There & Back Again, A Christian's Tale. Guest Chapter By Todd Turner.
The fantastical world created by JRR Tolkien begins with the phrase, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.” I was introduced to middle earth through the Rankin-Bass animated film ‘The Hobbit.” It would play every Thanksgiving on a channel opposite all the football games. I remember leaving the “grown up” table and going to the “kids room” so I could watch Bilbo and the gang instead of sitting through another Dallas Cowboys football game. I always wished I could go on such a journey filled with strange new lands, interesting people, and the prospects of danger, not realizing that we all have been chosen and called to join in an even more amazing adventure.
The story of Bilbo Baggins begins in his home and moves through goblin tunnels, the thick forest of Mirkwood, the prison of the Wood Elves, and the deserted halls of the Lonely Mountain, all while almost being eaten by Trolls, answering riddles in the dark, being saved by Eagles, enjoying the hospitality of a man who can become a bear, fighting giant spiders, and surviving a battle of five armies. Much like the wizard Gandalf telling Bilbo in the opening chapter of the book, “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure,” we have been chosen for an even greater adventure. We have been called to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” Matt 28; 19-20.
Bilbo tells Frodo at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, “It's a dangerous business,Frodo .., going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off too.” The one calling us to our great adventure doesn't force us to join him, have us leave the house without our handkerchiefs, or fight creatures all by ourselves, instead he calls us, supplies all our needs, and protects us throughout the journey.
One morning dwarves mysteriously begin to arrive at Bilbo’s home. Gandalf had placed a secret mark on the front of the Hobbits newly painted door, signifying a burglar in search of adventure resides within. Bilbo is soon shocked to find out that he has been chosen to accompany the thirteen companions as they trek to the Dwarves' home of old, The Lonely Mountain. He is told that his part in the adventure will be finding a way inside the mountain into the treasure room where a dragon named Smaug lies on a bed of gold, jewels, and riches. Much the same way Gandalf marked Bilbo’s door, God marks our hearts. Once we are his, he offers us the chance to go on a grand quest. The quest of telling people about Jesus. We have a responsibility to fulfill this calling in our life. Our response to this invitation can go many different ways. The son of Bungo Baggins, first response to Gandalf's offer of an adventure, was an emphatic, “No!” Bilbo's issue was his comfort. “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
Bilbo does go many days with little food while trudging along the eerie path through Mirkwood forest, but also feasts well in the House of Elrond, the elven king. There is a story in the bible about a rich young ruler who is called by Christ to follow him and all goes well until Jesus says, “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me. At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” Mark 10: 21b-22.
Don't let your love of comfort keep you from exploring Trolls' lairs or dining with elven lords. We can also respond with an “I can't'' do it. While the dwarves are having their discussion about retaking The Lonely Mountain, they can tell by Bilbo's actions, that he doesn't believe in himself. Gloin even says, “As soon as I clapped eyes on the little fellow bobbing and puffing on the mat, I had my doubts. He looks more like a grocer than a burglar!” Much like Moses trying to convince God that he can't lead the Israelites out of Egypt (go check out Exodus 4:10-31), we like to see what is before us and treat the outcome of completing the task like an equation. “What I believe I can do” subtract “What I believe it will take to do it” equals “Outcome.”
Even though we may lack ability, courage, or knowledge, the equation is already balanced, because God is on our side of the equation. Luckily for us Bilbo answered the call with “I Will!” I love the part in the book, where it says, “Then Mr. Baggins turned the handle and went in. The Took side had won. He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce.” He goes on to tell the Dwarves that he believes they don't think he is any good and his response is “Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert”. Oh to be that fierce. We should all respond like Isaiah did when he heard the voice of God asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” “Here am I. Send me!”
The best thing about joining the “Unexpected Party” is that since God is on our side of the equation, he will always ensure that we have just what we need to complete our part in the journey. One of the ways God empowers us is found in a spot many never seem to look in, ourselves. Tolkien, throughout his book, tells us that Bilbo and Hobbits are “fond of visitors,” “disappear quietly and quickly,” and good at “aiming and throwing things.” These characteristics that may seem mundane to us, but prove crucial to Bilbo's completion of his adventure. These attributes help our little warrior as he knocks giant spiders from their webs, follows stealthily behind the creature Gollum as he is trying to escape the goblin caves, and speaks with tact and wisdom while battling wits with the horrible dragon Smaug.
You may not be able to hit the broad side of a barn with a rock and may be terrible at Hide and Seek, but you, like Liam Neeson, have a specific “set of skills” that God has given you. Don't doubt it, they are there. 1 Cor 12, tells us of many spiritual gifts, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and many others. God also may have given you the ability to draw, write, entertain, care, mourn, create stained glass mosaics of comic book characters in an attempt to share the love of Christ… oh wait the last one is mine. Whatever it is that you have in your “abilities bag,” God can use it. Secondly, God gives us our own cast of characters for support. Jesus didn't send the disciples out alone, but in pairs “And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits.” Mark 6:7
When Jesus had to face his greatest battle in the garden of Gethsemane, he brought along Peter, James, and John. Bilbo had Thorin and Company as he journeyed for over a year, Beorn, the giant “skin-changer,” Gandalf the grey wizard, Bard the bowman of Lake town,, and even the Wood Elf King at the Battle of the Five Armies. God will never let you do something alone. He will supply the right people at the right time. Like Bilbo we may find ourselves alone in the dark caves of the goblins, but know that we do not need a glow-in-the-dark sword (Sting) to light our way because the light of the world will be with you always, “even to the end of the age.”
Speaking of magical swords, lastly God equips us with all the tools we need. Two of the most important items that Bilbo needed to complete his quest he found by accident, the Elven dagger (Bilbo finds this in a Troll hoard after the Trolls turn to stone as the sun rises) and the magic ring that makes him invisible (Bilbo finds this while crawling on the ground before encountering the creature Golum at the bottom of the Goblin caves). Without these enchanted items Bilbo would’ve never been able to save his companions, battle the giant spiders in the forest of Mirkwood, or find the secret soft spot in Smaug the dragon that allows Bard to strike him down. God has given us so much more than two magical items. We have the full armor of God. “Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Eph 6: 14-18. With the power found in yourself, those around you, and the armor of God, you are equipped to tackle any dragon that comes your way.
Once we have accepted the invitation for the adventure and are empowered to complete the mission, know that God has us. God has our front, our side, our top, our bottom, and our back. After Bilbo struggles to pick the pocket of the nasty cave Trolls, Gandalf has to rescue Bilbo, Thorin and company from the nasty clutches of William, Bert, and Tom. “Where did you go to, if I may ask?” said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along. “To look ahead,” said he. “And what brought you back in the nick of time?” “Looking Behind,” said he. In Jeremiah 29:11 we are told ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. God knows the past and the future and has the capability to keep us safe physically...if he chooses. Whether he does or not, we need to have the same mindset as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who when threatened by Nebuchadnezzar, said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3: 17-18.
God also offers us protection mentally. When we allow our minds to spiral into the wasteland of doubt, worry, anxiety, fear, or any other negative thought God's word is always ready to rescue us “Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself..” A burglar he becomes.
It is Bilbo who sneaks his friends out of the prison of the Wood Elf King in empty barrels, It is Bilbo who finds the secret door in the wall of the Lonely Mountain that leads down to Smaug’s lair. It is Bilbo who goes into the lair alone and returns with a gold cup. Just as Gandalf lifts Bilbo's self esteem by assuring the Dwarves that he is definitely the “Burglar” for the job, so does the word of God redirect our negative thoughts as we “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:6-9 .
God also guards us from spiritual attacks. We have to be willing to accept this offer. In the Fellowship of the Ring, after a lifetime of having the ring in his possession, it was difficult for Bilbo to let go of the ring. The magic ring began to eat at Bilbo's soul and change his character for the worse. It took Gandalf confronting him and ultimately the words of “I’m not trying to rob you, I’m trying to help you,” before our Hobbit finally felt his spirit lightened. God offers us the perfect form of spiritual freedom. “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7. All we have to do is believe and he does the rest. (John 3:16).
The opening scene of the 1977 Hobbit film, (Gandalf coming into frame as Bilbo is sitting on the porch blowing smoke rings and the somber Misty Mountains song playing in the background), stirred something in my spirit. That old cartoon movie made me want to fight dragons, solve riddles, and visit elves. It made me crave for the journey. Bilbo was called to the adventure, equipped for the adventure, and protected throughout the adventure. His journey wasn’t easy, comfortable, or predictable, in fact it was hard, dangerous and unexpected. He ended up in places and performed tasks he never imagined or believed he could do. We are also called to step out of our front door into the unknown. Like Bilbo, our journey is necessary, heroic, and will have a positive impact on the world for ages to come. Our unexpected journey is of eternal importance. We have been charged with spreading the love and changing power of Jesus Christ. We have been called to recruit new adventurers, free captives and fight real dragons. We have a God on our side who is infinitely wiser, more powerful, and more capable of moving space and time than any wizard middle earth could ever conjure.
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matt 28: 20.
There are still empty pages in that big book of Bilbos for you to write about your adventure. What will your story be?
Todd Turner is a “nerd” small group leader at Southland Christian church in Lexington, Ky. He is also the creator, owner of Mosaic Fan Art which utilizes stained glass mosaics of comic book heroes and villains to let Fandom know that a broken life can be pieced together to become a masterpiece through a relationship with a loving God. @mosaicfanart www.mosaicfanart.com