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Disney World vs. Reality

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church   

     While at a pastors’ conference in Orlando, Florida many years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours at America’s best-known theme park. Disney World is truly a feast for the senses. My favorite section of the park is the World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot, where, as you walk around the body of water, you feel as though you are being instantly teleported from one world culture to another, in rapid succession. You begin in a Mexican marketplace, and then you are suddenly in a Norwegian village, then a Chinese temple, followed by quick visits to neighborhoods in Germany, Italy, Japan, and France, among others. It isn’t long before you feel pleasantly disoriented by the rapid-fire culture shock. It is like traveling around the world in 8 hours instead of 80 days, and it’s an exhilarating expedition.

     Two of the most foreign elements of Disney World, though, had nothing to do with world cultures. What made the entire experience feel a bit surreal to me were the scrubbed and pristine nature of the grounds and facilities and the extreme friendliness of the staff. I was continually amazed by the fact that there were staff people everywhere you turned, who not only smiled warmly at you and offered to serve you in any way, but who also worked hard to strike up a conversation with you if you stood still for any length of time. And in spite of the massive numbers of people in the park, there was no trash or dirt to be seen anywhere, and everything your eyes could see looked freshly painted and as-good-as-new. The funds, organization, and workforce needed to keep the parks in this sparkling condition boggle the mind. I kept thinking to myself, “This really is a fantasy land!”

     The stark contrast of real-life hit home for me quickly. I stopped at a fast food place for a quick snack on the way home, and was treated with typical fast-food etiquette by those who waited on me – you know, the look that greets you and says, “Why are you bothering me?”; the grunt that means, “What do I have to get for you?”; and the mumble that means, “Come and get your grub!” Suddenly paying double for my food at Disney World didn’t seem like such a bad deal!

     I’d like to think that Disney World is real and McDonald’s is fantasy, but, sadly, it’s the other way around. No matter how mankind wants to define and describe itself, the Word of God unmasks us and shows us to be the self-centered egotists that we really are. As the prophet Jeremiah said, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil”; “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 13:23; 17:9). Until God changes our nature by His grace, our driving motivation for all that we do, even the things that appear to be loving and righteous, is the selfish exaltation of ourselves.

     Disney World is a self-consciously idealistic celebration of humanism. Appropriately, its central message is made explicit in its most temple-like structure, the huge silver sphere at Epcot called “Spaceship Earth.” There you are taken on a “journey through time,” so that you can marvel at man’s supposed development from monkey in prehistoric times to the master of endless possibilities in the future by the means of science and technology. Like any good tourist guide, Disney makes sure that you only see the good parts of town. The journey through time manages to avoid all the wars, murders, racism, poverty, and immorality that continue to characterize humanity to the same degree that it did in supposedly less enlightened times. Man’s basic problem is still sin and its effects on his relationship with God and others. Through his own efforts, man cannot fix that problem, no matter how many centuries he’s given to study it.

     Is man’s nature basically good or is it evil? Are we naturally innocent or depraved? Your answer to that question has huge implications for your views on parenting, education, civil government, economics, social issues, etc. We want to believe the Disney fantasy, but real life keeps on disillusioning us. We can’t intoxicate, medicate, or amuse ourselves forever in order to escape the harsh reality. It’s better to accept the hard news of Scripture – the condemnation of our thoughts, words, and deeds by God’s Law – so that we might be able to accept the good news of grace, forgiveness, and real change through Jesus Christ.

     One of the rides at Disney broke down while we were in the middle of being whisked through a dark and detailed recreation of another world. One moment our senses were fooled into perceiving a thrilling experience of an alternate reality. The next moment our car stopped, the lights came on, and all the props and machinery behind the illusion were on full display for all of us. It reminded me of the day when Jesus Christ will return to earth, and all the illusions and deceptions that we’ve created for ourselves will vanish in a moment, and every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord.

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

Friends...and All Good Things

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BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     I’m known for not liking movies that make me sad. I don’t want to watch something that makes me carry around emotional baggage for days on end. That’s not entertaining. It’s depressing, and I don’t want to be depressed. And I almost never watch these kinds of movies. Ain’t gonna happen.

     But then it happened. Over the weekend I broke my cardinal rule and watched a show I knew would leave my heart a jumbled-up mess. On Saturday my wife and I sat down to watch the recently vaunted Friends: The Reunion. If you’ve not heard about it, the show gathered together a vast host of people involved in writing and producing the beloved sitcom that ran for 10 years until its final episode in 2004, most notably the six actors and actresses who were the show’s main characters. And true to form by the end of The Reunion I was, as my wife remarked, all up in my feelings (just as I was, FYI, during the final episode back in 2004).

     I couldn’t help it. I loved that show, and I loved the characters. (This is not an endorsement. Parents, I would not recommend it for your kiddos).  I hated saying goodbye back in 2004. Even though the series had a happy ending with all the character’s stories moving in positive directions, I and millions of fans were still heartbroken. All of us would have loved for the show to go on. But it didn’t. The Reunion reminded us of that. In the show, Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey, and Phoebe took us on a trip down memory lane as they toured the old sets and reminisced about their time on Friends. And it was fun. The show was meant to be happy as the cast repeated famous one-liners and read through old scripts together. We laughed a lot during that 90 minutes.

     But when the credits finally rolled for the last time on those characters all I felt was a deep sense of loss. It just didn’t seem right. I got up off the couch and paced the living room and stared out the window introspectively trying to pinpoint why this sitcom reunion show was making me feel like a mom dropping off her firstborn at college for the first time.

     Don’t give me too hard of a time for my emotional reaction, though, ridiculous as it may seem. Most of us feel similarly when we reminisce or when something comes to an end. Maybe it is a child going off to college, or memories of your favorite summer from your childhood that bring up those “this doesn’t seem right” feelings. There is something deep within the human spirit that responds viscerally when things come to an end. I think I know why we do that. It’s what author Mike Cosper calls an “echo of Eden.” We always say the show must go on, but they don’t. In a fallen world all good things come to an end. Endings, even happy ones, trigger something deep in us because something deep in us knows we weren’t made for endings. We weren’t made for good things to cease. We weren’t made to grow old and die. We weren’t meant for goodbyes. We were made to go on forever in happiness and peace and joy. God has “put eternity into man’s heart” after all (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

     But here in Genesis 3 world where sin and death reign there is a ‘time for everything;’ “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2); a time for good things, and a time for good things to cease. That’s why The Reunion affected me so greatly. The passage of time was quite evidently written on the faces of those six actors and actresses, plastic surgeries and Botox notwithstanding. The show was in so many ways a painful reminder of the realities of life apart from grace. One line from the interviews that jumped out at me was how many of the cast members identified those 10 years as the best years of their lives. But that good thing came to an end 17 years ago. Now all they can do is look back and reminisce about the good ol’ days. Here they are now in 2021, 17 years older, 17 years closer to death, with the palpable sense that their greatest good is behind them. How profoundly hopeless is life in the land of time apart from grace.

     As I stood in my kitchen introspectively staring out the window, I realized how easy it is to let that “echo of Eden” sense that we are not made for endings drive us to hopelessness. As my children grow, as I age (and continue losing my hair), as loved ones die, as the good ol’ days get older, it’s so easy to believe that my best is in the past, that time will win as endings keep coming. It was a rough Saturday afternoon, ya’ll.

     But then, after a few more paces around the living room, my introspective heart remembered grace. The promise of God for those caught in a seemingly never-ending cycle of endings is that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that echo of Eden has been made again into reality. The promise of the gospel is that there will not always be a time for good things and a time for good things to cease. For one day, life in the land of time will itself come to an end, and those who have believed in Jesus will go on forever in perfect happiness, peace, and joy.

     Yes, while you live under the clock your life will be marked by the endings of good things. But do not look back as if it holds your best. Do not lose hope. Your hope is seated at God’s right hand. Rest in Christ and trust that at his “right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). And one day all good things will no longer come to an end.

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