’t matter, but it does. They have been told lies their whole life. “Just be a nice guy, and be yourself.” It never worked. They never married or their wives left them and took their children (studies show almost 70% of divorces are initiated by women). Trump must know something that they don’t.

They see someone with five children. The three oldest are all successful, and they all love, respect, and look up to their father. This is something almost every man yearns for. Listen to this Iowa radio ad with Ivanka Trump, his eldest daughter. After I listened to that, I knew Trump would win both the nomination and the presidency.

Many men in America today wish they had a father, and now they are all wishing that that father was Donald Trump. And if that’s not possible, then having him as President of the United States is the next best thing.

And they will make it happen.

Trump’s candidacy is already bringing out record numbers of voters, but this is just the beginning. More and more people (men especially, but also women) are going to find themselves wanting to be led by Donald Trump. Its a response to an instinct that has been suppressed and wound up like a spring. The spring is about to pop. The preference cascade has already started to roll.

Fatherless men, across every racial and economic spectrum, are going to rise up and vote in such large numbers that our political system will tremble at the sudden shock.

Even if Trump is just a parody of true masculinity, of true fatherhood, it doesn’t really matter. Our culture is so starved for the real thing that it will happily chase after the mirage.

Scott Adams has predicted that it will be be largest landslide in history (he predicted Trump’s rise way back in August), and I tend to agree. Our culture of fatherlessness and male feminization has made someone like Trump attractive and inevitable.

We only have ourselves to blame.

The truly bad news for those who fear Trump: if, somehow, Trump is not elected, it only opens the door for someone worse in the future. Someone who makes Trump look like a moderate statesman. The pressure valve will be released now or it will be released later.

Psalm 2 – The Kingship and Inheritance of Jesus

When the Devil tempts Jesus, he saves his best play for last. In Matthew 4:8-10:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”

Why did Satan save this temptation for last? Because the nations, the kingdoms of the world, are exactly what Jesus came for. He wanted the nations. He desired them. That’s part of what the definition of a temptation is. You have to want the thing being offered. And here the Devil is offering something Jesus desires. The nations of the world. But with a shortcut. A presumption. Here would be another Adam eating of yet another forbidden fruit. Another Fall.

But no. Jesus would not accept the nations as a gift from Satan. He would lay claim to them on the field of battle. He would only accept them by right of conquest.

Christmas and Infanticide

Christmas and infanticide are forever related and linked.

That may sound strange. Christmas is supposed to be a happy occasion. Food, family, and presents are the order of the day. And thoughts about baby Jesus, of course.

The tame, mild baby Jesus who was born in a manger, surrounded by cute, cuddly animals (all who could be at a modern day petting zoo, of course), doted on by his parents, and visited by some dumbfounded shepherds.

This view helps us maintain the sentimentality of the season. Fuzzy feelings and sugar plum thoughts.

But let’s not forget the rest of the story.

The wise men came bearing gifts for a king, intending to give homage. But the ruler of the land, Herod, a bloodthirsty tyrant, became jealous for his own power. He was troubled. And he was right to be troubled.

For make no mistake, the story of Christmas is the story of the first gambit in the last battle of a long war. It is the rightful king coming to take up his throne. The prince who would raise up the lowly, and throw down the prideful. Prideful people just like Herod.

And so Herod had every child under the age of two years old slaughtered. Mass murder. Infanticide. Mothers weeping as their children were stolen from their arms.This is as much a part of the Christmas story as the angels singing “Peace on earth,” but we don’t sing many carols about Rachel weeping for her children.

In a nation like ours that routinely murders its own children as a matter of convenience, it is a part of the story that we can never forget. Bundled up in the Christmas story is a clear picture of why Christmas had to happen in the first place. The world is dark. The world is sinful. The world is begging for light.

When the Bible says Herod was troubled, it also says that all of Jerusalem was troubled with him (Matthew 2:3). Their salvation from tyrants, like Herod, had been born, and yet they sided with the tyrant. They empathized with the man who would kill their children not long after.

It is no different today. Our own Herods nod approvingly as they allow the slaughter of millions of innocents, in numbers that might have made the original Herod blush. And we nod right along with them. We have our excuses. Some of them even sound reasonable, on the surface. But that is par for the course with sin. It always sounds reasonable, right up to the point where it demands your very life, or the life of someone you love.

We think we are an enlightened people. Because science…or something. But we are no better than Herod and his ilk. Perhaps, we are even worse.

Christmas is a time for celebration. So celebrate. But know what you are celebrating: the hope of a final victory of over darkness. A darkness that casually calls for the slaughter of children on a whim. A darkness that still calls for the slaughter of children.

This is the very darkness that Christ stepped down into, so that it would flee like a swarm of cockroaches.

Merry Christmas. And may the light continue to scatter the darkness.

 

The Work of Your Hands and the Image of God

Intro to Sermon:

1 Thess 4:9-12

Last night before your dinner, you probably said a prayer, and thanked God for the food you were about to eat. And that is good and proper. It is God that provides all of our needs. Psalm 136:25 says that he gives food to all flesh, for his steadfast love endures forever. We are told by Jesus in Matthew chapter 6 that it is God who provides for the birds of the air, even though they do not sow or harvest. How much more so will he take care of us? And in the model prayer Jesus provides just before that, he says that we should ask for our daily bread. Because our daily bread comes from God.

And yet….how did God feed us? He didn’t

He provided it with common means and circumstances. It was the farmer who reaped a harvest and sold the grain. The baker who actually made the bread. The truck driver who drove it across the country to your chosen grocery store. The third-shift worker who stocked the shelves at 3:00 AM in the morning, so you could easily find what you were looking for.

All of these things conspired to give you your daily bread yesterday. All of these things are everyday jobs of normal people, some would say mundane jobs. And yet it was actually God working through them to care for you and your family. There is a very real sense that when the farmer puts his hand to the plow, God is putting his hand to the plow.

This has some staggering implications, some of which we will be talking about today, but the first one is the importance of the work of men’s hands. Even mundane work. Maybe even ESPECIALLY.

That’s what we are going to be talking about today. And we are going to start at the very beginning. Literally, the very beginning.