Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars and the Role of Expectations in Everyday Life

Yesterday was a seminal event in the life of my family.  I have two boys and they have been positively captivated by the world of Star Wars as much as any generation ever has.  Some days it's literally all they talk about.

So it should come as no surprise that we would take them to see The Force Awakens.  It would have been special if for no other reason than it was a new Star Wars movie and they love Star Wars but it was also the first full length feature film they'd ever seen in the theater and that was the same for me in May of 1977.

I can still remember the color of the walls (olive green) when the curtain (they still had those) opened and the words, "Star Wars," traveled through the screen and into my heart.  That my fine sons were set to have a similar experience made me beam as I watched their faces once the lights went dark.

My giddiness at the beginning, however, was the direct antithesis of the level of frustration I felt at the end.  The intensity was identical but the emotions were exactly the opposite.  This isn't a movie review per se but, quite simply, I couldn't stand what they did with Luke.

As the final fight scene commenced between Kylo (Ben!) and Rey, I...seethed...because I realized there not enough of the movie remained to feature the hero of my childhood in any significant way.  I was so flat out mad that I didn't enjoy what was offered.

In some ways I feel justified to the extent that any of us are justified in expressing anger over something we had no say in making nor any risk in producing.  The lead up to the film deliberately left Luke out causing speculation to run rampant causing a feverish expectation on behalf of fans as to what role he might play after 30+ years of silence.

Now, the what people on the internet do isn't the responsibility of any writer, director, actor, etc., but I think Mr. Abrams knew what he was doing and I feel like he should have been more sensitive to the fans having shown sensitivity to their quirks throughout the rest of the movie.

That being said, this one's on me.  I allowed my expectations to influence my experience.

Granted, when do we not do that.  Is it really possible to approach anything expectation-less?  I'm not certain that it is.  Even when we say we don't have any expectations what we're really doing is choosing to expect whatever would disappoint us so that we might be pleasantly surprised instead.

With Star Wars though, I'd taken it to another level.  What I was hoping for was more than just a cinematic climax.

I believe that as a culture, in general, we are bored with a capital B.  Life is synonymous with monotony.  We get up, we do our thing, we go to bed and then we do it all over again.  In the meantime, we yearn for something, anything, that will help us escape.

Give me SOMETHING that I can cherish in the moment and relive long enough to last me until I can find my next fix and a fix is precisely that for which we are looking.  That's what I wanted from Star Wars.  Give. Me. My. Moment.

See, we live for emotional highs.  We do so because life is a numbing routine and the seconds that stand out are filled with far too many lows.  We don't ask for them.  They arrive at our doorstep as if hell had a UPS account with our names on it.  It's why we buy music, watch movies, read books.  It's why we paint and sculpt and act and play sports and hope to fall in love and stay there for the rest of our days.

The problem is none of that ever satisfies like we think it will.  Even if a movie is a home run it doesn't last as long as we'd like.  You hear a song and it speaks to your soul but only the first 10x.  Even the ecstasy we call love fades into what we wish we didn't call life.

What's the answer?  Is it to turn off our emotions or stop putting so much stock in them?  Do we simply need to find more stimulating careers filled with variety and travel?

I am reminded of the words of C.S. Lewis, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world."

We yearn for satisfaction because we were made to be satisfied by a relationship with our Creator.  Jesus said in the book of John, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)  God wants us to feel the enjoyment that we seek every place other than Him.

There is joy in knowing Jesus Christ.  He doesn't disappoint and He delivers on what He promises.

Seek Jesus.  Just like you yearn for new trailers and new releases and meeting new people.  Seek after Jesus.  Seek Him in His word.  Seek Him as you pray.  "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)  

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Christmas word from 2nd Chronicles?

As far as Christmas devotions go, my guess is 2 Chronicles doesn't make the list.  Save a yearly reading plan, you wouldn't find many people period who've even opened the book of 2 Chronicles.

It has a title but its author is unknown.  The Babylonian Talmud suggests Nehemiah but that's as close as we come to conclusive evidence.  It's written to a post-exilic audience, i.e. those Jews who returned to the land from Babylon/Persia.  The theme focuses on God's commitment to the promise He made to David in 2 Samuel 7, otherwise known as the Davidic Covenant.

So even though David's successors sin beyond any previously known capacity, the Lord is still gracious.  Most of the kings are downright evil but a few choose well and as a result shine like the stars.  They stand as proof that God has not abandoned His people.

One of those bright spots is Hezekiah.  He reigned from 729 to 696 BC and is best known for his showdown with Sennacherib of Assyria, a time of desperation and deliverance, but what strikes me as encouraging was his view of God and the difference that made not just in himself but in the people under his care.

He comes to power in chapter 29.  V. 1 says that he was 25 years old when he became king.  In his very first month, he opened the doors of the temple, gathered the priests together, and had them cleanse every inch of God's house because, "it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel that His burning anger may turn away from us."  He then restores temple worship with its requisite sacrifices and singers and commands Israel to celebrate the Passover once again.

Hezekiah saw God as glorious and mighty.  He saw the northern kingdom's demise as divine judgment on disobedience.  He knew his country's sin was a serious offense and did not want to see Judah suffer the same fate.  He did what leaders are supposed to do and called his people to worship and look at what follows.

In chapter 31, the people destroyed their idols.  The pillars were broken.  The Asherah poles were cut down.  The various altars spread through the land were eradicated from existence.

Starting in v. 4, the king orders that tithes be brought in so the the priests might devote themselves to the service of the Lord.  So much came in that, "this great quantity was left over." (v. 10)

Lastly, when Sennacherib came from Ninevah with an army whose horses shook the ground, when he came mocking Jerusalem and her God, callously claiming that if all the other gods of all the other peoples he'd conquered had been powerless to stop him why would Israel's be any different, Hezekiah stood his ground.

He did not give up.  He did not give in.  32:20 says that he and Isaiah the prophet (what a team!) prayed and cried out to heaven and the Lord responded.  V. 21, "And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander, and officer in the camp of Assyria."  Sennacherib himself would not survive.  After he returned home and prayed to his own god, his own children killed him in the temple with a sword.

I know it doesn't always work out like that.  The endings are seldom happy but what is inevitable, is that our view of God will lead to our worship of God or lack thereof.  If we see Him as glorious and mighty, as the song goes, awesome in beauty, greatly to be praised, then we will worship and if we worship, I believe there will be necessary consequences.

I believe whatever competes for our attention will evaporate like the morning dew.  Do you struggle with idols?  Make much of God.  Meditate on His attributes.  Read from the meditations of those that have gone before you.  Memorize the passages that extol His glory.  Sing His praises.

I believe you'll see God's work in your midst.  He will never lack what He needs to do whatever He wants done.  He's God.  He's self-sufficient.  He doesn't need anything, ever, but He has chosen to use us in the execution of His will.  When we worship, we become willing to part with ourselves, whether that's in the form of our time, our talents, or our treasures, and that opens the door for us to be involved, like the Israelites of Hezekiah's day, to see the ministry of the Kingdom expand.

Finally, when trials come, worship frees you to stand your ground.  Rather than give in to doubt and despair or the temptation to numb the pain with the pleasures of this world, worship leads to seeing one's sufficiency in Christ.  I have you Jesus.  I do not need what will simply be gone tomorrow.

I don't want to be cliche or trivial about whatever it is you may be going through this Christmas season but I know that God is great.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the King of Kings.  When I don't ask or trust, it's usually because I doubt His care for me.  When I look at the extent to which Jesus went for me, those feelings become silly.

Fill your field of vision with Him.  Worship Him and watch where He takes you.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"God Isn't Fixing This."

I am a streaky person by nature, by definition.  If I get into a groove, I can stay for quite awhile but if I somehow derail, getting back on the horse isn't easy, just to throw as many metaphors in as I can in the first two sentences.

It's been over two years since I last posted to this blog.  I've wanted to post.  I've thought about what I might post.  I even started writing a post a few weeks ago only to let it go like I was Elsa in Frozen.  Other than sermons, I need to be moved in order to write.  In other words, I need to be bothered.  Last night did the trick.

We've all seen news of America's latest mass shooting.  The Inland Regional Center of San Bernardino, California, a long term treatment center for adults with developmental disabilities, happened to have a conference room that happened to be hosting a holiday party for an entirely different agency when it seems an individual left angry, got his wife, dropped his daughter off with grandma, took the time to dress in tactical gear, and returned to open fire killing 14 and injuring even more.

It's pointless.  It's senseless.  It's horrible and tragic and infuriating and as a country it seems that we are powerless to prevent the next one and we all know there WILL be a next one but this post isn't specifically about that.

It's about the cover of the New York Daily News.

That the publishers created a sensational headline isn't surprising.  That's what they do.  Actually, nothing about this is surprising but I believe it says so much more than every word on the page combined.

"God isn't fixing this."  I understand what they mean.  I get it.  What we don't need from politicians are words.  Words don't save lives or put food on anyone's table.  The very phrase, "thoughts and prayers," carries very little weight and most likely means very little prayer is taking place.  We elect politicians to govern and to govern is to act.

There are implications, however, to which it is worth drawing attention.  The first is the belief that prayer is pointless.  Prayer doesn't do anything.  It isn't any different from meditation but at least we can respect meditation because no one who meditates is hoping some figment of their imagination will grant their wishes like the genies of old.  I respectfully disagree.  I believe prayer is action and does accomplish a great deal but even that is ancillary at the moment.

The question I am posing to anyone reading this is what would it look like if God did fix it?  What would have to happen for people to believe that God did intervene?  Is it that mass shootings don't occur ever again?  What about one person shooting another?  What about people using guns on foreign soil?  Don't invading armies shoot people?  What about ISIS?  They use guns.  Do we need all manifestations of warfare to cease in order to believe that God fixed it?  Pardon the phrase particularly this time of year but is it peace on earth?  Is that what would convince us that God is real and actively involved in our affairs?

Having posed (many) a question, I now offer a proposition.  God fixed it.  

The biggest problem that exists is that human beings are infected by sin at their core.  Sin is the reason why all these unequivocally awful things happen.  We want to be in control.  Everyone does.  Some of us just want our way so much that we're willing to use violence to get it.  War between nations isn't anything more than sin committed writ large.  Sin is the problem and God fixed it.

He sent His Son Jesus to live as a human, which He did, flawlessly.  He literally lived a perfect life.  He was then executed on a Roman cross essentially for sedition but what was happening was that He was paying the penalty for our sin which deserves death.  He hung in our place as our substitute.  It was supposed to be us on that cross, me and you, but Jesus stepped up and stepped in and when we trust that Christ died for us, we are fixed.  Yes we still sin.  We still make mistakes some of which are quite severe but we aren't hopelessly broken anymore.  We have the ability to follow God and when we do, we stop serving ourselves and the awful begins to disappear.  Heaven, which I believe is real, is when sin will be gone once and for all.

That's not what we want though.  Don't get me wrong.  We want peace but we want it on our own terms.  We want God to make things better and respect our decision to live in whatever way we desire because, let's be honest, the fulfillment of desire is in fact the zenith of human existence.  We want Him to intervene even if I don't believe He exists.  Don't ask me to follow You.  Just do what I want.  It doesn't work like that.  

God fixed THE problem.  We apply that solution when we place our trust in Christ and then we apply that solution every day thereafter by relying on Him to make the choices He wants us to make.  If that happens, I'm telling you, life will get better.  

I do not wish to diminish or make light of yesterday's tragedy.  It was horrific.  I don't want it to ever happen again and I hope the people tasked to do so will do what can be done but please don't ignore reality.  God is real and so is sin.  Why does God allow sin?  Welcome to a conversation that's been going on since people have been able to think.  What I know is that God solved the problem of sin and the solution is trusting in Jesus Christ.  I know people don't want to hear that.  They want a solution that respects their rights but a relationship with God isn't about my rights.  It's about His gift.