Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Trouble

I almost titled this post "On Suffering" but then I thought, do I even know what it means to suffer? There have been hard, hard times in my life, but when I look at people I know, or know of, or people I've never even heard of across the world who really, truly know how suffering looks and feels, I realize that I have no idea what suffering really means. Now, trouble is something else. I know a few things about that.

In my recent post On Waiting and Working, I quoted John 16:33, where Jesus promises His disciples: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart: I have overcome the world." Since I posted that I can't stop thinking about that verse. It's like it's on repeat in my head and I just keep thinking about the implications of it.

Trouble. I quoted the verse the way I learned it, in the old NIV. Other versions say "tribulations," "trials and sorrows," etc. But you get the idea. Trouble. That one word can encompass everything from the little inconveniences and disappointments to the great, tragic, horrible things that I don't even want to talk about because I can't imagine dealing with them. We all have trouble, some more than others, because we live, ever so briefly, in this world. It is a natural hazard of living and breathing every day. Now, one thing I keep asking myself is, why is that when we come to Jesus, who told us very clearly that in this world we will have trouble, we expect Him to take it all away? And then we're disappointed when He doesn't. Or even worse, we stumble into even more trouble and then blame it on Him. We wonder if He's abandoned us, or if He's punishing us, or if He hates us, or if He's somehow refining us by putting us through hell on earth before bringing us home to heaven. I can't condemn that kind of thinking because I've been there. But I think that maybe when we're focusing on the trouble or how we are feeling in the midst of it or how we wish God would just intervene and take it away, maybe we're focusing on the wrong thing.

I feel like I've been harping on this kind of thing lately but I suppose it's because I'm so convicted about it. I have a real problem with thinking that my life is all about me. Or that it's my life at all. Because well, it isn't. It belongs to Christ. The trouble I have isn't just mine, it's His. All that pain and frustration and questioning and doubting is just part of the sin and pain and death that He bore on the cross. Everything that makes us feel overwhelmed and horrified and crushed, He felt it all when He cried out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" And what did He do with all that? He overcame it. He died, He was buried, He rose again, and He overcame this world and all the trouble that goes along with it.

I am so small-minded and present-focused. All I know is what I've learned and experienced in my 34 years in this world, and my poor little brain can't even begin to imagine the vastness of eternity, but that is what Jesus promises is in store for those who believe in Him. Forever with Him, in His presence, at His feet, basking in the light of His glory, because He is worthy. It's no wonder the Apostle Paul asked, what are the tiny troubles of our little lives in comparison to that (2 Cor. 4:15-18)? The good gifts that God showers on us every day, the troubles that darken our days and make us long for heaven, they are all for one purpose: So that we can shine God's light into the lives of as many people that we possibly can, extend His grace to a world that needs it so desperately, and one day fall at His feet knowing that we brought as many souls with us as we could.

I'm not trying to minimize or ignore the pain that trouble causes us. It can break our hearts, rob us of loved ones, destroy our health, and strip us of everything that we value. That's big stuff. Heart-rending, awful stuff. It can drive us from God or bring us to our knees. But whether our troubles make us feel closer to God or wonder why He feels so far away, reality is, He's there. And He does have a greater purpose in it, to grow His Kingdom for His glory.

Our troubles are not about us. They are not what God is doing to us, what He is allowing in our lives for some reason that we hope He understands because we can't, they don't happen because God forgot about us or hates us. When we walk with Christ, when He is in us and we are in Him in this unfathomable life that He bought with His blood, they are His troubles, too. When I can't figure out anything in life and I don't know how I'm going to get through it, I know one thing: He's got this. He has overcome the world. I don't have to.

God, give me an eternal perspective, even if my mind can't grasp it all. Let me keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith, knowing that one day, everything else will fade away and I will see Him, not through eyes of faith, but through my very own eyes, transformed by His glory forever.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Guardians of the Galaxy (in 3D)

My eyes hurt. 3D is not my preferred format for watching a movie. This is because I am old-school, and I believe my on-screen entertainment should be viewed in only two dimensions, as it was originally intended. All this 3D stuff with things jumping out at you and making you think a knife is going to hit you in the face or whatever...meh. In the past they only made a movie in 3D if they knew it was so bad no one would ever see it anyway. "Sure, it's a sequel to a horrible kids' sci-fi spy action movie...BUT IT'S IN 3D, PEOPLE! You know you want to see it now." I will say that 3D is better than it used to be, now that they actually film in 3D and IMAX to the max and all that, but it makes me dizzy, gives me a headache, and my vision is still blurry, hours later.

So. Guardians of the Galaxy (in 3D) is visually stunning eye candy that made me laugh and I think there was actually a halfway decent story in there somewhere. The characters are so flawed they are endearing, the plot is epic and ridiculous, and oh my word, it's hilarious. So many fun lines and laugh-out-loud moments. I mean, this movie is stupid, but not so completely stupid that you want your money back at the end of it because you totally wasted two hours of your life. It's just stupid fun, like me and my friends sitting around and being idiots and laughing at each other. That is, if my friends were aliens and tree-creatures and genetically-engineered raccoons.

If you never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy until this year and when you first heard about it you thought, "Eh, that's a pass," and then you started catching all the murmurings from the geek community and were intrigued enough to check it out, then you can understand how I felt about this movie. For the non-comic-book-geeks, like me, here's a summary, based on what I know, which is sketchy at best: The movie is based on an obscure Marvel comic book series and it's not like the Avengers, with superheroes and stuff. It happens in space and Earth is not really anyone's concern. In some ways, it feels more like a space opera (think Star Wars) than a comic book, but it has that fast-paced, edgy Marvel action and humor that is just fun to watch. If you want to see an introduction to the characters, watch the previews on YouTube. They are a group of lost causes who initially all try to kill each other, maybe more than once, but ultimately come together for the very noble cause of saving a planet and also, incidentally, the entire galaxy. There are creepy bad guys and annoying government protocol and some ugly prison scenes. It's very satirical and hard to take seriously. I liked it.

Please note that this movie is rated PG-13 and the content is not appropriate for younger audiences, or people who like good clean rom coms or family films. If you like sci-fi violence, with lots of weird-looking, seemingly pain-resistant and even regenerative creatures getting brutally beaten and dismembered and pulverized and stuff, you'll like this movie. If you can stomach some ugly language and jokes and gestures mixed in with your fun in space, you'll like this movie. If you like tree-creatures that can only say one line (spoiler: it's "I am Groot") over and over and occasionally beat people up but then turn around and do something sweet and beautiful, you'll like this movie. If those things bother you, you won't like this movie. As I said, I liked it. I'd be willing to see it again in two dimensions, but I'll probably wait for Blu-Ray and the comfort of my living room to do that.

My take: Go see this movie, and go see it with friends who will laugh out loud with you, because the epic films of summer are just more fun with friends.

Friday, August 1, 2014

On Waiting and Working

Do you ever feel like you're just waiting for God to show up, wondering if He ever will? Do you ever long to see God at work in a mighty way, like He did in the Bible? If you grew up in church, like I did, surely you know the stories. God sending plagues on the Egyptians, parting the Red Sea, providing manna in the wilderness, letting Moses see His glory as He passed by, wetting the fleece for Gideon and then keeping it dry, Jesus feeding 5,000 men with a little boy's lunch, turning water into wine, raising the dead, Peter and the apostles preaching and people hearing in their own languages 3,000 and coming to Christ in a single day. This is big stuff. Life-changing, earth-shattering, history-altering stuff. Do you ever read about that and wonder, what's the deal today? Here in 2014 in America, are we getting the shaft? What is God doing now? Is He doing anything? And if He is, do we get to be a part of it?

I've heard these questions in many forms. I've asked them myself. I remember specifically one time reading in Acts about the thousands of people who were being added to the church on a daily basis, and right in that moment I asked in prayer, "God, why don't we see things like this now? Why aren't You working like this today?" And in that moment, an answer came to my heart. God is at work just like that today. Across the world, thousands of people believe in Him and follow Him every day. Just because I don't see the Kingdom growing by leaps and bounds in my own life, in my own church, doesn't mean it isn't happening. God is active. God is always working. So what is our role in this work?

There is this idea that when we don't understand something we read in God's Word, or when we have questions about who God is or what He is doing, we need to just wait on God to show up and reveal Himself or deliver a plan for what we should do next. This is a concept that is fairly common and sounds very spiritual, but I wonder if it is truth. A friend of mine suggested that it might be just an excuse for people who don't want to work, or who have given up hope of ever seeing God at work. That may be true in many cases. Maybe they don't see Him at work because they're not looking for Him, and maybe they're not seeing it because they are refusing to do the work God has called them to do. 

This is what I know: God works through people. He always has. I don't know why He chooses to do that, He doesn't have to, but He does. If you want to see God, look closely at the people around you. I see Him everywhere. I see Him in my husband. I see Him in my friends who come over on Thursday nights to eat pancakes and ask questions about God and the Bible. I see Him in the endless questions my daughter asks. I even see Him working in surprising places, that maybe shouldn't be so surprising. I see Him in the faithful servants in our church, who might look old and gruff but who still have hearts that are tender toward God and are learning from His Word. A troll might tell a princess in a movie that "People don't really change," and in most cases, that's true. But God can change a human heart, mind, and soul. I've seen Him do it many times, in other people and in me, and each time He does it, I know I've seen a miracle. Oh sure, I'd like to see Him do the "big stuff," the earth-shaking, mountain-moving, mighty acts of wonder and healing and provision. I'd like to see Him heal my son's heart condition. But sometimes I think we overlook the great, eternal, constant work of God because we're looking for something that we think is bigger. What if we're looking for the wrong thing? 

Jesus told the people in John 6 that their fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and died, but He was offering eternal life. In order to get it, all they had to do was believe in Him, accept His offer of His flesh and His blood to cover their sins, and take hold of eternal life. Most didn't understand. What Jesus was talking about was too radical. A few stayed with Him because they caught a glimpse of who He truly was, and they knew they could never be satisfied with anything else. Those few, filled the with Holy Spirit, went on to start an organization known as the church. That church changed the world, and it grew and continues to grow and is still changing the world today by impacting people, one life at a time, for eternity. This is the work of God. This is what He calls us to do. How is this too "small" for us?

I think we went through this phase in the church (I mean the Church as a whole, as a culture, not one specific body of believers) where we settled for less than what God offers. And then we got used to less. And then we expected less. Now the false flimsy faith we were fed doesn't satisfy, and we want more. We want the real thing. We want all of God, here and now. And that's a good thing. But when we set aside God in all His fullness for the culture of the church, we also forgot about the cost of knowing Him. He demands everything. Every hope, dream, desire, possession, and relationship you have must be laid at the feet of Christ. When we come to Him we give up our old, dead, sinful lives, and He gives us His life. We cannot imagine what that looks like, but He gives us clues in the Bible. For one, when our lives are no longer our own, we are wasting time when we focus on ourselves. Our ultimate purpose is to give our lives to serve Christ, serve others, and grow His Kingdom for His glory.

If you have this idea that serving God, trying to be good and then be extra good to make up for times when you're bad, then God will eventually make your life better, that's a nice idea based on a false view of God. There is no scale you have to balance out before He can bless you. There is no punishment left to serve. There's a line in an old song, "Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe." All of God's promises are fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). If you do a bunch of good things and avoid a bunch of bad things and call that the Christian life, then you can claim some of the credit for what you've done. If you look for where God is working, engage in what He has called and uniquely gifted you to do, and allow Him to do His work through you by the power of His Spirit, He gets the glory. Being in Christ, that is the blessing. That is the abundant life. To all outward appearances, your life might suck as long as you're alive. It might not. That's just part of living in this fallen world. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart: I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). So what is our hope? Christ. Forever. 

When I write a post like this, it's always tempting to make it sound like I really know what I'm talking about, like somehow I've figured out this Christian life thing and how it works. Really, I feel pretty clueless most of the time. I struggle with things I thought I'd figured out, lessons I thought I'd already learned, temptations and failures that I never imagined I'd deal with. In the middle of all that, here's what I've got: Jesus. He is enough. Even on days when I question whether or not He's enough for me, He is. 

Is he enough for you?