Monday, May 21, 2012

Who, Me?

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

When we last saw Bilbo and the dwarves, they were in trouble because they followed their own desires and left the one path through Mirkwood that would get them to the other side. The end result of all the escapades with disappearing elf feasts and hungry spiders is that all of the dwarves are captured by the elves and imprisoned in the dungeon of the Wood-elves' king. Thanks to his magic ring, Bilbo is able to creep about the king's stronghold somewhat freely, but that has its limits as well. In moments of particular desperation, he longs for help from Gandalf, although he knows that it is not possible to get a message to him about their plight. Even if he could send the wizard a message, Bilbo knows, there is no guarantee that Gandalf would be able to come to their aid, busy as he is with a dangerous mission of his own. Thirteen dwarves are depending on him for rescue, but even though "he sat and thought and thought, until his head nearly burst…no bright idea would come."

After days on end of wandering invisibly through elven halls and observing their habits, routines, and conversations, the burglar finally figures out a way to break out of the place, and with a little luck, the plan actually works! Bilbo discovers that sometimes when you pray for something – someone to help get you out of a tough situation, for example – you have to be prepared to find out that you are the answer to that prayer.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

No Water, No Food After Midnight, and STAY ON THE PATH

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

When I started blogging my way through The Hobbit a few months ago, I had no idea that I would be referencing it in the same post with the movie Gremlins. It turns out, however, that the two stories have something in common, in that major events are instigated when characters fail to follow instructions. 

As any child of the 80's can tell you, the three rules of owning a Mogwai are to keep it out of the light, never get it wet, and never feed it after midnight. By a series of unfortunate accidents, two of the rules are broken and one cute little furry critter becomes a pack of evil, destructive monsters that ruin Christmas for the town of Kingston Falls. 

As for The Hobbit, many days and a series of unfortunate events have befallen Bilbo and the dwarves since they left the refuge of Beorn's house, and when their food and water supplies run out, so does their memory of the shape-shifter's most important piece of advice: Stay On The Path. It is so important that Gandalf reminds them of it several more times before he leaves them to take care of other business – in fact, "DON'T LEAVE THE PATH" is the last thing they hear him say as he gallops away. 

They have little trouble following directions at first, but after days and days of walking down the oppressively dark and gloomy path, their food and patience run out. It is no wonder, therefore, that they are sorely tempted when the lights and sounds of elven feasting appear in the trees just off of the trail. Although they have been warned that to leave the road may result in being lost forever in the forest, their focus on their empty stomachs leads to an inability to resist the temptation of food so close by. 

Of course, when they try to crash the elves' party, the lights go out and some of them even fall into an enchanted sleep. When the lights appear two more times later in the night, they try again with similar results, but their desire for food has completely overcome common sense at this point and they take no notice of cause and effect. In the end, they not only fail to get dinner, but they find themselves hanging from the trees wrapped in spider silk, about to become dinner. 

Often, the instructions we are given are just as simple and straightforward: Have no other gods before me; Honor your father and mother; Do not murder; Do not covet your neighbor's possessions; Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, and strength; Love your neighbor as yourself; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Why, then, is it so hard to follow them sometimes? I think that ultimately, much depends on how focused we are on our goals – the better the focus, the less likely we are to let temptations and other distractions lead us off the path. And how to do we improve our focus and learn to resist temptations? By doing just what pastors and Sunday School teachers have been telling us for years: spend time in prayer, Bible study, and worship, getting to know the One who helps us and sustains us through all the places our paths go.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentation 3:19-23)

Bilbo and his companions have been traveling on the dark path through Mirkwood Forest for days on end and their supplies of food and water are starting to run low. When Bilbo climbs a tree to try to see above the forest, all he sees are the tops of trees stretching endlessly in all directions. The dwarves hear the sounds of a hunting party in the woods nearby and several white deer run across their path, but they waste their last arrows in an unsuccessful attempt to bring them down. To make matters worse, when the first deer jumps over the black stream, it causes Bombur to fall in, after which the dwarves must carry his sleeping form until the enchantment wears off.

Tolkien describes their mood thus: "They were a gloomy party that night, and the gloom gathered still deeper on them in the following days. They had crossed the enchanted stream; but beyond it the path seemed to straggle on just as before, and in the forest they could see no change." Things are not as bad as they seem, however. Bilbo didn't know that when he climbed the tree, they were in a low spot, and if he had climbed a different tree closer to the top of the bowl, he could have seen that they were nearing the edge of the forest. The dwarves don't think very hard about their run-in with the white deer, either, but we find out that "if they had known more about it and considered the meaning of the hunt and the white deer that had appeared upon their path, they would have known that they were at last drawing towards the eastern edge, and would soon have come, if they could have kept up their courage and their hope, to thinner trees and places where the sunlight came again."

The problem, as Tolkien so aptly shows us, is that we don't always know important information when we are in the midst of a difficult situation. Lacking that information, we don't pay attention to the signs we do get that things are about to improve, or else we can't fully interpret those signs as harbingers of better things to come. It's no wonder that we, like the dwarves in Mirkwood, become gloomy and discouraged and hopeless when the way becomes dark and seemingly endless. We must remember that we don't have all the information right now, and that things may not be as hopeless as they seem. We must pay attention to the little things that can give us clues to better times ahead. Above all, we must trust God and remain hopeful as we remember the above words of Jeremiah that continue to remain true to this day.