God & The Polar Express
I was sitting in the theatre beside a 3-year-old boy named Ethan Wilde.
Ethan’s my son. We were about to watch “The Polar Express.” I was a little distracted because we just moved to North Carolina. We were pretty sure God had asked us to. Pretty sure. We had spent our savings and were now digging into our “good credit.” We were beyond strapped and spending eight bucks for the afternoon matinee caused that voice in my head to say: Are you crazy?
A 30-year-old man with a wife and two kids isn’t usually 100% certain of much, but I was about 97% sure I was to spend all my time and resources birthing a ministry, which I would later find out was a lifestyle. God had told me to believe, to stay the course. But as the money flew out of our bank account, I was more than worried. I was scared.
Dave Ramsey’s evaluation would have been: Uh, financial suicide. Now I know Dave Ramsey has saved many people from financial ruin. But this was between me and another Savior; it had nothing to do with financial responsibility. This was about irresponsible, unsound, downright foolish obedience. I’ll come back to this a little later…
Back to The Polar Express. If you haven’t seen it, try to; it’s wonderful. It’s about a young boy who, while growing up, loses his ability to believe in God…I mean Santa Claus. Fortunately, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Father… I mean three variations of Tom Hanks, band together to guide the boy back into believing. I realize that sounds confusing, but stick with me.
It’s Christmas Eve and instead of dreaming of the best day of the year, the boy is in his bedroom agonizing over the universal question: Does God—sorry, I mean Santa Clause—really exist? He used to believe, but now in the mind of this blossoming adult, a fat bearded jolly man delivering presents to the entire world’s population in one night seems impossible. Add in flying reindeer, elves, a North Pole toy factory—it all seems completely foolish. The boy was in danger of becoming a realist.
And then a deep rumbling. It grew louder until it filled his room and even jumped out into our theatre seats. Like an earthquake, it shook and rattled his shelf of sports trophies. The boy crawls over to his window, peers out and what to his wondering eyes should appear? An enormous train decked in his front yard.
Dressed in his pajamas and rubber rain boots, he cautiously walks out to the train and meets Jesus… I’m sorry, I mean a train conductor played by Tom Hanks. The conductor says, “Well…are you coming?” That’s a question worth remembering.
This amazes the boy. He really wants to get on the train, but at the same time, the idea terrifies him. Finally, as the train begins to inch forward, his heart wins out and he takes the outstretched hand of the conductor.
And so the journey begins, a grand adventure filled with mountaintops and frozen lakes and howling wolves and dancing waiters balancing hot chocolate on trays. It’s exciting and dangerous all at the same time. Along the way the boy meets the Holy Spirit… I’m sorry, I mean a ghost who oddly resembles Tom Hanks.
After several breathtaking moments, the train reaches its destination—the North Pole. There are elves everywhere and music, dancing and singing. It is truly a magical place. I’d like to go there some day.
Everyone is awaiting Santa’s arrival, which signals the official start of Christmas. The Elves are singing Christmas songs. Some are whispering “Is He here?” and some are yelling, “Do you see Him?” The anticipation is almost unbearable.
The reindeer harnessed to Santa’s sleigh are going wild! Their master is coming! They can sense it! The sleigh bells are ringing and all who believe in Santa can hear them, their pristine crystal tones adding to the beautiful chaotic anticipation. The children that made the journey are there too. The air is electric.
And then there is the boy. He had all but decided that Santa was not real and yet wants—with his whole heart—to be wrong. Surrounded by a sea of believers, the boy dares to hope; in fact, hope is everywhere, and it’s contagious.
A slow hush falls on the crowd, and all eyes became focused on a building at the end of the square. The doors burst open. There is a bright light, and within the doorframe, a silhouette.
Suddenly the whole square erupts. “There He is!” shouts an elf. “I see Him!” says one of the girls, but the boy, pressed by the crowd, can’t see and still can’t hear the sleigh bells. Why can’t he hear? Desperate, he jumps and presses his way through the sea of elves to the front. And then, there He is, Father God… I’m sorry, I mean Santa Claus, who is also played by Tom Hanks.
Suddenly the boy hears everything: the bells, the worshipping elves, the celebrating kids, the dancing reindeer. And I’m sitting beside my son, and I’m trying desperately to hide my face from the little girl next to me. Why? Cause I’m balling my eyes out and whispering, I believe, I believe, I believe… I love you Lord, and I believe…
I’ve been given a promise from God. But sometimes holding on to it can be rather difficult. Life moves along, things happen; the world is a very busy and noisy place. It’s easy to wake up one day and find you’re just not sure anymore, believing has become a lost art and the promise has become a mountain that seems un-scale-able. In fact, it has often seemed the harder I try to summit, the farther the peak is from me. But I’m convinced that the “God lived life” is one of learning how to believe. It’s learning how to cling to God and keep His promises alive in your heart.
In the movie, it took the conductor, the ghost, and Santa working together to woo the child. One man played all three characters, a trinity working in unison, until ultimately the boy made the decision to believe. The boy’s heart had wanted to believe from the very start. And that desire was enough to push him into the perilous journey.
The little boy in The Polar Express, the one who stopped believing? I identify with him. Yeah, that was me, my story.
I chased the promise for so long, I lost sight of the Promise Giver. Somewhere along the way, I had stopped believing. I became exhausted, unmotivated and unsure where once I had been positive.
Life became random and dull. In one sense I still did what I thought God had created me to do but it no longer held meaning. I started filtering every experience through an attitude of hopelessness until every bump in the road was expected, while every triumph was fleeting. The fact was, I had begun living a life where the glass was neither half-full nor half empty. It was just… half.
But years ago, because of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s faithful love and great wooing, I made a decision that I am going to be a believer, whether it looks good or not, whether it feels good or not. I continue to say yes. to the perilous, life-giving journey.
Now I’m putting all my money on the promise giver and following Him where He leads me, like moving my family to North Carolina and financially disappointing Dave Ramsey. Believing that God is good, that He is faithful, that He can be trusted, it’s really the only way to continue moving forward in my own story. It’s also the only way to experience the fullness of life, immense joy and fulfillment.
Is it possible that God is asking you the same question the conductor asked the boy: Well…are you coming?
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I bought into a lie there that is still being populated by that institution and by most religious institutions across America. The lie? Sin is the problem between God and man.
I sat across from the couple trying not to fidget, trying to keep a look of calm on my face, I was supposed to be the fella with the answers, the counselor. I wasn’t a Counselor.
Religion makes you schizophrenic, self-aggrandizing and judgmental on your good days and then introspective and self-loathing on your screw-up days.