Thursday, September 3, 2009

Recognizing the Character Flaw

Movie quiz time: what do these two quotes have in common?

“The simple fact is you feel responsible for Goose and you have a confidence problem.” - Viper, Top Gun

“You know nothing about the law. You're a used-car salesman, Daniel. You're an ambulance chaser with a rank. You're nothing.” – Lt. Cmd. Galloway, A Few Good Men

Want to know the answer? Not so fast. First, in every movie the main character either has a goal that is being blocked or has an incorrect goal. When we watch the movie, we either want our hero to achieve his/her goal or to change the goal if it is misguided. For example, in Top Gun, Maverick’s’ goal is to be the best Navy pilot – a noble goal. However, in A Few Good Men, Lt. Caffey’s goal is to never actually try a case – not such a noble goal if you are a lawyer. Thus, as we watch A Few Good Men, we want Caffey to change his ways and actually try a case; especially one where his clients may actually be innocent.

But we just can’t let it be that simple can we? If we did, there wouldn’t be much of a story because what makes movies interesting is the fact that the protagonist has some sort of obstacle blocking his goal. In fact, our main character faces two types of obstacles: one external and one internal. The external goal is blocked by the antagonist. The internal obstacle, or the character flaw, also blocks the protagonist goal. It is only in dealing with his/her character flaw that the protagonist becomes ready to do battle with the antagonist. In the movies already mentioned, Maverick’s character flaw is his loss of confidence, whereas Caffey’s flaw is his lack of desire to make an argument in court on behalf of his clients.

But our hero can’t see the character flaw himself. He is blind to his own shortcomings. He needs someone else who sees him for who he really is to point out his flaw to him. He needs someone to objectively reflect back to him what he is doing and why. This minor character serves as a mirror to the main character allowing him to see himself clearly, flaws and all. In every movie there comes a moment when this character will make a statement to the protagonist which zeroes in and points out directly the main character’s flaw. Sometimes the statement is brutally honest and said in anger or sometimes the statement is full of wisdom and said with the greatest compassion. Either way, it will generally come in one statement and it will be an eye-opening moment for the protagonist. The reflection in the mirror is now crystal clear.

So what’s the answer to the movie quiz? Each statement is the moment of self-revelation for the main character. For Maverick, it’s Viper telling him he has a confidence problem. For Caffey, it’s Galloway telling him he’s not really a lawyer. Each of these statements is intended to reveal to the main character his/her internal flaw. Again, it is only in overcoming the internal obstacle that the main character can achieve his goal. How else can Maverick be the best Navy pilot unless he regains his confidence? How else can Caffey prove his client’s innocence unless he stands up in court and makes an argument?

Stories are so powerful because they so accurately reflect our own experiences. We all have character flaws. How do our flaws come to our attention? You might be, but I am not smart enough or honest enough with myself to notice these on my own. We need someone else in our life who loves us enough to point out to us our shortcomings. We need someone who is willing to “speak the truth in love” as the Bible says. And when these statements are made to us, how do we deal with them? Do we immediately dismiss them as untrue or do we pause and actually consider whether there is some validity to the statement? And what about when we need to make such statements to others? Are we willing to risk offending someone by telling them the truth or do we remain quiet because we are afraid of confrontation?

As you watch movies, identify the main character’s goal and his/her flaw. Then look for the moment of self-revelation. Look for the moment when another character, usually either a mentor or love interest, speaks the truth to the main character about his/her flaw. Then think about your own life. Is there someone in your life who cares enough to tell you your flaws? Are you the type of person who cares enough to tell others their flaws? We must identify and overcome our flaws if we are to overcome life’s obstacles.

One time I took a personality test that described me as an unsatisfied perfectionist. I immediately dismissed the results and jokingly told my wife how the test described me. She replied that the test described me perfectly and that I am in fact an unsatisfied perfectionist who is never fully happy with anything. This was a moment of self-revelation to me. I then began to understand how that quality played itself out in my life and how several problems I had been encountering were traced back to this character flaw. I am thankful for my wife who cared enough to speak the truth in love to me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Story the Bible Tells



In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He created all things and they were good. God also created man in His image: male and female. He placed Adam and Eve in a garden to the East. They ate from the tree of life and lived in harmony with God and creation. Utopia was created. Shalom was enjoyed.

Now Satan was an angel who rebelled against God. He attempted to equate himself with God and waged war in heaven. Satan and his angels were defeated and cast out of heaven. Since he had failed in his mutiny against God Himself, he now sought to destroy that which God loved most: man.

Inciting Incident

On earth, Satan took the form of a serpent and befriended Adam and Eve. Contrary to the words of God, Satan told them that nothing bad would happen if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In fact, good things would happen. They would become very wise, like God Himself. Adam and Eve ate from the tree and immediately life was drastically altered right before their very eyes.

Shortly thereafter, God came looking for Adam and Eve because they had hidden themselves from God for they were now afraid of Him. When their disobedience was brought to light they made excuses and passed the blame for their actions. Sin had now entered the human realm. No longer were they able to live in harmony with God and others. God had no choice but to expel Adam and Eve from His presence for He could not allow them to continue to eat from the tree of life in their sinful state. Otherwise, they would live forever separated from Him. Utopia was destroyed. Shalom was shattered. Man grieved. God was heartbroken. Satan rejoiced.


For many years man continued to rebel against God. God desperately desired to be back in right relationship with them and for them to live in harmony with each other. Because of man’s wickedness, He brought judgment with a great flood and he brought confusion of their languages. Yet, when presented with living God’s way or his own way, man continued to live out the evil in his heart thus having no regard for God.

Character Flaw

In the battle between right and wrong, it would require great faith for man to disregard his natural self-centeredness and live a life devoted to the worship of God alone. In order to teach mankind about faith, God chose a man named Abraham. God continually placed Abraham in situations that required him to look beyond his present circumstances and trust in the promises of God. Sometimes Abraham trusted. Sometimes he did not. Yet, God put forth Abraham as the model of a man who learned to live by faith. It was Abraham’s faith in God that caused God to declare him to be righteous.

B Story

God told Abraham that He would make his descendents into a great nation. This nation would be called Israel. The people of the nation of Israel were chosen by God to be an example to the world of what it looked like to live in right relationship with God and in harmony with each other.

Sometime later the people of Israel found themselves in captivity in Egypt. God brought plagues upon Egypt in order to punish Egypt for its brutal treatment of Israel as slaves. Pharaoh agreed to the release of the people of Israel and God’s prophet Moses led the people out of Egypt and into freedom. God had promised Abraham that His descendents would inhabit the land of Canaan and so Israel began their journey from Egypt to the land God would give them.

Even though they had just witnessed God practically destroy Egypt, the Israelites failed to trust God and the promises he made to them. Knowing they were too spiritually immature to live a life of faith like Abraham, God gave the nation of Israel a set of laws that proscribed right living with Him and others. Additionally, Israel’s blessing of remaining in the land given to them by God was dependent upon their obedience to God’s laws.


For a period of time, Israel was lead by different judges who administered justice and lead them in battle when necessary. In order to be more like the other nations around them, Israel desired to be governed by a king. Some kings were good and lead the people in worshipping God but most were evil and turned the people away from God and worshipped the idols of their neighbors.

God continually sent prophets to the nation encouraging them to turn from their idol worship and worship the one and only true God. The prophets warned Israel that God would bring judgment upon the nation if they did not turn back to Him. Israel refused to listen to the words of God through His prophets. Israel, as one nation, had consisted of twelve tribes but divided into two nations. Ten tribes continued to be called Israel while the other two tribes were called Judah.

God first brought judgment upon Israel by having them overtaken by the Assyrian Empire. Judah was spared destruction at this point but was later enslaved by the Babylonian Empire. Israel and Judah spent many years in captivity. When the Medo-Persians overthrew the Babylonian Empire, the people of Israel were allowed to return to their land. Some returned but many stayed and assimilated into the nation that had captured them. It was during this time that the last of God’s prophets appeared to the people. These prophets spoke of another prophet from God yet to come. One who would be known as the Messiah, or Savior.

Years later, the Roman Empire took control of the land in which the people of Israel lived. The Israelites hated being under Roman rule and longed for the day when the promised Messiah would free them from captivity. For four hundred years, no prophet from God appeared among the people of Israel.


One day, in the small town of Bethlehem, a teenage girl who had never been with a man sexually gave birth to a baby boy. An angel told her fiancé to name him, Jesus, which means Savior. This Jesus was the promised Messiah to the people of Israel.

Jesus grew up in the small town of Nazareth in Israel. At age 30, he began his public ministry as a Rabbi, which means Teacher. He traveled around preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand. He performed many miracles to substantiate that He was sent from God. In fact, He not only claimed to be sent by God, He claimed He was God.


Jesus claimed that He alone could provide forgiveness for sins and that only through Him could one be in right relationship with God. He taught that faith in Him alone lead to eternal life with God. In Jesus, man would no longer be separated from God. Jesus did not limit his ministry to just the Jewish people. He welcomed Gentiles to be His followers. Many people accepted Jesus’ teachings and chose to follow Him.

Jesus also taught that where man lacked in his desire to love God and others, the Spirit of God Himself would indwell those who had accepted Him and would work to change their heart. This transformation would move someone from their natural focus on self to a life that genuinely cared for the well being of others and that their life would be characterized by a life of love. In short, the person who had accepted Jesus would become, over time, more and more like Jesus in word, thought, and deed. In other words, they would become a Christian, which means ‘little Christ’.

But not everyone welcomed Jesus and his teachings. Many of the religious leaders hated Jesus and felt threatened by Him. While their religious system was based on external obedience to rules and regulations, Jesus taught about a personal and intimate relationship with God. For Jesus, love was the fulfillment of the law. According to Jesus, if one loved God and loved His neighbor there would be no need for rules. God was more concerned about a relationship with man at the heart level rather than surface level compliance to man-made regulations.

Apparent Defeat

The hostility toward Jesus by the religious leaders continued to grow during the three years that Jesus traveled around preaching and teaching. To them, it was inconceivable that God could become a man and so they accused Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be God when He wasn’t. Furthermore, Jesus’ teaching on love, peace, and self-sacrifice was not the message of overthrowing the Roman Empire they had expected from Israel’s Messiah. The religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus but could not impose the death penalty while under Roman rule. So they needed to somehow convince the Romans to execute Jesus. Ironically, they told the Roman governor that Jesus claimed to be the King of Israel, which meant he would attempt to overthrow Rome. Even though the governor, Pilate, believed Jesus to be innocent of these charges, he sentenced Jesus to death for being an insurrectionist. Jesus was beaten severely and then executed by means of crucifixion. His disciples were disheartened. Satan was delighted.


After his death on Friday, Jesus’ body was buried in a tomb just before sundown. On Sunday morning, it was discovered that He has risen from the dead. He then appeared to His disciples and to many others. Over the next two months, there were reports by many of seeing Him. On one day, he met with His disciples and commissioned them go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone. He then ascended from earth to heaven right before their very eyes. While the disciples were standing there perplexed, two angles appeared to the disciples and told them that Jesus would one day return to earth the same way he left.

Final Incident

Shortly after this, one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, preached to the Jewish people that they had just executed their Messiah but that He had risen from the dead and was alive. Peter taught that God had declared Jesus to be both Lord and Christ. Many believed and the Church was born. Just as Israel was intended to be an example of right living with God and others and failed, now the Church, as the body of Christ, was given the charge to model to the world right living with God and others.


The gospel of Jesus quickly spread and churches began to form in city after city. Yet, there were still religious leaders who refused to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah. One such leader, Paul, was determined to stop this movement by arresting and killing those who claimed to follow Jesus. However, one day, while on a mission to arrest Christians, Jesus appeared to Paul and the experience changed him forever. He went from being one of the biggest persecutors of the Church to arguably being its greatest advocate. Like Peter, Paul preached that salvation is by faith in Jesus and not on the basis of works.


Life was not easy for those who chose to follow Jesus. They soon found themselves shunned by those who held onto the Jewish faith. The Church had to deal with false teachers who came in attempting to teach that salvation was by works. They also experienced persecution from the Romans. While Judiasm was a legal religion in Rome, Christianity was not. Many believers were killed by the hands of the Romans.

One of Jesus’ closest friends on earth, John, was arrested later in his life and exiled to an island called Patmos. On this island Jesus appeared to Him in a vision and showed him events that would take place at a later date. John saw angels, trumpets, bowls, and many strange creatures which all had symbolic meanings. John also saw God Himself seated on the throne being worshipped and at the end of all things, those whose names were written in the book of life united with Him forever. Those who had rejected Jesus while on earth were sent away from the presence of God forever.

Final Image

John recorded the vision which was to serve as an encouragement to the churches that no matter what happens on earth, in the end, Jesus will return, Satan will be defeated and God will reign supreme. And once again, man will be united with God and live in harmony with each other. Utopia will be recreated and shalom will be restored.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Closer Look at Movies, A Closer Look at Life

Every movie has a message. In every film that hits the big screen the writers are making commentary, on either how life is or how life should be, and they do this through the words and actions of characters. In order to best understand what commentary is being communicated by a movie, we must first zoom in for a close-up on its different parts and then pull back for a wide-angle look to see its message.

Most movies follow the same basic pattern. First, we are introduced to the protagonist who has a strong desire about something. We are also introduced to an antagonist who is the external opponent to the protagonist’s goal. Next, we see that our main character has an internal character flaw that is also keeping him from achieving his goal. Our hero’s goal will continually be just out of reach and he will continue on this path until the moment that all is lost. It will appear that our protagonist has either given up or will ultimately be defeated. Then, our hero experiences a moment of self-revelation. It often involves another character, typically a lover or a mentor, who helps the hero understand his character flaw. He finally realizes what his internal flaw is and what he must do to deal with it. It is only in overcoming his internal opponent that our hero can overcome his external opponent. The movie climaxes with our protagonist meeting face-to-face with his adversary and it is at this point that we see whether our hero has truly overcome his character flaw. Finally, the movie will conclude with a picture of how overcoming this internal flaw has changed our main character and what the future might look like for him.

It is typically in the moment that our hero realizes the true nature of his internal flaw that we see the message of the movie best communicated. The message of the movie is what the movie is really about. The movie is never really about overcoming an adversary. The messages of films are really about overcoming internal character flaws. The decisions made by our hero in dealing with his character flaw are what the writers are using to communicate either how life is or how life should be.

As an example, in Top Gun, our hero, Maverick, has the goal to be the best Navy pilot, but so does an equally skilled pilot named Iceman. Thus, Iceman serves as an external opponent to his goal. Both pilots are very confident, if not arrogant, about their piloting skills and they believe that to be the best is an admirable character trait. After his co-pilot, Goose, is killed in a tragic accident, Maverick loses confidence in his abilities as a combat pilot. This loss of confidence is Maverick’s internal opponent. As a result, it appears that all is lost as we see him ready to quit the elite training program. Maverick goes to tell Viper, his Top Gun instructor, he is leaving when Viper says to him, “You feel responsible for Goose and you have a confidence problem – a good pilot is compelled to evaluate what’s happened so he can apply what he’s learned.” Here is the moment of self-revelation for our hero. Maverick then returns to Top Gun for graduation and we think he has overcome his confidence problem. But the movie can’t end here. Maverick needs to prove to us that he has regained his confidence.

We then move toward the climax of the movie when we learn that Russian Migs have invaded American air space. Guess who is picked to repel the Russians? Iceman and Maverick. The Migs get a lock on Iceman and he is now out of the fight. Maverick now has the opportunity to show he is the best Navy pilot if only he has truly regained his confidence. The battle with the Migs is Maverick’s time of testing to see whether he has truly overcome his character flaw. At one point in the final battle Maverick disengages from the fight and we are led to believe that he hasn’t really regained his confidence. But Maverick does find his confidence, reengages in the battle and scares off the remaining Migs. The resolution of the movie is Maverick returning to the ship to a cheering crowd who acknowledge him as the best Navy pilot. Even Iceman acknowledges that Maverick is the best when he says that he would be Maverick’s wingman anytime. Therefore, as evident from the self-revelation section, the message of the movie Top Gun is: in order to be the best, you must learn from your experiences and move on.

Movies follow the same basic pattern because this pattern reflects human life experiences. Good stories mirror life’s realities. That is why they are so powerful. As a general rule, life isn’t easy. We have all sorts of goals and desires and yet we also encounter many obstacles to those goals. I am a follower of Jesus Christ which means I have a goal to become like Christ in my thoughts, words, and deeds. However, I have an Adversary (Satan) who places circumstances and people in my life who work to block that goal. Yet, the external opponent is rarely the biggest obstacle. More importantly, I have internal character flaws that prohibit me from becoming like Christ.

Too often I run from conflict. Typically, at the first sign of conflict I quickly head in the other direction. But the Scriptures tell me to endure (literally, “remain under”) during times of suffering. It is only in enduring the conflict to the point of apparent defeat that I learn the true nature of my character flaws and what I must do to overcome them. Overcoming character issues is not for the weak. The phrase “no pain, no gain” is just as much a spiritual reality as a physical reality. However, these are valuable life lessons that God wants to teach me and you. These are the lessons that forge my character and yours into becoming like Christ which is a life of love, peace, and joy.

So as you are watching movies, pay attention to the structure of the film. Identify the hero’s goal and what is blocking him, both externally and internally, from achieving that goal. Pay close attention to how the main character deals with his internal flaw. For it is in how our hero deals with his internal issue that we find the message of the movies we watch. Likewise, as you experience conflict in life, remain under. Instead of solely focusing on the external opponent, identify your internal opponent. What is it inside of you that God wants to change to become more like Christ? This is God’s message for your life story. It's the life of your story that becomes the story of your life.